When one purchases a Tom Clancy game, generally one knows what they're getting into. Some bad guys threaten freedom, it's up to the ol' USA to win the day. Filled with military jargon, fancy equipment, and decent gameplay. Not always, but generally this is the case.
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. (High-Altitude Warfare eXperimental) in the latest game to come out of the military author's name, a flight game that I hesitate to call a sim, but which is more akin to an arcade title. The general premise is you, in highly advanced jet planes (the game takes place somewhere between Endwar and Rainbow Six Vegas), shooting things.
Each mission is capped with a briefing before you're thrust into battle as Crenshaw, an experienced fighter pilot who has left the military to join a private military contractor. You're tasked with completing simple objectives, generally things such as protecting an objective or destroying a different group of objectives; it's not too complicated.
Flying through the skies is generally what you'd expect. You're given weapon loadouts that are useful against different types of targets: bombs can take out a number of land targets whereas special anti-air missiles can take out a number of targets in a single volley. Choosing the weapon that's right for the situation is some of the challenge in the game.
The rest of the challenge, of course, is not being shot out of the sky. HAWX, however, doesn't have that much of a difficulty curve to it. Unless you're on the hardest difficulty, you can take quite the unreasonable amount of missiles and bullets to your plane before you finally go down. This is pretty indicitive of the fact that this game is not a flight simulator in the least. What you've got here is a title that feels very much like an arcade shooter in controls, gameplay, and style.
Most of the game takes place using your Enhanced Reality System (ERS), which indicates different things on your screen, such as what path to follow to intercept an enemy or avoid a missile spiraling towards your six, or what targets you've locked on to and what targets you still have available. The ERS can be a useful tool to use, but when you begin to rely on it too much, the game can get really boring, feeling like you're simply jumping through hoops and, somehow, making a flight simulator into a linear title.
Likewise, the way that the game handles battles makes you feel disconnected from the gameplay. Most enemies you encounter will be hundreds and hundreds of miles away, and as such will are simply small dots in the distance. To compensate for this, the game highlights them and allows you to lock onto your targets to fire your homing missiles. Unfortunately, this turns most of the game into one where you're simply finding one little colorful shape in the distance, firing a missile at it, switching to the next colorful shape, firing another missile, over and over again until you've won the mission. Things can get stale pretty quickly, and combine this with the problems with the ERS means you don't really feel like you're doing anything yourself.
What the game does right are the graphics, presenting a fairly impressive landscape for you to look upon. Sometimes it's a little featureless (pretty nonetheless), but when it really shines is in the city missions, where the glistening buildings below you look as natural as they can. The plane that you're flying also looks gorgeous, which is nice because you'll be staring at it the entire time. Each of the planes, modelled after existing and conceptual planes, are really indicitive of the attention to detail that is usually present in Tom Clancy titles.
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is not the greatest flight combat game on the market. That said, however, it's a well polished title that can bring some fun. It's not terrific and disappointing are the multiplayer options, in which all you've got is an option for online co-op and a standard versus match. But if you're really either into Tom Clancy games or flight combat titles, H.A.W.X. may be worth a shot. Otherwise, the simplistic combat and typical storyline might e a little too much of a turn-off.