OK, I’ll admit it. Whenever I play a flight/combat simulation game, I usually pick up the controller expecting full-throttle action straight out of the movie Top Gun. But after a few hours, I put the controller back down feeling like my wingman got tired and bailed out for a cup of joe somewhere over Wake Island. Most of these games veer from being extremely dull and boring to being incredibly difficult and visually awkward. It’s just tough for this genre to strike a good balance.
Tom Clancy’s HAWX, however, nearly hits the sweet spot.
Ace for Hire
Although you spend the lion’s share of your gameplay in the cockpit, there’s still a fairly interesting cutscene story propelling you briskly through 40 levels and 19 missions. Action is set in a Tom Clancy-envisioned universe in the year 2014. And it even involves elements and units from other Clancy games from time to time. Gamers play as Major David Crenshaw, commander of the High Altitude Warfare eXperimental Squadron—HAWX, for short. It’s a covert operations team that’s on the verge of being decommissioned by the U.S. Navy.
After their last service mission together, Crenshaw and his fellow fliers are offered some serious cash if they’ll join up with a private military company called Artemis Global Security. This organization sends the seasoned air jockeys on contracted missions all over the world where any group or government wants a little high-powered might.
The initial jobs go smoothly until money-hungry AGS starts running afoul of American interests and the HAWX fliers have to decide where their loyalties lie. (I’m happy to report, by the way, that these patriotic fliers stick by their country even though that means their wallets will be lighter when the action in the skies gets heavier.)
Realism, Above and Below
The gamer’s job is to choose from 50 unlockable, realistically detailed fighters—including some fabulous lookers such as the F-14D Super Tomcat and the stealthy F-117 Nighthawk. Then they blaze into action with their wingmen (controlled by either AI or up to three buddies) and strategically outmaneuver ground or airborne forces. Surgical strikes, 200 mph dogfights and surface-to-air missile evasions are a constant part of the job—with each mission becoming increasingly more challenging. The pace is fast and the plane controls are surprisingly fun and intuitive.
One of the game’s helpful innovations is something called an enhanced reality system, or ERS. When you request guidance in the midst of a hair-on-fire situation, the ERS projects a three-dimensional pathway on your heads-up display that can lead you past enemies, help you shake locked-on missiles or avoid radar detection.
Another cool dimension is the great topography over which your jets scoot (and sometimes crash into). HAWX flyers fight all over the world—Tokyo, Washington, D.C., Rio de Janeiro, the Magellan Strait, etc.—and each of the land maps are created from textured, high-res, real-world satellite images.
War isn’t all about flying around looking at scenery, of course. So this arcade-style flier lets you pack upwards of 100 power-punches for each mission—including long- and short-range missiles, bombs, air-to-air cannons and rocket pods. And scores of enemy tanks, planes, convoys, ships and bases are destroyed as a result.
But in spite of that over-the-top cache of armaments and the demolishing booms they deliver, this isn’t as violent a game as it sounds. The destruction rains down from on high and a number of miles away, so blood and gore are out of sight.
Foul language, interspersed occasionally in the heat of battle, includes “d–n,” “b–tard” and “h—.” (The voices in your ear can be turned off, but game play is then compromised.) There’s no sexual component.
All of which means that except for a few explosive words, HAWX keeps things soaring above the thermals by avoiding most of the bombs—and boredom—of similar titles.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.