While the latest Tom Clancy effort in H.A.W.X. 2 does its best to offer a genuine air-combat flying experience, it tries too hard to be the flying sim it can never be. It might improve in some areas – namely the difficulty – but H.A.W.X. 2 is just another addition to a franchise that just can’t nail the landing.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. The dogfight missions and controls in H.A.W.X. 2 make for an experience that can be exceptionally enjoyable, especially considering this has been a rather neglected genre on consoles. The action is fast and intense a lot of the time, and the great responsiveness of the controls make flying many of the aircraft a joy without feeling overly arcadey like in the first game. The controls can be rather complicated using a standard controller, so if you can get your hands on the flight stick included in Ace Combat 6 (which is fully supported), you’ll get a quicker and better grasp of the main gameplay mechanics.
However, while the action can be fast and intense when you’re in the cockpit of a blistering fighter plane, the newest additions to the campaign slow down things considerably, and the experience is hurt because of it. The UAV missions are a complete and utter bore, taking you away from the action in the skies and having you listen in and recording enemy conversations.
It’s understandable that Ubisoft wanted to make this as genuine an experience as possible, incorporating missions and objectives that any real-life fighter pilot might be able to do. But the balance between these missions and the missions fighting in the sky is way off, which in-turn does a good job of dampening the entire experience. At one moment you can be blasting and blowing your way through the skies before you’re stuck with the dull task of recording someone’s voice.
These new mission types have quite obviously been added in to add more depth to the story, despite the fact the story is about as cliché and generic as you could expect. It’s an improvement on the first game, no doubt, but it’s still the basic terrorist plot with the expected twists. Don’t expect anything particularly memorable when it comes to the characters or plot points, which is disappointing considering the hype surrounding the title. The truth is, the characters and story are just really hard to care about, making particular missions pointless for the gamer. Ubisoft should be applauded for mixing things up and trying something new for the franchise, and they’ve listened to the critical response regarding the first game’s lack of narrative. However, they’ve changed things around completely and utterly for the worst.
The biggest problem plaguing H.A.W.X. 2 is that it doesn’t know whether it wants to be an accessible combat game or a genuine flying sim. The newly included take-off and landing parts of each mission are tedious and quite obviously added on just to be there, although anyone not familiar with flight sims will find it difficult to land a plane, even with landing assistance turned on. The frustrating thing is that you can get through an entire mission without a scratch, only to die over and over again because you can’t get the landing right. Landing is obviously a part of any real-life mission, but the inclusion here feels forced and just not necessary, especially considering there’s no real urgency or sense of reward associated with it.
The flying missions themselves can be great fun, pending you’re prepared to take on enemy planes and locations on your own. The friendly AI is dumb beyond belief, chasing after enemies and firing off missile after missile without a solitary hit. To make matters worse, the game seems to increase difficult almost randomly, with some missions being particularly hard and others almost too easy. Most of the missions will have you doing most of the work, but there is a shocking balance of competitiveness and challenge right throughout the game. If the developer didn’t want the AI doing all the work for you, they could have at least made their incompetence less obvious. It’s frustrating when you have to retry a difficult mission over and over again, only to see your squad mates flying around like houseflies.
Playing with a mate in co-op makes H.A.W.X. 2 a considerably better and more enjoyable experience, allowing you to tackle enemy planes far more effectively. It’s a lot easier to protect ground forces and take out enemy hideouts when you’ve got a human playing with you. Co-op is where the value in the title lies, and while you can get enjoyment out if by playing on your own, H.A.W.X. 2 really does take off when you can plan tactics and methods of attack with a friend.
As for the multiplayer, you can expect the same underwhelming experience as in the first game. Experience points earned in the single-player can be exchanged for new planes and weapons, meaning if you tackle multiplayer first off, you’re going to struggle. More experienced players that have had the benefit of hours in the campaign will be better equipped, meaning the entire experience is not very accessible to newcomers. There’s essentially no ranking system, meaning you can be thrown to the sharks on your very first match.