[Editor's Note: Hawken is a title still in open beta, but as the title has already opened up the option of paying microtransactions, we feel the game should be reviewed. The review will be updated as major changes occur in the title.]
Personally, I get the feeling that Hawken has a bit of an identity crisis; the game cannot decide what it wants to be. First, it wanted to be an intense, albeit slow-paced multiplayer mech shooter. Mechs had plenty of health, went down after long firefights (around four to five seconds), and were somewhat mobile. The heads-up display was a part of the mech itself, and the view from within the cockpit gave the game a certain level of immersion. Soon after, all of that was dropped in favor of reducing the health of mechs, increasing their speed, and removing the internal HUD in favor of a meter removed from within the game. Hawken from just a year ago is a radically different game than what it is now. Hell, even the main menu’s theme (which I adore) has been replaced in favor of a less fitting, more “aggressive” song.
Over the last year, Hawken has stuck to its core concepts: big mechs battle on a barren wasteland of a planet to survive after a massive corporation left the colonists there stranded (though you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t read Hawken: Genesis, which you absolutely should). Mechanics like dodging, using a drone as a medic, and the focus on verticality in all of the game’s maps have remained. What has not remained, however, is what I feel made the game special: its pacing.
As a multiplayer first-person mech shooter, Hawken stands out. Abandoning trekking on foot, you’re thrust into a gigantic mech to do battle. You have two weapons, infinite ammo, and all the supplies needed to keep yourself alive and mobile. Of course, that comes with two important details: first, your ammo is infinite, but you cannot keep sustained fire for long, or your weapon will overheat and have to cool down. Second, if you don’t actively keep your mech repaired with drone repairs, you will die, as there is no regenerating health. It’s entirely possible that you’ll say “screw it” and jump into the fray to frag a couple foes before dying yourself, or you might choose to hit and run, picking off enemies and retreating to repair your mech. Combined with the mobility of the game, this makes Hawken a very interesting experience.
Sadly, Hawken is not exactly an enthralling experience. It’s very easy to hop in, play a match or two, quit, and forget it was ever installed on your hard drive. Despite its impressive visual appeal and innovative mechanics, Hawken lacks that spark that makes games like Call of Duty or MechWarrior so satisfying; there is little in terms of feedback for shots hit, and enemies downed by your hand simply fall apart and explode. You don’t hear the bullets ripping apart your enemy’s armor, or a “thwip” to complement hit markers.
In terms of game types, beyond the generic Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination (called “Missile Assault” here, as you’re capturing missile silos), and co-op survival modes lies a single unique mode: Siege. Siege is similar to Battlefield 2142‘s Titan mode, but instead of capturing points to damage the enemy flagship, you’re capturing energy from points across the map and returning it to your base to launch your flagship. The first team to launch the flagship becomes the “attacking” team, while the other team tries to capture a missile silo to fire on the (massive) ship now implacably tracing the sky towards the defending team. If the defending team cannot destroy the flagship, then it will destroy their base, ending the match. If the flagship is destroyed, the race to gather enough energy resumes. It’s an intense game mode, but sometimes the missile silo control seems a little silly; with one point on the map to capture, it quickly becomes an exercise in frustration, as one team can effectively camp on the silo until the flagship destroys the enemy base, or is blown up. The core concept of the mode is interesting, but the execution is flawed.
Where Hawken is not flawed, however, is in its presentation. Unreal Engine 3 gets a lot of use nowadays, and we’re only just beginning to see what it can really do in terms of graphical presentation: Hawken demonstrates with gorgeous shaders, high-resolution textures, defined models, and barren maps that are best described as annihilated beauty. Further adding to the game’s already impressive visuals are its use of particle physics; if you have an Nvidia GPU, you will find mechs stamping the ground, trailing chunks of dirt like tennis shoes to your recently-cleaned floor, shrapnel bouncing off walls after a recently defeated mech explodes, and swirling blooms of energy flowing into your mech from energy deposits. Hawken is easily one of the most beautiful games on the Unreal Engine 3.
For all its faults, Hawken is fun. It’s a shooter that looks fantastic and plays great, but lacks feedback behind your actions, making you feel disconnected. The mechanics of the game work, and everything is well-presented, but there’s nothing keeping you from coming back after you’ve wrapped up a couple matches. When the entry price is a meager zero dollars and zero cents, you have little excuse to not play Hawken, but don’t be surprised if your first time is your last. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s nothing special.