Another run for Ubi's birds of prey... (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
That fighter jets firing up their afterburners will forever, indelibly be associated with Top Gun is a fact that seemingly hasn't gone over Ubisoft Romania's head for HAWX 2. It might not have the bombast and '80s synth of that movie, but it does have a mission with a take off from a naval aircraft carrier and a cinematic tangerine sunset. It's airborne wish fulfilment at its finest and as such, HAWX 2's single-player campaign begins promisingly, invoking Top Gun fantasies brilliantly.
However, it quickly becomes clear that HAWX 2 is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part, the game's campaign tends to hit the right notes, and some of the early missions are genuinely enjoyable and varied. The typical Clancy techno-babble and quasi-political nonsense notwithstanding, the aerial gunship and UAV missions break up the traditional dogfighting and bombing run objectives nicely, but it's not long before it all starts to get a bit dull and ever so slightly interminable.
Nothing beats flying into a tangerine sunset. Michael Bay and Tony Scott, eat your hearts out
Starting in the role of returning hero pilot Colonel David Crenshaw who is the victim of a nasty mishap (to put it mildly) and is subsequently declared MIA when he's captured by shady insurgent forces (obviously), you'll jump between pilots from several nations all involved in a plot surrounding missing Russian nuclear warheads. It's fairly standard stuff that'll have you rolling your eyes and stabbing at the start button to skip the dour cut-scenes.
We're firmly in Clancy territory then and so HAWX 2 weaves conspiracy and intrigue among its narrative threads and tells its story from three different perspectives, so while you start out as Crenshaw, you'll soon be playing as American pilot Major Alex Hunter, British Navy flier Lt. Colin Munro and Russian airman Captain Dimitri Sokov. It's a fairly neat little narrative device that ensures you're presented with a decent hangar-full of fighter jets from around the world to choose from, each of which is remarkably well-crafted and can be drooled over in the selection screen.
Once you're soaring among the clouds, things handle with just as much accessible arcade style as the previous game, except this time around some missions demand that you take-off and land, which is actually a very simple and straightforward task. Press a button to start up your engines and then use the triggers to taxi to the runway, accelerate, brake and keep your nose straight with the bumper buttons and you can't go far wrong unless you deliberately try and crash. When you reach optimum speed, pull back on the analogue stick and up you go. Piece of cake. Slightly less simple is executing a landing, as losing concentration or misjudging your speed and trajectory can be disastrous and invariably result in a flaming lump of mangled steel skidding along the runway. Slow to a crawl, don't stall and be sure to deploy your landing gear when prompted, and you'll land with little effort. And there's always the assistance button to fall back on if you're struggling.
The British Harrier jump jet. Best. Plane. Ever. FACT!
Back in the air, the action is very much the same as previous, with fast-paced dogfights punctuated by a shift in objectives to something like a bombing run, a night-vision mission, UAV recon task or the aforementioned gunship escort mission. These are some of HAWX 2's best moments and stand out simply by virtue of being a break from the norm. Granted, these objectives aren't exactly in keeping with HAWX 2's remit as a flight game, but anything that mixes up and varies the gameplay a bit is a welcome addition nonetheless.
HAWX 2's OFF mode is still in the game too and allows you to execute wild evasive manoeuvres like barrel rolls and loops with ease by switching the view with a double tap of the right trigger. However, attempting to engage targets in this view is nigh-on impossible and soon becomes disorientating. Like before then, it's not long before you'll stop using it and it'll gradually become redundant. Still, it's good to have options.
HAWX 2 manages to muster some moderately enjoyable and memorable scenarios at times, but for the most part, you'll find yourself being worn down by the unrelenting perfunctory nature of the story and the repetitious nature of shooting plane after plane after plane. That said, Ubisoft Romania has made an apparent effort to break up this repetition, with tasks like airborne refuelling and a variety of mission objectives to keep you hooked. HAWX 2's locations are also an improvement on what's gone before, yet for every majestic snow-capped mountain range and sun-dappled ocean, there's a bland desert expanse: too many of them in fact.
This is what it's all about. Dodging missiles and shooting stuff. Boom!
HAWX 2 is just as enjoyably arcadey and uncomplicated as ever, but there's a nagging feeling that Ubisoft Romania has just fallen slightly short in bringing anything genuinely new or exciting to the series. Its presentation and visual style is an improvement over its predecessor, and modes like Survival, Free Flight, Arcade and online competitive multiplayer and four-player co-op offering ample impetus to keep playing if you can find like-minded gamers looking for a dogfight.
TOM CLANCY'S H.A.W.X 2 VERDICT
Fans of the first HAWX will no doubt derive a great deal of joy from another hearty dose of solid dogfighting, but then everyone else will feel the same sort of confused indifference towards the story and will quickly grow tired of shooting down wave after wave of jet fighters. Multiplayer and Survival however, offer a potentially longer lifespan with different challenges. Whether you’ll be interested enough to persevere though, is another matter entirely.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Barrel-rolling as a missile fizzes past before unleashing a volley of projectiles at a locked target. Fly into the danger zone!