In a gaming landscape dominated by multiplayer killathons it would, you’d think, be pretty difficult to stand out (unless you’re Minecraft); the only games most people seem to play with each other are military shooters such as Call of Duty, Battlefield and Medal of Honor. If we’re honest it’s all becoming a bit stale. Enter Adhesive Games with their Free-To-Play online multiplayer mechwarrior extravaganza, Hawken.
This mech-based first-person shooter takes place in the usual dystopian world where the main battle is one for resources after whichever planet the game is set on has fallen into economic ruin. No it’s not the most inspiring setting, but what makes Hawken stand out is its accessibility and depth. I have to be careful about what I say with regards to the Alpha when comparing it to this newer build (which at the time of writing was finishing its closed beta) due to a rather strict NDA, but the menus for customising your mech are incredibly streamlined when one takes a moment to look at what came before. While the huge selection of unlockable perks may seem overwhelming (players can enhance each individual part of their mech, in order to make it more efficient and manoeuvrable in combat), thanks to the menu system being far easier to navigate than it was previously, the initial sense of being out of one’s depth quickly dissipates.
War… war never cha-no, wait, that’s not quite right
The Garage is where you will spend a lot of your time, tweaking and fine-tuning your mechanical walker of death. It’s where add-ons and perks can be purchased using points accrued during matches or with “Meteor Points” (so named after the games’ publisher) obtained through micro-transactions. Thankfully, from what I was able to glean from perusing this incredibly deep system of mech enhancement, it doesn’t seem to be at risk of the dreaded “pay-to-win” curse though whether this remains the case as more people play the game will be something to keep an eye on.
Then there are the mechs themselves. There are three distinct classes; light, all-rounder and heavy, and within these classes are two different types of mech for you to purchase and a plethora of upgrades for you to choose from. You have Primary and Secondary weapons and three items: one offensive, one defensive and one tactical, allowing abilities such as being able to place gun turrets, launch an EMP or place a hologram of your mech on the battlefield to act as a decoy. Thankfully you can repair yourself amongst the mayhem by holding “C”, something which ensures a lot of ducking and diving in and out of combat and hoping your teammates (unless you’re playing straight Deathmatch) can cover you whilst a small drone hovers above, readying you for your next bruising encounter.
Real Steel had nothing on this
But it is the look and feel of the fights that truly elevate Hawken above nearly every other online multiplayer game. The feeling of weight and heft is conveyed beautifully, not just through the laboured movement of the cockpit, but through great sound design. Thunderous, bassy footsteps help convey the sensation that the small lorry you see ahead of you is about to get truly trampled into dust, while the muffling of these sound effects actually help place you in the cockpit and remind you that this lumbering machine actually has an individual piloting it, cocooned as you are in steel and glass.
With the pounding audio comes stunning visuals to add an extra level of immersion (just see my gameplay video below). Powered by Unreal Engine 3 Hawken looks good in screenshots but divine in motion. The environments, while not the most colourful, are simply dripping with detail. The game’s motion blur effect (which sadly cannot be adjusted, only turned on or off) is subtle and not too over-the-top, and the mechwarriors’ animation makes them appear fleet of foot and surprisingly more graceful in movement then their size would have you believe.
As with any online game, the variety of game modes available is always important, but Adhesive have kept things pretty straightforward in this instance. As one might expect, there is Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch followed by Missile Assault, simply Battlefield’s Conquest mode altered to have you and the opposing team fighting for control of missile silos. The other mode is Siege (which frustratingly I wasn’t able to play due to notorious connectivity issues) which involves collecting energy units and depositing them into your team’s battleship in order for it to reach the enemy base three times. Once the ship has enough energy it will launch, activating a controllable anti-aircraft cannon to aid in repelling the enemy. It sounds thrilling and, with many tactical options available, has the potential to be Hawken’s standout mode.
There are issues however. In this build there were a few bugs but nothing so serious as to make one question whether Adhesive can have it sorted in time. Occasionally getting stuck in scenery is an annoyance and boosting on to higher platforms can be rather niggly. The maps themselves, while offering some degree of verticality, often frustrate as you hit yet another invisible ceiling when there is a platform you know would make a great vantage point. It is most likely to combat camping (the sniper class mech, the Sharpshooters, carry insanely powerful weaponry) and funnel the action (what with it being a twelve player game), but each level is so dense with possibility that it is difficult not to be left frustrated at just how restrictive it can feel.
All signs, however, point to Hawken being one of the premier PC shooters this Christmas along with Planetside 2. With compelling matches, a potentially vast level of customisation and some stunning audiovisuals (complimented by support for Occulus Rift), Hawken is definitely one to watch.