HAWKEN is a free-to-play online multiplayer FPS, which sits you inside a mech and puts you at the forefront of the war zone, as you battle against other mech warriors in enclosed maps. I have recently got my hands on an account to take a look at what HAWKEN has to offer over there standard human vs. human FPS competitors.
At first I was rather sceptical as the images looked like a very grey palate. It reminded me of Battlefield 3; “realistic”. This isn’t categorically a bad thing; however the whole concept of the game, in my eyes, would be flamboyant sci-fi warfare. From the concept art this didn’t seem to be the case. With gritty battle scenes and giant guns in mind, this seemed to be a game for the FPS veterans and die hard modern shooters among us.
The user interface is simple to navigate. You have a garage to choose your mechs, upgrade them, and equip them with an array of different defensive and offensive kit, as well as a choice of different items. This was the only option I was allowed to view on this demo other than the profile tab and PLAY tab, however the system though being detailed is simple to use.
There is a quick start tutorial that is accessible when clicking the large “PLAY” tab at the top of the screen and will take you through all the steps on how to buy a mech, how to upgrade it, and how to navigate the Garage. You click on the mech you want, and you purchase that mech. You click on the upgrades you want, and you purchase and equip it. Upgrades can be purchased with Hawken Credits that are won in game for performance in matches. Meteor Credits are a second form of currency. These can be bought with real money as a booster to your existing Hawken Credits, and are used not only to purchase mechs and upgrades, but to buy cosmetic peripherals for the mechs. This may cause a disparity among players later on. With some players wanting to fork out cash for equipment and mech upgrades, players not willing to spend their hard earned money to buy mechs and equipment may be left behind with their far from bad, but still basic CRT units. With that said mechs only cost in the region of £4, and may not trouble too many people that would be serious about the game.
When buying mechs they come with all the information that is necessary to choose your war machine. These will be decided by the different ranges your mech can fire (long distance, medium distance, short distance, etc.), and the different weapons they possess. When you click on a mech you can also view its whole body and aesthetic by holding the right mouse button and moving your cursor around. I found this quite a nice feature as it gave you a perspective on all the physical qualities of the mechs and showed a very well rounded design. These mechs aren’t built to look fancy, they are built for war. There are in total, 9 different classes of mech to choose from, all with different specialised weapons. It is, however, important to note that though you can have multiple mechs it is sensible to focus on one mech, due to the level system that we talk about later.
After completing the interface walkthrough I was able to play a tutorial of the gameplay. This took me through the capabilities of my mech in the different terrain that I may face in the game. The terrain seemed to be a mix of; warfare in an industrial environment, warfare in a wasteland environment or warfare in an industrial wasteland environment. It didn’t seem very varied at first and continuing into the online brawls the same environments seemed to continue. I am not one to dislike industrial locations, however with all the different machinery everywhere in the map’s it is hard to distinguish the mechs from the scenery. This may fade with time, as the player gets used to the surroundings, but it will take time to get use to the map structure.
The HUD that surrounds you while playing shows your fuel reserve, crosshair, weapon status, health and your secondary weapon storage. The whole HUD is very well laid out and I found it very natural to peer at my fuel gauge every time I was boosting or hovering to make sure that I was in the green. It was a feature that really brought me into the action and made me feel like I was in the pilot’s seat. There are many other buttons and switches that don’t concern the player, but it was nice to see that the dials that are most important have been highlighted to quickly scan over them while in the fray. It would have been nice to have a larger fuel gauge, but again, the HUD is very well laid out, so you will have no problems tracking your status through the game. Each mech has a different HUD for the different shapes, which may be a factor to consider when choosing what mech to buy.
This brings us to the game. The warfare. When waiting for the round to start the loading was quick and no bugs were experienced. You are then held in a docking bay where you can choose your mech and the mech’s peripherals. Once you click LAUNCH you are instantly dumped into a battlefield with the rest of the team, and depending on the game mode you chose you have to fight it out against the opposing mechs.
After an hour of playing I really began to enjoy myself, this game is tremendous fun, and is very smooth once you are used to the feel of the mechs and the controls, however the first hour was purely annoying, here’s why;
The mechs are large and thus are quite “clunky”; this made the movement feel quite slow even when speeding around using the booster rockets. It definitely raised awareness in game and made it tenser, though it made the fighting feel a lot more claustrophobic. These are positive points in my eyes for an FPS, and gave a feeling of urgency in game. The movement was also very realistic for such a massive machine, which makes the HUD sway slightly as you moved (this is an option you can switch off in the settings menu). This feature was welcomed as it feels as if you are fighting with the weight of the mech while playing, and emphasises the use of a good physics engine. That said, controls were rather unresponsive as your entire mech has to be moved around corners and boosting onto platforms. This made you feel very heavy and physically part of the machinery. I found this incredibly immersive as my heart was racing and I was jiggling around in my chair to dodge bullets that were on the screen, but it meant that actually moving around was difficult at first. This meant getting shot down a lot and took some getting used to.
The level system is possibly the largest gripe I had with the game. You start the game at level one and you have no chance of even making one kill against a team of level five’s and up. I was shot down at my spawn point by a level ten mech within the first ten second of my HAWKEN experience.
I am not normally annoyed by this in FPS games. It’s usually a method of playing and progressively becoming more skilled, but in this circumstance, I didn’t have a chance to get better. I was being smothered by multiple enemies and not having a clue who was firing at me and from what direction. All the mechs other than having a red target around them kept falling into the scenery or explosions and it made it quite hard to fight, especially if there are more than two mech’s in one area at any time. After racking up 19 deaths, 0 kills and 6 assists I realised that though my team had won, no thanks to me, I had gained some experience points that filled up in an EXP bar. I then grasped that grinding is the only way forward in this game, possibly taking an annoying page from RPG gaming.
I felt this level system was unnecessary. I can understand earning credits for better weapons and armour, but levels as well? It just seems redundant when you already have a good reward system. Games such as Battlefield and Call of Duty work well as people can acquire better weapons than one another in game giving them an advantage, but ultimately a skilled fighter with a rubbish gun can still beat a “noob” with an amazing one. My point being that if you then give that inexperienced pilot an amazing arsenal and a high level, there is no balance any more. The whole game is skewed and when you have sat there firing for about 10 seconds on a level 12 that hasn’t seen you yet, and you end up dying, it gets irritating very quickly.
Once leveled up and accustomed to the gameplay it was fantastic fun. Dodging rockets, jumping off the platforms, rising up to a level, firing out your rockets and watching the mechs fly through the air like a magnificently limp flock of metal eagles. The game doesn’t become easier, though it does become significantly more manageable. At level 2 I was able to achieve a 1:1 death:kill ratio, which I was happy with. That was until a level fifteen rocketeer mech entered the match and four level 2 players rage quit after being annihilated a few times over, at which point I also quit, (with an ounce of rage) and began to write this review.
Overall I feel this game has a lot of work to do to become popular. It is incredible fun when you give it a chance, though I fear with the level system in place, people will quickly become disheartened in the early hours of playing HAWKEN. Once nailing the timing of dodging missiles and making contact with your bullets, you start to really get drawn into the game, and I for one haven’t felt this physically drawn into a game, since mirrors edge.
After speaking to some of the players on a couple of games an idea was put forward. Instead of scrapping the level system, create different map sets that have a level cap. With Levels 1-5 having their own maps, and levels 10-20 having a separate field, it gives people a chance to level out the playing field. Even some of the level 19 and level 25 mechs just felt it was too easy to win when fighting against a team of level fives, and made the match “boring after a while because all you are doing is killing ants”
All in all a good game. The scenery needs some work to make the mechs stand out more, and with a small issue of the machine gun’s sounding like a tin can strapped to my bicycle wheel, the game feels solid, and I will definitely keep on playing.