by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Nailin' the little things
I’m not sure exactly why, but I still remember with shocking clarity when I first saw the initial announcement trailer/demo for the mech combat game Hawken. It was no more than a few minutes of basic combat, but it grabbed me. The thing was, it didn’t win my heightened attention via the usual merits that a trailer normally possess for the purpose of reeling in uninitiated viewers. It didn’t have the poignancy of the Dead Island or Gears of War trailers, Halo’s epic score, or the grand scale of Assassin’s Creed III or Mass Effect. What it did have was something far more rare for both an initial trailer and low-budget games in general: it nailed the little things. The audio was crisp and deep, the visuals were sharp, and there was a definite ‘tone’ established. This theme of focusing on the smaller things is one that seems to be running through Adhesive Games’ robo-fighter, and the reason that, over a year after seeing that first trailer, I’m still itching for this free-to-play adventure to come out.
That feeling when you realise how tiny you are
Upon just a glance, it becomes clear where Hawken draws its inspiration from. Much like MechWarrior or Mechassault, the game features multiple-stories-tall bipedal mechs launching bullets and missiles at each other with the frequency and tenacity of curse words in a high school lunchroom. What sets it apart, at least from the vast majority of robotically-inclined titles this gen, is how the mechs handle. The biggest problem with mechs in general, in my humble opinion, is that it’s hard to make it feel like the player is piloting a mech without instilling feelings of sloth and lack of control. This is something, however, that Hawken is putting a huge focus on. A lot of little things add up to sell the idea that you are a tiny human controlling a hulking behemoth of metal and wire. For one, the first person camera that the player witnesses the game through is not tied to the mech. Instead, your field of vision will ‘lead’ the mech. If you turn left, or right, or look up or down, your head will veer a bit that way before the mech turns. It isn’t enough to be distracting or throw you off, but it’s there enough to seem natural. This also applies to when you drop from high places, take hits, or boost in any direction.
The balance between carrying the weight of tons and tons of cold, hard steel is also balanced nicely with a number of movement techniques that stop the game from feeling too slow-paced. While normal walking may seem molasses-like to the seasoned Call of Duty player, the management of when and how to use the triumvirate of hovering, quick dashing, and 180-degree spins adds speed and a layer of strategy to motion. These more acrobatic options require the use of fuel, an eventually renewable but immediately finite resource available to all mechs. Dash too much at the wrong time, and you’ll be a sitting duck when an enemy gets the jump on you. Don’t use enough early on in an encounter, and you’ll have dug yourself into a hole too deep to blast out of with even the mightiest of rocket barrages. It turns encounters into a chess match of sorts, using and saving fuel at moments of your choosing to dodge and flank your enemy while they try to do the same to you. Fuel does regenerate fairly quickly so it isn’t the main focus of combat by a longshot, but the added dimension seems like a worthy addition nonetheless.
Online, customisation is one of the most important keys to success. After each death, players will have the chance to switch both the class and equipment of their metallic marauder. Classes function just as they do in most games: they determine both the selections of weapons and equipment available, and the armor/speed balance of your mech. After taking the time to unlock some of the death-dealers available, players will be able to suit their machine to just about any play-style they’d like. Want a defensive behemoth with layers over layers of armor? Go for it, but know that you’ll be able to move just about as fast as sleeping Snorlax. Want a speedy bot that can pop out of nowhere, lay a few hits, drop back into the metaphorical shadows, and repeat? Be my guest, but you’d better not take more than a few hits. Pair this with the myriad of weapons ranging from spray-and-pray bullet hoses to surgical snipers and beyond, and no two robots will be the same.
Polished free-to-play game
Of course, we can’t know with a complete level of certainty whether or not Hawken will be able to capitalize on its potential and deliver the giant steel-crunching satisfaction that it has promised. Hopefully, it doesn’t fall into the pit that so many other free-to-play titles do, letting people either pay-to-win, or spamming gamers to pay so frequently that its annoyance overcomes the entertainment value in the title. Fret not, however, as at this point all signs signal towards Hawken being another excellent addition to the onslaught of extremely polished free-to-play games that have been sweeping over the industry for the last year or so. Those looking to hop into the cockpit early can register to participate in the upcoming open beta, otherwise potential pilots can showcase their ballistic bestowments when the game officially launches on December 12th.