In the land of aerial combat simulators there lies few specimens to gaze at. Ubisoft brings us such illustration with another high flying action packed dose of Tom Clancy branded video games. H.A.W.X. 2 comes into the picture sporting a new story mode, multiplayer unlocks, gameplay tweaks and a plethora of graphical enhancements. The developers put an serendipitous amount of effort and time into improving the foundation of H.A.W.X. for any plane loving aficionados. Unfortunately, clunky flying mechanics, poor objective instruction and lackluster story deter this sequel from the aerial prowess it needs in such a niche market.
In H.A.W.X. 2 you return as a member of the coveted H.A.W.X. Squadron sent to the Middle East to investigate conflicts brewing. Throughout the campaign you play as part of three groups comprised of an American, British, and Russian pilot. Much like Call of Duty, specifically Modern Warfare 2; some nuclear weapons go missing, and its your job to find and retrieve the weapons from various Russian Separatists and Ultranationalists. Repetitive use of this now mundane story s the games greatest shortcoming. The constant jumping from player to player, made the story feel a bit disorganized and it was difficult to understand what exactly was going on, or what you were doing in the area of interest. Unlike H.A.W.X. this title fails to draw you in to its realm, missing a lot of the intensity of the first. Combined with the overdone nuclear warfare gig, and uninteresting cut scenes, the game leaves a bitter nonchalant feeling to the whole ordeal, and is easily forgettable.
Story aside, the game has seen some fancy improvements to the graphical department. The only thing that was really looked over in the graphics department was the quality of the cutscenes. Plenty of visible compression riddled all over the cutscenes, which was not the best to look at considering the scenes looked pre-rendered with the game engine. There have been ample improvements to the plans exterior, including textures, polygons and animations of various plan parts, even the cockpit feels like it has been upgraded. The entire presentation of the planes adds a sharper more detailed depth that lends hand to the realism of the whole effect. Once again we see the return of the GeoEye satellite imagery that lays out the landscape and buildings on the environment. They amped up the level of building density in city locations with more 3d models to make the area look less like a flat texture. Even though the story lacked intensity, they made up for in intense action in game. The explosions are worthy to note, and small things hear and there such as missile trails, engine thrusters, and wind trails, and a lot to the chaos of flying in combat. The new hud removes a lot of the boxes that cluttered the previous iteration, which helps immensely in trying to see enemies planes and ground units on screen.
Gameplay wise it feels like a slightly matured H.A.W.X. game. The controls are still a pain to get used to, with you flying upside down half the time, or trying to fly low enough to the ground without becoming a permanent decorative asset to a building. Most of your time fighting the enemy is spent trying to line up your shot, and hoping the plane cooperates long enough to kill the target. This results in a rather frustrating need to make multiple passes to complete simple objectives. Some might consider this to be more realistic, but this is an arcade simulator and not really a game aimed at ultimate realism. That being said there are definitely settle differences in each planes flight characteristics which adds a certain appeal to the process. While all the planes feel like you have very little control on the direction and rotation you are flying at, some planes offer some useful attributes such as quick turns or fast speeds. The only problem though, is the inability to choose a plane on the single player missions as every plane is preset for the mission. They do a good job on setting you up with a comparable plane to accomplish the task at hand, but it seems more practical to be allowed to choose your own plane. However one can understand that they probably limited this to maintain context within the story. They have bring back the expert flying mode hat allows you to have a broad third person view of the dogfight in order to better track enemy planes. ERS also makes a return in case you are having difficulties lining up objectives, however it seems they have limited this to specific areas. New mechanics have been introduced in the form of take-off and landing, as well as in-flight refueling which add another layer onto the monochrome combat. Of course if you are not up to snuff, you can activate the ERS to help you land. Landing mid-combat allows you to rearm your plane, however I found it easier just to crash into the ground after a checkpoint if I needed more weapons. As with the problem in the other game, the A.I. on your side seems rather absent minded, and usually is off doing there own thing, leaving you to do most of the work, only to show up out of no where to help take out the last guy.
The game takes a lot of time focusing on perhaps the most frustrating part of the original H.A.W.X. game which happened to be defending and escort missions. There are a ridiculous amount of these task in the game, which are just frustrating with the absurd amount of ground forces sent at you. The saving grace here is the unique modes where you get to pilot a couple missions with a UAV pointing out targets to help out russian allies. You also get the chance to man an ac-130 mowing down plenty of ground forces as you help your fellow military forces escape the area. Aside from the new single player mechanics, we see the return of the free-roam mode, which allows you to fly planes around the environments, although this is just not that interesting. There is also a Survivor Mode which allows you to take on waves of enemies in the plane of your choice. It offers up a challenging task, which is quite useful in learning the pros and cons of the various planes provided within the game.
Multiplayer offers a vanilla H.A.W.X. experience. You can conquer the skies in co-op single player with friends, or battle out online against others. Perhaps the most significant difference in the MP system is how you gain experience and perks. Before you were given planes and upgrades based on your level. Now instead as you earn XP, you are given points that allow you to choose from five trees that offer different upgrades, from defense, offense to electronic warfare, each containing upgrades and new planes associated with that roll. Earning experience points is much like the first. You can complete goals in the single player such as destroying a certain amount of enemies using Joint Strike Missiles, or by playing online.
While H.A.W.X. 2 makes plenty of improvements in some of its facets, the bland story and totalitarian controls might push away non diehard fans of flight games or the H.A.W.X. series. Multiplayer, survival mode and single-player co-op attempt to add some replay value, beyond that however the game really only appeals to the small niches of plane enthusiasts.