Despite minimal delays and an insignificant shipping hiccup, everyone should have had the opportunity to patrol the friendly skies with Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. by now. It's no secret that here at Co-Optimus we can appreciate the Tom Clancy-branded games, if for nothing else because they always include great co-op support. H.A.W.X. does not deviate from that notion, although thanks to a minute amount of originality...there is less playability to be seen overall when compared to, say...GRAW 2 .
When putting together a co-op review, it's hard to find a definitive point of view. On one hand, you want everyone to agree with you...on the other, it will never happen. "Different strokes for different folks", as they say. So keep in mind while I praise and likewise skewer this game: I had a great time playing, and will continue to do so.
H.A.W.X. has very little in the way of a deep storyline, and the cutscenes mirror this. Thankfully, the game is fun enough without the story; I just wish you could skip the cutscenes altogether, but so far I've had no luck. You'll start off with a well-populated mission on the cool premise that you are working in conjunction with the Ghosts of Ghost Recon. You provide air support as a part of the U.S. military, but as yet you have not learned how to use "Assistance OFF" mode, wherein the uniqueness of H.A.W.X. lies. As the story progresses, you eventually leave the military to join the private security firm Artemus, and from there a couple of weak plot twists and devices get lost in the shuffle as you practice and marvel -- or balk -- at the Assistance OFF mode.
Where the single-player fun starts, though, is where it ends. H.A.W.X. looks superb in motion, and the controls are more than decent. However: the even in the highest difficulty setting, the enemies are not much of a challenge, and the missions get a bit repetitive. Even though Ubisoft did an incredible job detailing the landscape and articulating combat, ultimately it is a very straight-forward game that is best played with a friend and a grain of salt. Cue the co-op functions and watch a merely decent game get the Red Carpet treatment!
From the very get-go, you can choose to either: play alone with AI support, open your game to anyone willing to join, create a private session, or search for available open games. This is very easy to set up. Unfortunately, there is no option to leave your game perpetually open to friends or other joiners, but it really is a breeze to kick off the campaign as a co-op excursion. Once you've designated your session as co-op, you can either wait for a wingman or start without them. In a nice touch: voice chat is available even in the loading screen, which not only allows you to talk with your wingman between missions, but it also eliminates the need for a Live Party. Don't get me wrong...Live Party is extremely useful, but at this current point in time, it can be hit-or-miss, often booting players at random.
My favorite function of H.A.W.X. co-op is the fact that each player can choose their own level of difficulty. All this does is essentially make your plane weaker and limits your weapons, so it's not an actual gameplay change, but the higher your difficulty level, the more XP (eXPerience, for the uninitiated) points to be had. XP is gained in all modes and is used to unlock planes and weapon sets in sequence, very much like the Call of Duty titles and Rainbow Six Vegas 2.
I've complained about the demo being too simple and arcadey, and the full version delivers on that complaint. Thankfully, the ability to choose individual levels of difficulty, the full drop-in/drop-out support, and the more XP-productive campaign make the co-op experience not only interesting and unique...but favorable to the single-player experience. To us, that's a good thing. The game stands out as a good title; it absolutely shines as a co-op game.