My latest attempt to make progress in the fairly long campaign of H.A.W.X. found my impromptu wingman -- Zen E, also known on our forums as WildCard Zen -- and I protecting a space shuttle launch after we successfully destroyed a set of scanner nodes at low altitude. The stark contrast between the low-and-fast attack of the preceding mission and the high flying dogfights in the latter is one of many, a perfect example of how varied the campaign in H.A.W.X. can be. Unfortunately, the gameplay can get repetitive if you're not caught up in the setting.
Cue the wingman.
Surely we've all seen an air stunt show... If not, then perhaps a squadron in formation on NASCAR weekend...? Either way, you can understand how tough sticking close to your wingmen would be in a frantic combat situation; H.A.W.X. expands the boundaries of the engagement zone significantly, to the point that it actually benefits you to get some space between yourself and your co-op partners. After half a dozen attempts to protect the space shuttle from four near-simultaneous cruise missiles, we finally split the compass between us: I took the south and east missiles, and Zen E chased down the north and west. Our only successful attempt came after we gathered our co-op wits about us and devised our masterful battle plan.
Victory whoops and barrel rolls accompanied a final defiant auto cannon burst just before the mission ended; this is cooperative combat at its finest. There may not be epic scripted events crashing the city around you...no AI Director throwing waves of the Horde down your street...but the sense of joint accomplishment is still prevalent.
It doesn't stop there: before you ever deploy, you must choose your fighter jet and weapons loadout. All the while, you are able to discuss and debate with your co-op partners how best to tackle the upcoming mission. When one has chosen, the map loads, and the rest of your squadron can drop in when they're ready. They will spawn within a reasonable range, removing any worry you may have had about entering a fray alone and trying to stay in the air until they arrive.
Even in the sky, tactics change with each loadout combination, different numbers of participating co-op players, and different mission parameters. When a freefall bomb leaves one target behind, it's satisfying to see a teammate's air-to-ground missile streak toward it, leaving you free from having to loop around for a second pass. Players can square off against waves of incoming Migs closing in from separate directions. And of course, there's always the Luke Skywalker/Wedge Antilles head-to-head pass (known affectionately to us Star Wars geeks as the Corellian Slip), perfect for helping a teammate in a limping bomber.
"Whoo-ah! That got 'im!"
However you tip your wings, H.A.W.X. is a game that doesn't force tactical maneuvers, but openly provides the freedom to play with a tactical flair. A single player will find ample thrill playing through the campaign alone, but adding more players to the mix promotes a sense of cooperation that settles in naturally. If you're ambitious enough, your favorite maneuvers can be taken with you to the competitive versus mode, although I highly recommend several hours of co-op flight time before attempting.