Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
Too close for missiles - we're switching to guns. Kikizo risks a flyby with Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
360 (PS3, PC, Wii)
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Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. has led our expectations a merry dance indeed from early footage to retail release. When the first batch of screens broke cloud cover many people, myself included, wrote the game off as a well turned-out but unremarkable flight sim. Others were rattled by this sudden change of theme in a franchise best known for squad combat and high-tech stealth. With EndWar also departing dramatically from existing Clancy formulas, fans of Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon couldn't help feeling a bit bereft.
The latter needn't have worried, at least. While it trades in Kevlar vests and khaki pants for decoy flares and air-to-surface missiles, H.A.W.X. is Tom Clancy through and through: the same old bundle of cunningly (or, in the case of the title, not so cunningly) abbreviated militarisms, the same old gun-metal grey patriotism, the same old greasy continental trrrrists, rogue states and macho laryngitis. The game slots neatly into the timeline before the events of EndWar and not long after those of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2. In a couple of missions you even get to fly support for Captain Scott Mitchell, the Ghost leader.
But if its roots are unmistakeable, H.A.W.X. never threatens to out-perform Ghost Recon or Splinter Cell. Our hands-on impressions in January suggested there might be something special lurking beneath that glistening but generic fuselage, but for the most part H.A.W.X. is content to cruise above the tree-tops rather than daring the upper reaches of the scoring scale.
Cruising above the tree-tops, incidentally, isn't something you should do much of if you want to appreciate the graphics. Aircraft models are jaw-dropping, and the vast, satellite-modelled panoramas you visit are impressively authentic, but close up the landscape loses all its charisma in a welter of boxy architecture and low-resolution textures.
The story, as you'd expect, is so much air friction. Your character, US High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron commander David Crenshaw, signs up as a pilot for the private military corporation Artemis at the end of his commission. At first private sector work is all sunshine and roses - fat bonuses and the opportunity to tour the globe in a heavily armed aircraft - but something is rotten in the state of profit motives, and a few missions into the eight hour campaign Crenshaw and his buddies must choose between their contracts and their consciences. Guess which way up the coin falls. If there was ever anything original or intriguing about this "classic" nineties premise, Ubisoft's scriptwriters stomped it flat long before H.A.W.X. hit alpha.