I have fond memories of the original Warhawk. I can still remember making the trek back home after visiting the nearest Best Buy over an hour away with a copy in hand, purchased solely on the fact that it looked cool. (Note: Pre Internet Everywhere Era, folks.) It was a blast from the get-go: levels were mini sandboxes where the Warhawk was free to maneuver under, over, and through objects whilst blasting away enemies with a variety of missiles and projectiles. Even the horrible full-motion video cutscenes were great Ė in their own special way. Iím genuinely surprised it took this long to make a sequel, and Iím even more surprised that itís team-based multiplayer-centric. Incognito, the developers behind the excellent Twisted Metal Black, has done the original justice, providing one of the few fantastic team-based action games for consoles.
Any PC gamer with a copy of Quake or Half-Life knows about the joyous mayhem of team-based online titles. Warhawk has more to do with Counter-Strike than Team Fortress though. Instead of being based on classes every player starts out as a lowly soldier for the Eucadians or the Chernovans, armed only with a pistol and a knife. There are a number of options to choose from at any of the bases or spawn points to turn the soldier into a Warhawk pilot, a tank commander, or a scout in a jeep. If there are any weapons nearby Ė easily spotted since all items float in the sky and are highlighted Ė a sniper, machine gunner, anti-vehicle, or scout can emerge. By using the directional pad to select one of 8 weapons, players have a small arsenal and plenty of options at the ready.
The roots of the new Warhawk quickly emerge, and not in a positive way. During the off-and-on stage of it being free or not, some things were skipped over, such as a tutorial. Yes: amazingly, there is no tutorial. At all. Even though there are three vehicles, mounted defensive weapons, and a tricky sniper rifle, there is no way for the player to try the items out and get comfortable with the controls before jumping into the fray. I played a lot of solo games hosted by myself just to get the basics down, but simple maneuvers like learning how to lead targets while in a Warhawk will all be learned under fire. There are unranked servers that can be used as a practice arena, but I have to think that even players on those servers would prefer that their teammates actually know what they are doing before depending on them to win. Instead of any sort of practice field or objective-based tutorial, small text boxes will pop up to describe what a particular item does. Again, if the self-hosted route isnít taken, that means trying to read what to do while war is going on all around. Thatís a pretty bad oversight, and it shows considerably poor judgment when taking into account just how tricky the Warhawk, the star of the show, can be to control.
There is also no single-player component to speak of. No bots. Nothing. The only way to play a game without going online, such as in cases like now when my Internet connection is down, is to play split screen with some friends. Considering how many problems there have been with the servers, including ranks resetting and players receiving undeserved points, a way to play without the hassles of nursing pains would have been great.
Warhawk succeeds despite these shortcomings. Incognito hit a sweet spot in terms of armament count and balance, with enough items to keep a fight interesting but not too many to overwhelm. The limitations of a console controller meant that they couldnít go all out with the options, and they did a very good job of keeping everything concise Ė there is nothing that isnít one button press away from the default play screen. Some more options to actually reconfigure the controls themselves would have been great though: pressing R2 to move forward and R1 to shoot in a tank feels uncomfortable for a long time. The precise balance to get as many options as possible with as many hotkeys as possible is a reasonable answer to the rigid control schemes, but it doesnít stop my hand from cramping. But that can be adjusted to, and it will be Ė the tank is now my favorite vehicle Ė to revel an addictive combat system. Soldiers have a slight bounce to their movements while vehicles need an extra kick to get going, which doesnít sound like much but it creates a great arcadey feel for everything.
The graphics also work well in creating such a loose atmosphere since they arenít wacky but arenít overly serious either; itís very much how World of Warcraft works in that the artists went for a really fine line between realistic and fantasy and managed to hit it dead-on. All of the units have a slightly disproportioned look, which actually works in the gameís favor. The extra outfit options fit into that mold as well. As players gain points in battle, customization options become unlocked for both sides. Hopping into the customization menu allows for head, torso, and legs to be outfitting in an increasing number of options. The Warhawks themselves can be tweaked as well, and both soldier and Warhawk can have emblems emblazoned on the side. They arenít much, but they do add a bit of variety on the battlefield and most are surprisingly cool looking.
The level design is almost universally fantastic. The maps work with all of the gameplay types Ė deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and zone mode Ė very well. The environments arenít huge, but they come across as huge. Clever placement of objects like debris and boulders break up the maps in such a way that paths seem much longer than they are, but the locations of the forts and flags keeps the focus on the next station and not on the mapís boundaries. Itís really surprising how defending a fort on a desert map can feel so isolating when thereís another fort just over a small hill, but looking out from a bunker or a turret gives the sensation of a forgotten outpost. Of course, those feelings donít last long as the sounds of Warhawks zipping by overhead and tanks blasting at the entrenched sniper snap (my) far-flung fantasy back to reality. There are some maps that have almost no surface at all, only launch pads, and others with towering skyscrapers cornering a central piece of land that has a bombed-out park. Even though I canít fly a Warhawk to save my life, these maps are absolutely striking and actually do a good sense of conveying the history of a long struggle. Not bad, considering thereís nothing resembling a back story or plot.
Depending on which was purchased, some players will have a bluetooth headset to talk with their comrades. The headset is actually nice, but they arenít used too often, with most battles unfortunately devolving into brawls between two dozen Rambos - although that isnít uncommon for this type of game. For those who want to purchase it through the PlayStation Network, the missing headset wonít affect the game all that much for casual play.
Everything in Warhawk emphasizes the pick-up-and-play mentality, with fast-paced action and a look that all types of gamers can enjoy. All of the gameís elements really come together well, making an inviting game in a genre that can be very uninviting.
Overall: 8/10The lack of a tutorial is a surprising misstep, but the real problem is that there are still severe server problems. When in a game, I had no problems, but there have been inaccurate player counts in the menu, stats resetting, points being given when unearned, and other random oddities. All of that really should have been worked out from the beginning, but even given a little bit of post-launch catching up, it should definitely be smoothed out by now. Server woes aside, Warhawk is an exceptional team-based online title that offers great controls, stylish graphics, and clever maps.