War, for war’s sake.
Usually, when wars start to go really sour, one side or the other will begin to conscript untrained young soldiers to send to the front. Most end up cannon-fodder, but every so often some frail-looking, snot-nosed, recruit survives, generally by scurrying around faster than a hopped-up hummingbird.
[image1]The console war is no exception, and we expect to see quite a few games this winter come back from the front on stretchers. Of course, we here at GR are usually the ones shooting ‘em, but that’s another story.
Warhawk, Sony’s multiplayer-only online fragfest, is one of those drafted into immediate duty on the frontline of the console war. It doesn’t offer any training, it doesn’t promise lots of depth or strategy, and it doesn’t tout any freakish bells and whistles. But it is lean and quick, and by not trying to be anything it isn’t (namely, a strategy game) it should last at least the month.
Warhawk lacks many of the elements of even a mediocre game. There is no single-player campaign, no tutorial mode, no bot-support, and few game modes and maps. So it’s a surprise then that Warhawk manages to survive despite its skinny frame.
The first thing that you notice about Warhawk, whether you download it off the PSN store or buy it at the Earth store, is the absence of any tutorial mode. Before you know how to shoot a gun or fly a warhawk, you’re dropped into the thick of an actual online battle – where you get pwned – as the kid with the headset will inform you. The game provides in-game text boxes with tips on how to use each of the weapons and vehicles, but in the heat of battle, reading isn’t a top priority. It’s sink or swim from the start.
That’s a bad metaphor, though, since swimming is one of the only things you can’t do in Warhawk’s playground of military waste. You can hoof it on foot, using various hand-to-hand weapons, calling in superpowerful airstrikes, and take down planes with surface-to-air missiles. Or you can jump in a tank or jeep, cruise the spawnpoints, pick up some buddies, you know, throw an improptu sideshow if things get hyphy.
Or you can choose to leave the suckers on the ground and get your own jet. Warhawks, the game’s convertible plane/hovercraft, deserve their top-billing as the game’s namesake. In jet mode, they dart across the sky, swooping and banking in delicate, but short, dogfights. In hover mode, they rain fiery death on ground units. The feeling of power and versatility is remarkable, as is the feeling of terror when you are the one on the ground.
[image2]The warhawks can be steered with the Sixaxis tilt controller, but the default analog stick setting is more precise and less awkward. In fact, all the vehicles are easy to maneuver and use. Changing weapons is accomplished with a quick pop-up menu, as is changing seats in a jeep or a tank. And even though the game uses the notoriously clunky third-person view, the targeting reticule is forgiving and reduces the twitch-factor. Once past the initial disorientation, the gunplay is as familiar as that theme from Cheers.
It would be easy to criticize the game for not having a single-player mode, but, unlike the unfulfilled promise of Shadowrun, Warhawk’s fantasy world doesn’t even make a gesture towards backstory or purpose. There is a blue team. There is a red team. War ensues. (A possible rejected title: Crips v. Bloods: Extreme Ops Gear).
It might also be easy to take Warhawk to task for the lack of original game modes and of varied maps. There are only four game modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Zones (a tweaked version of king-of-the-hill). There are also only five game maps, which range from a litter of tiny islands to a giant swath of Utah-like badlands.
But since the game can be played in so many ways, the lack of modes just doesn’t wear thin. Capture the Flag is probably the best suited for this wide-open battlefield combat, and Deathmatch, since the game is best suited for team play, fares the worst. And although there are only five unique maps, each of those maps have several different sizes, meaning that an 8-player game on any of the maps will feel as cozy as a 32-player game.
One does wish, however, that there were more rewards or other carrots offered for sacrificing hours and hours to Warhawk’s unholy altar of manslaughter. As you rise in rank and accomplish challenges, you unlock some new costume designs and skins for your planes. But that isn’t much to shoot for, especially since the PS3 doesn’t track achievements. Warhawk answers a lot of questions about the PS3’s online capabilities, but in some ways it still operates at a disadvantage against the 360’s substantial achievement and friend system. Clan support, which Warhawk offers, is a nice perk, however.
Since the game is wholly multiplayer, it is a relief to see that finding and joining games is easy. Not only are the games scaled to the bandwidth of the hosting party, but Sony has at least fifty of its own servers running games all the time. In most games, and especially in the Sony server games, there is absolutely no lag.
[image3]And that makes the huge maps all the more incredible. Distances feel incredibly large, and the draw distance is impeccable. Skirmishes rage in little nooks and crannies of the map, chattering AA fire streaks the sky, all while you flit through the clouds in your warhawk, with nothing slowing down or appearing to be somewhere it manifestly isn’t. The graphics may not be photorealistic or gritty, but they are bright and precise, and for a game that runs this smooth with this many players, that’s unbelievable.
As is its online price. For $40 you get the complete game from the Playstation Store online. You might be missing the headset and manual which come in the $60 package, but it’s still a steal. The only catch is that if you download it, the game can only be played by the profile that bought it online. There’s no such restriction for the meat-world version.
Either way, though, Warhawk overcomes some pretty steep self-imposed obstacles. It obviously won’t satisfy those looking for a long, deep, story or a rich customization palette. But it’s got enough adrenaline in its little heart to put up a remarkable fight. Bravo, little Warhawk, bravo.