Warhawk was originally released on the first Playstation in 1996. Eleven years later, developer Incognito has taken those original premises and adapted them into a online focused multiplayer only title for the powerful Playstation 3. When Warhawk was first shown it was going to feature a strong single player storyline involving the invasion of the Eucadian empire by the evil Chernovan armada. The title was mainly a showcase of how six-axis controls could really benefit games developed for the PS3.
During development the team at Incognito decided to completely revamp the game’s focus into a multiplayer only slugfest along the same lines as EA’s Battlefield series. The team cited that the importance of delivering a “AAA” experience, even at the detriment of single player, was of the utmost importance. What the game evolved into is an exceptionally balanced war game that allows up to 32 players, great hosting features, a robust stat tracking feature, and exceptionally engaging gameplay. It may not be a perfect game, but Warhawk is definitely a solid feather in the PS3’s cap.
I’ll admit that I was worried when the change in focus was announced for Warhawk. I thought that the change to multiplayer only would mean that a lot of sacrifices would be made to the graphics in order to have the game run smoothly with 32 players. As well, Sony said that the game would available as a download from the Playstation Network, and even with that Serengeti sized hard drive on the system I was worried that more sacrifices would be made to make for a smoother download.
How wrong I was. Warhawk is definitely a good looking game. Textures have a depth and richness to them, there isn’t an over abundance of bloom lighting, the framerate is rock solid, and best of all there is none of that next-gen plasticky look that tends to be the norm in a lot of other titles. Of course technical prowess isn’t all that matters, a game can approach the “Uncanny Valley” all it wants, but art direction is what really makes games shine. Warhawk has it in spades. You really feel like you are in a war torn country fighting for your life. Burning buildings, sepia-toned sunsets, and military bases can be found all over, and even though it is mainly cosmetic, each team has a very distinct look that you can customize as you gain more and more ranks.
Lastly the arenas that you battle in can be as massive as you want or as little as you need, and the game engine doesn’t miss a beat. You can land your Warhawk on top of a mountain range, pull out the binoculars or sniper rifle and practically see forever. Some levels don’t seem to end, and even better is that there are no invisible barriers. You could literally walk from one end to the other with nothing stopping you. For an online multiplayer title I was expecting dumbed down graphics with tight and constricted maps designed to help with latency issues. Instead you get a war torn paradise with gigantic maps that each have a distinct look and feel to really draw you into the battles.Warhawk combines a mixture of excellent sound effects with a military movie-esque soundtrack to give the feeling that you truly are part of something much larger. Each vehicle engine has its own distinct sound, as does every weapon. There is definitely a distinct sound to the flame thrower that when you hear that hiss you know to hightail it to somewhere safe before you get fried. You may never really notice the soundtrack because you are so busy trying to help your team achieve the next objective, but that really is the best thing about it. The soundtrack is so seamless into the gameplay that it truly does compliment the game battles well.
I don’t think I have ever heard anyone ever complain about having a lot of choice when it comes to controls in video games. If you polled the gaming masses I think everyone would agree that being able to adjust any game’s controls to your personal tastes would be preferable to a locked system. It seems that Incognito agrees with this principle as Warhawk allows for multiple control styles. You can choose to have inverted controls for each set of vehicles, you can choose to use motion controls, and you can even adjust the sensitivity. Personally I wasn’t too fond of the motion controls. The Six-Axis controller doesn’t provide the most precise motion sensing, and while it will work for some, I felt it was much too loose for me.
However, the analog controls provide a tight gaming experience that you can enjoy from the start. Each vehicle has a different feel, and when you switch from hover to jet in the Warhawks your controls change from a tank-like tactical hover plane to a fast moving, easy to maneuver missile dodging bird of destruction. One thing that was severly lacking was any real in game explanation of the controls. You have to fudge around with them to grasp them but Incognito could’ve made it that much easier by offering a better tutorial. It took me a couple of fights and fine tuning to really nail things down.
Multiplayer titles live and die by the amount of modes included in the game. Warhawk doesn’t necessarily bring anything new, but it certainly doesn’t forget anything as well. Modes included are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Zone Control, Dogfights(Warhawk only airfights), and Capture the Flag. Each mode is complimented by Incognito’s excellent attention to balance.
Warhawk boasts an impressive seven aerial weapons, nine ground based weapons and three vehicles. Each given an excellent balance of power and purpose. You can rest assured that you will never run into a rocket launcher-fest or any other similarly over powered weapon dominated game. The most powerful weapons, like the artillery call in binoculars, are balanced with a need to wait several seconds before each attack. Or can be countered by using another weapon to disable them, for instance using a flamethrower to knock out the mines that are often used to guard a zone base. Of course the faster weapons don’t deal as much damage, and it really feels like Incognito has achieved that difficult balance in each weapon.
Vehicles and turrets receive the same balancing treatment as the weaponry do. Turrets are exceptionally powerful weapons limited by longer reload times and a distinct vulnerability while you man one. Of course that never stopped me from jumping into a missile launcher and reigning death from miles away. Troopers are exposed to fire and being run over, but are nimble enough to avoid most enemies and you are capable of hiding in the trees or remote mountain tops while you try to pick off enemies from afar. Aircraft truly master the skies but you have to expose yourself by going into hover mode to truly be effective against ground based enemies.
This balance really forces players to rely on their skills, teamwork and strategy versus racing to get the big world destroying weapons to win matches. I got a lot of satisfaction being a support player claiming zones and respawn points on foot by avoiding tanks and planes. This allowed my teammates to move across the map with ease and maintaining the line became more important to me than grabbing the rocket launcher or a overpowered shotgun and going on a killing spree. The best part of being able to do that is that Incognito saw fit to reward team players.
The reward system in Warhawk is exceptionally deep. You can earn medals, badges, and ribbons in battle by completing specific objectives or hitting milestones. These rewards compile into your in game ranking which is not only a status moniker, but it also unlocks a myriad of character and vehicle customization options. Also, rank can be used as a flag to keep exceptionally skilled players from preying on recruits and beginners. Unfortunately, Incognito is working through server issues that will occasionally lose your progress, forcing you to reload your profile often. Or in my case you get bumped several ranks that haven’t earned yet, which forces you to player with higher skilled opponents. It doesn’t kill the game, but there are definitely some bugs crawling through the system.
The only other big detractor from the excellent balanced is that an exceptionally skilled or trained group could easily overwhelm another team and start spawn camping. I would’ve like to see some more options to separate the haves from the have nots. Or maybe Incognito can come back and update with a spectator mode or a better tutorial to allow folks to get more comfortable with the maps and strategies involved. Having been on both sides of a rout, I can confirm it really isn’t that fun for either side. Warhawk really shines when that balance is allowed to come out on top and the addictive gameplay starts to surface.Warhawk can be had for as little as $39.99, which is a steal in my mind. You can opt to buy the game at a store and receive a bluetooth headset for another $20 but it really only compliments the game and isn’t a necessity. The value of a multiplayer title really comes from the time you are willing to put in. Warhawk offers compelling gameplay and a solid reward system wrapped in a pretty graphical shell. The game certainly will have long legs. Incognito and Sony seem intent on supporting the game world with updates and downloads, there is never a lack of players so far, and at the download price you can’t get much more value for your dollar.