Friday, 15 June 2012

E3 2012: Hawken - First Impressions (PC)

It's been a long time since I got a mech game that I could really sink my teeth into.  I was a long time fan of the Mechwarrior series.  I flirted with Heavy Gear.  I laughed while running around the city in Shogo.  The price point of Steel Battalion was too steep for what I was going to get out of it.  Games like Front Mission helped cut down on the cravings, but being in the cockpit and looking through the sights themselves was the best way to experience the sort of visceral thrill that comes with watching a giant robot blow up in front of you.

And then along comes Hawken.  I hadn't heard anything about it prior to E3, so I went into it not having the faintest idea what would await me when the LAN party started at the Luxe Hotel just east of the L.A. Convention Center.  Once I sat down at a computer set up for the LAN party, I got completely sucked in.

Using the Unreal 3 engine, Hawken gives you multiplayer mech blasting goodness with a very "lived in" aesthetic.  There's not much in the way of shiny chrome and silky carbon fiber.  Instead, it's dented steel using lead-based paint surrounded by battered and decaying buildings.  Rather than the neat humanoid symmetry found in Mechwarrior or Gundam, the mechs in Hawken have a rough bastardized style: half improvise, half compromise, but ultimately effective war machines.

In interviews with other sources, the term "kitbashing" was used to describe the visual style as well as the design ethos.  It seems to have worked out well for Hawken.  The play mechanics are dirt simple:  pick a mech, pick a loadout of weapons for left and right limbs, and launch.  When you get killed, go back to the hangar and launch again, or change your mech and your loadout to adjust to the enemy strategy.  The UI is not only beautiful in a dirty and scuffed up fashion, but it's also very informative.  All of the information that you absolutely need is right there in front of you.  Hit points, ammo count, heat level, all of it.  If find yourself wondering why you're too hot or why you're out of ammo, it's there to be seen if you're paying attention.

Being a F2P (free-to-play) game, there is an obvious and realistic concern about the game becoming "pay to win."  The developers have gone on record as saying that they're aware of the concern and they don't think it helps either the fans or Adhesive if things turn out that way.  They haven't disclosed yet what paid content will be available, but they have said that whatever can be bought can also be earned through a point system as the player progresses through the game.

Hawken is slated for release December 12, 2012 for the PC.

- Axel Cushing