From Gundam Wing to Mechwarrior, robots are damn cool. Across all cultures and creeds, giant robots doing ANYTHING are pretty fantastic. What isn't to like about piles of metal and oil crashing around a city in a battle to the death? Hawken, developed by Adhesive games, a first-person free-to-play shooter can't think of anything wrong with the concept. So much so they have promised to bring a AAA title to the free to play market.
The game first appeared on the collective gaming radar after it's first trailer showing nicely detailed environments amidst some robots shooting seven shades of steel out of one another. The trailer promised future opportunity to thrust around these environments like little metal-death machines and all with the promise that it would be free. This offer was almost so much some people couldn't believe it would ever bee free-to-play. That is an offer that one cannot refuse when placed in front of them. Upon the release the open beta on the 12/12/12, it was open for anyone and everyone to experience some mechanical combat, to fight in the android arena and to soar amongst the soaring cyber skyscrapers. The chance to customise your own mech-suit with an levelling system. It seemed similar to the newer iteration of Front Mission, but with a more tactical edge.
When first booted up you are greeted by what looks at first, to be a relatively simple interface. After a minute or two however this proved to be false. The jumble of menus and sub-menus all fall into a greyish mess, with multiple menus yet to be functional. It does not help that the initial tutorial for navigating your way around only shares the bare basics of setting up your first robot and starting a match. This is a simple UI issue though that will hopefully be fixed in a patch down the road, it is a beta after all. It does however show how much of the “free-to-play” is supported, or in this case not.
Most things can be bought with either with Hawken or Meteor credits. Hawken credits are the reward for blasting away metal in the online arenas, while Meteor credits are the reward for tapping in your debit card details. While a free-to-play model is fine for players who have less time to grind out currency to stand a chance, here it unlocks everything, including some things that Hawken credits can't. Grinding out the credits to rent a new robot for the next month won't be an issue for anyone who gets into the game, but for the same time incurs steep cost of £5 for what is fundamentally this games version of classes.. While this sin is lessened by free trials for robots that change every once in a while to get a feel for how they handle, it feels a little nasty to levy the cost so high on both sides. Casual players who neither want pay upfront or grind the high amount of credits get shafted as matches don't give more than a handful towards the costs upwards of 500 credits. All cosmetic options apart from a few trim lines need to be paid for in cold hard credits too, hiding the dream of commanding a dream mech behind a toll booth. This could have been improved by allowing some basic changes like overall colour, instead of having both paint schemes and interchangeable parts excluded to paying players.
Launching into the tutorial “mission” is where the real bread and butter starts. It is a “Mission” because it really serves as a “follow the leader” course, showing how to run, dash, dodge and hover. While a bit uninspired, piloting a mech gives a nice sense of weight and place that rarely presents itself in other online games. Mechs groan and grind with each step, and constantly clutter about to the sounds of released steam and stomps. They lumber instead of glide across the terrain. This is not to say they aren't manoeuvrable. Tactical manoeuvres include a recharging sprint/boost meter, a dash button to dodge incoming fire, jumping and gliding through rockets and a quick 180 turn. The last being vital due to how all mechs turn rather slowly even with mouse sensitivity set way up. This gives the shooting a sense of tension, giving players a few extra seconds to riddle their opponent with bullets and flak before they can open fire. This makes mastering the abilities to dash and sprint away crucial.
In battle the dash key is as useful as any gun
All robots carry two weapons, generally a machine gun of some form and an explosive weapon. Weapons are locked to the type of robot with more unlocked as that mech is used more. Big bruisers are inaccurate rocket spewing monstrosities while the basic recruit unit fires a single missile that can detonate mid-air to serve splash damage to enemies that dash away. While at first it would seem it would allow for different styles of play, it mostly comes down to, see enemy, dash, fire, dash, fire, die/live, repair. It is easy to see Adhesive want the different tactical roles to take a larger role. Between each death you are taken back to the garage to change load outs and mechs. Right now however it comes down to who can dodge and deal the most damage fastest, which is rarely the guy in the recruit mech who doesn't want to pay.
Game types are the usual rigmarole of death match and team death match. Hawken also has two different match types. One has players capturing missile silos to bombard the enemies base till the HP bar hits 0. The other has players collecting energy from points on the map and taking it back to their base to fuel a massive battle-ship to blow up the other teams base. The team matches are much better than death match, as it isn't always who can hit hardest. Instead it comes down to how the roles sync together to take down enemies. For example a bruiser enemy is good at a distance to soften an enemy, but up close they need smaller more nimble allies for protection.
The few maps are well designed, taking place between open deserts and enclosed cities. The deserts serve as level playing fields, dotted with cover and craggy hills, while the cities offer arenas of varying height but are more enclosed. Areas often have various levels with motorway on ramps and tall apartment blocks to get the advantage. They serve well as the backdrop, but there is only so much saturated grey a pilot can stand as all of the areas meld together. There is little in the way of colour variety and after a while it can become a little grating.
The lack of cars to crush is saddening
Connection issues are abound too. Even on the most expensive of internet connections the game has the habit of jumping you around the map as it plays catch-up. You may think you are doing well taking down this bruiser, dancing between missile volleys, but in a few seconds you find out you are shooting at a wall and blow-up sprinkling washers and pistons everywhere. This is already on top of an iffy match-making system. At the time the beta launched it was near impossible to connect. After a few patches this has improved vastly but is still not perfect. There is no server selection, just what match you want to play and there you go. This can have players put into matches with no players or left searching for a match that no one is playing.
There is the base work for a great free to play title. Mechs in well detailed arenas with a hint of tactical forethought and fast fingered dodge work. Right now though it is held back by a few glaring faults. Improved match-making and some changes to what objects can be bought with real cash would go a way to making the game more friendly to those who want to delve into it, but right now the rough edges make it a little unfriendly. Hopefully feedback from the beta will lead to some improvements that could turn it around. With no date set for a proper release they have as much time as they want, which I hope is used well.
Hawken is currently in open beta and free to all.
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