Hawken impressions: The sweet spot between Call of Duty and MechWarrior
First match KDR: 0/7. Second match KDR: 0/9 Third match KDR: 1/9. Fourth match KDR: 0/11. These were my first rounds of Hawken on the PC. Not the best giant robot foot to start off on. Then I took a break, read the community forums. Strafe, they suggested. Use cover. Watch your heat. Take potshots to whittle away health little by little. Fifth match KDR: 2/5. Sixth match KDR: 7/2. Booyah. Hawken is a game that's hard to pin down; is it a fast-paced mech fighter, a slow and strategic war combat sim, or a fast-paced first-person shooter with a fresh coat of mech paint? Impressions from the game's closed beta and our previous coverage suggest a streamlined mix of all three, resulting in great entry-level, quick-and-dirty mech combat.
This is my chassis, there are many like it
The downside to developer Adhesive Games' approach is Hawken can feel too simple; if you're looking to customize or extensively tinker with your walking death-mobile and its components a la MechWarrior Online, you are likely to be disappointed. Mechs in Hawken are more akin to classes than chassis; each body has separate stats and selectable weapons. The beta started me with what I liked to call the AT-ST's fat cousin, the Assault mech. This box on legs comes with an assault rifle, TOW rocket launcher, and a weapon coolant ability that removes weapon heat buildup. As a medium size mech, it's a basic, well-rounded machine, with average armor, speed, and energy capacity. It does many things well, though it exceeds at nothing. I switched to a Berseker, a small and quick mech, as soon as I could. Both were a blast to just walk around with, featuring a great sense of weight and power. These things move fast, but they feel like big, powerful machines of war. The graphics are beautiful, and each cockpit's interior is different. There is personality in the designs of the Mechs, and the sense of impact and the draw of the visuals is even more impressive given the title's free-to-play design. There's even a live action series kicking off next year.Each mech has slots for three items: offensive, defensive, and functional. I set my offensive item to a deployable turret so I could have a quasi-teammate, my defensive item to a repair charge so I could increase longevity, and my functional item to an EMP burst so I could get away from bad scraps. Deploying these items is a simple button press, and firing your weapons are controlled with left and right mouse clicks. Standard W, A, S, D movement applies, where the shift key gives your rig a ground-based dash, and spacebar lifts it into the air with thrusters. It's an easy-to-use setup, and you'll quickly discover the monumental importance of hovering over that shift key. Making a dash to the side, taking in a couple shots while your opponent turns to target you, then jumping back to the other side is an effective strategy for maximizing damage output while reducing damage intake. Each mech also has slots for upgrades, optimizations, chassis replacements, and paint jobs. Upgrades are granted as you level up your Mech, giving you bonuses like extra customization points. Optimizations are the spec trees of Hawken, allowing you to alter your offensive abilities, defensive capabilities, or movement. Swapping out chassis pieces such as your cockpit or legs is purely cosmetic; no stat changes come from changing hardware. This is all very cool and there are plenty of options for mixing up your components, but some facets are surprisingly rigid for a mech game. Each mech has a primary and secondary weapon, and never the twain shall meet – you can't sacrifice mobility for two primary weapons, or alter things like torque as you can in other mech combat games. Some forum members weren't happy about the lackluster customization options.
Mechfield, Mech of Duty, Mecho 4
In a thread titled, “What Hawken Isn't – is that okay?” user Temper Wolf described the game thusly: “Hawken is a First Person Shooter set in the future where every person is a robot. Understand that me stating that “every person is a robot” this is not how the game lore is written; or how the art is handled; or how the menu looks; or how the website looks; but it is the result we are given when we actually play game.” Wolf compared the game to Battlefield, Modern Warfare, Tribes and Team Fortress 2. The lack of customization plus relatively quick nature of fights gave Wolf the sense of a modern FPS as opposed to a war vehicle sim. Wolf isn't the only one that sees Hawken as too simple. Forum member Sueco created a poll asking, “Are mechs customizable enough?” Sixty-one point seventy-six of voters chose “No.” This is the first closed beta so it's possible things will change, but for now, Wolf's assessment is correct; mechs are far less customizable than you may expect coming from MechWarrior or Armored Core. However, while they were disappointed, I was impressed. Hawken fits snugly between the super-simple Zone of the Enders and incredibly deep MechWarrior Online, especially once you actually get into combat. This may not be a bad thing for action gamers, it's just a different approach to Mech combat. You can't just rush forward onto the field of battle and expect to survive. Yes, your mech may be limited in what it can carry. You can't, for example, arm a heavy chassis with a sniper rifle. You can't tweak engine settings to manage speed. But you still have items to use, heat to manage, and thrusters to help you dash around the battlefield. It's simple without being lazy, customizable without being intimidating, and most important, you still feel like the pilot of a big hunk of badass metal. The game is, as Adhesive themselves describe it, a “mech-based first-person shooter.” It's not a sim, it's not a tool for garage tinkering, it's a shooter that takes place inside of a mech cockpit. For that reason, Hawken scratches a good itch, and I'm just starting to build up my KDR. You can sign up for a chance to participate in the beta as well, just be prepared to get blown up before you start dishing out your own punishment.