It seems strange from outside the cockpit looking in, to have twitch first-person control in a mech. All the videos of Adhesive Games’ HAWKEN that have been floating around since March of last year proved though, that a decent mech multiplayer game could be made, if only players can suspend their disbelief far enough to assume you could move your mech cockpit as quickly as you could move your virtual head in PC multiplayer gaming.
Oddly then, sitting down in front of a monitor, mouse and keyboard in hands, the twitch stuff feels
correct. In contrast, I also recently played Lost Planet 3 which also has a lot of mech driving involved, though it’s much slower than here in HAWKEN, yet neither feels incorrect. The HAWKEN mech models, for one, appear to be smaller than Capcom’s title, and while you can move your head quickly to maintain a combat drop on your foes, the leg movement component is as sluggish as you’d expect. A boost option then, allows for quick escapes or strafes, and like everything else, also feels natural.
It might seem strange to focus on a real-world sense of things in a game that will be more about visceral combat than sitting in a robot cockpit for a hands-on preview, but it’s massively important. HAWKEN sells the player into a neo-futuristic world where something has ravaged the landscape, and for whatever reason, warring factions are taking to the city wastes to duke it out. There’s no immediate story here, but that’s not the point. Multiplayer games are about getting down to business, and for the most part, business needs to feel natural so you can react to any situation accordingly, ergo knowing, and being sold on the idea of piloting a giant war-machine makes for an important exposition as far as conflict, and combat goes.
HAWKEN is insanely fun. So much so it should be criminal. It’s also incredibly easy to pick-up-and-play - another boon for the young Adhesive Games. I dabbled in Team Deathmatch, and all the right elements are here: tiered level-design that takes advantage of the vertical boost systems of the game’s vehicles, a decent amount of geometry to ensure tactical engagement, tough skirmishes and the ability to revitalise, excellent respawning and much more. My loadout was locked to the map I played and featured a hologram decoy, an EMP charge and a powerful grenade. Beyond the extra abilities, your basic firing comes in the form of a gatling gun on your left arm and slow-to-fire missiles on your right.
Controls are essentially the same as you’ve played in other multiplayer games before, with WASD for movement and left and right mouse-buttons for your main firing options, respectively. The mouse-wheel chooses your abilities and R activates them in the field. Holding C will take you momentarily out of the cockpit to follow a little engineer droid used to heal your rig (thus making you vulnerable), while Shift is used to boost (either tap for a quick boost, or hold to boost for a longer period of time). Space, finally, engages thrusters and adds to the game’s verticality. Gamepads can also be used, and I actually watched someone playing the game on a Notebook via the touted Gaikai set-up, and even though the frame-rate looked to suffer a little, it’s still very impressive at this early stage, hopefully they iron it out for release this December and Gaikai gets some Aussie love with solid details on Gaikai servers and features here.
The various videos around the place also don’t do the visuals justice - this is easily one of the best-looking mech games out there, and with a handful on the horizon, it’s nice to see an independent PC developer taking a free-to-play title to these visual heights. We’re not sure what the min specs are just yet, and as I found out in my interview with producer, Jason Hughes, the team hasn’t settled on them anyway. But again, when you consider the Gaikai element, it’s highly likely you’ll get away with a decent game on a five-year old machine.
On a skirmish level, it was incredibly satisfying. And wailing into someone with a maelstrom of bullets and intermittent missiles never got old. But it was strategically firing off EMPs and utilising well-placed grenades that drove home that ultimate satisfaction. The aerial component also doesn’t seem like a requisite for play, and there’s a Heavy and Light armour type with different weapons and loadouts for each. I didn’t get a chance to play in the heavier rig, but watched a few games with others loaded up. The differentiation in play here looks to allow for some seriously interesting skirmishes, and the lighter guys obviously being more nimble and harder to hit, but much more vulnerable than the hulking mech monstrosities taking all the damage.
Other loadout abilities included being able to place a turret, which if strategically placed on-high somewhere, means you could get a tactical out-of-the-way advantage while bringing up the rear in your machine, or by forcing other players into your turret’s line-of-sight.
The game-world itself, while lush in visual waste, is not without its shortcomings. There’s a massive amount of action going on during battles, especially on the explosion side of things, but there’s very little in the way of destructibility. It’s not a detriment to the game, and the team has deployed a host of abandoned trucks and cars to act as de facto destruction, but it would be nice if certain types of cover or vantage points could be brought down. Either that or thrown in a few more static options like the aforementioned vehicles to just really help sell the intensity of the action on-hand.
Honestly though, HAWKEN is a multiplayer gamer’s game. Balance here felt absolutely spot-on, and no one load-out or vehicle type nerfed any other component of the game; everything felt plausible and reactive to my actions. The opportunities in recourse thanks to the stellar level-design should keep the action grinding to its absolute halt, and the addition of vertical play, but not without its sacrifices (slow ascent, fuel depletion) is a shining example of a team wanting to make the sort of mech game they’ve always wanted to play.
Gaikai accessibility also means anyone should be able to get in on the action, even if you’re just using a tablet and game-pad, and if they can nail connectivity, latency and matchmaking, they’re onto a serious winner here. Consoles are still up in the air, but also seem like a no-brainer, and with a December release date currently slated, there’s plenty of time for one, or all, of the Big Three to jump in and get HAWKEN on board.
We spoke with the game’s producer, Jason Hughes, in greater detail about things like dedicated servers, mod support and more, so click here for the full chat in transcribed form
. Otherwise, head over to playhawken.com and sign yourself up for the first forthcoming beta, or to just stay in the loop for what is looking like it could be one of the best mech multiplayer games ever made.