The reason why HAWX is such an important title for Ubisoft (important enough for selected media from across the globe to descend upon their Bucharest office for the Romanian outpost's first major visit in its seventeen-year history) wasn't to be found on any fact sheet or PowerPoint display. Instead, the answer could be found on a celebratory 'Ten Years of Clancy Games' poster lurking in a darkened corner of the room.
Featuring three scowling shadows, identical but for the glow of their visors, it's almost a satire of the narrow route the Clancy licence has been funnelled down. HAWX (it stands for, er, High Altitude Warfare X - yes, we know) aims to give you a new slant on the Clancy game formula - thousands of kilometres up in the sky.
The air combat sim genre is a woefully under-represented one on console (only Ace Combat 6 and Ubisoft Romania's woolly Blazing Angels really come to mind on 360), and one that seems to fit perfectly with the hi-tech warfare that is Clancy's trademark. It's a perfectly sensible rebirth for one of Ubisoft's most cherished series. Not that they've cut all ties with the past, however...
Link to the past
Long-time Clancy fans will recall HAWX's opening mission from Ghost Recon 2 - only this time, you've got yourself a bird's-eye view of the action. Instead of ordering air assaults from the ground, you are the air assault. You can communicate with the Ghosts on the ground either via the d-pad or through actual voice commands (sadly, this feature was disabled in the version we were demoed), allowing you to share intel or plan strategic attacks on your targets. This is, however, just a taster mission. Following these events, your character leaves the US Air Forces for good. This doesn't mean you're out of the Mile High Club, however. In fact, your career's only just begun...
After the events of the opening stage, your character joins a Private Military Company. Like other Clancy games, HAWX's storyline is fiction laced with a heavy amount of fact - in reality, PMC's are numerous and are already in effect around the globe, with the US and UK employing hundreds in Iraq alone.
The benefits of hiring a PMC over a national army are obvious; not only does it massage the relationship between governments and humanitarian-minded voters, but since PMCs consist of the best of the best, governments can usually rest assured that they're investing in quality, too. HAWX's plotline (while still heavily under wraps) explores what might happen if these PMCs evolve into real armies and begin quarrelling among themselves. Perhaps this is an eventuality we might have to face up to in real life one day. But for now, in the realm of the Xbox, what it amounts to is some rollicking dogfighting action.
Dog eat dog
HAWX seems to have found a solution to the problem that has, ahem, dogged the dogfighting genre since the beginning of time. Make it too realistic, and all you're doing is shooting dots in the sky. Go too far the other way, and you've got yourself Sega's After Burner, something so arcade-like in nature that in practical terms you can't call it a flight sim at all. HAWX's answer isn't to find itself a halfway point between these two extremes. Oh no. Instead, it has a damn good go at doing both. This it does by allowing you to switch your Enhanced Reality System - a hi-tech pilot assisting tool - on or off.
When switched to 'on', as is the default, the camera positions itself directly behind the craft and acts as your in flight guide. Your movements are restricted so you can't deviate too far from your flight path, and if you wish to bring down an enemy craft, you have to position yourself behind them and follow the proper lock-on procedures.