This is weird. A minute ago I was at the controls of a virtual Eurofighter jet. Now, on my way to the gents, I'm strolling under the
rakish wings of the real thing.
The plane is one of many suspended from the ceiling of the RAF Museum, Hendon. (Go! It's free and they have a Stuka.) I'm here, along with other press folk, to play HAWX, Ubisoft's slightly overdue aerial action game. Specifically I'm here to sample the campaign in four-player co-op mode.
So how's that sampling going? Well, so far, me and my three living, breathing wingmen have put in a dogged rather than a dazzling performance. Twice we've narrowly failed to stop a flock of fighters, frigates and hovercraft from sinking our fleet. Twice we've come this close to preventing a combined force of bombers, helo gunships and tanks from waxing our oil refinery. When I get back I'm going to suggest we turn the difficulty down.
Strictly speaking, it wasn't our oil refinery or fleet that got trashed. The game casts you as an employee of Artemis Global Security, a PMC that hires its warriors out to any government with deep enough pockets. It's a
neat device: instead of spending the whole campaign staring down at Genersistan you get to trot the globe. New contracts mean new, usually lovely, horizons, and new victims for your heat-hungry missiles.
And your heat-hungry missiles claim a lot of victims in this game. In my last sky skirmish I must have downed at least a dozen bogeys in the space of a couple of minutes. Exciting? Certainly. Unrealistic? Hell yes. The devs may, as they claim, have worked hand-in-glove with top fighter fabricators such as Lockheed Martin, Saab and Boeing, but whatever realism they've built into the flight models is totally undermined by little details like every plane going into battle with enough missiles to sink a small Caribbean island.
The lack of authenticity isn't necessarily a negative. For years the PC has been crying out for a fast, furious, friendly jet combat title. We've had heavyweights like Falcon 4.0 and Lock On, and no end of lite WWII flight fare, but no Ace Combat. HAWX may fill the triangular void nicely.
Hopefully, at the very least some serious sim designers will play it and nick a few of its cleverer ideas. Ideas like ERS. In Mr C's technophilic near-future, pilots don't need to plan complex aerial manoeuvres for themselves.
They simply activate their Enhanced Reality System then steer their steeds through the dynamically plotted HUD hoops.
Instead of trusting to instinct and random stick waggling to shake a locked-on missile, you dab Shift and the optimum trajectory materialises in front of you. Brilliant. All flight sims need ERS in their training segments.
The assistance mode is a great idea too. When activated it smooths your aerobatics and stops you committing that aviation faux pas, the stall. Deactivate it and you can turn sharper, climb steeper and brake harder. Strangely, what you can't do while flying au naturale is remain in the cockpit. The camera instantly switches to a cinematic third-person perspective. Hmmm.
There are a few faintly worrying aspects to the design. The total lack of landings, takeoffs, and ejections, the reliance on missile-based mayhem... the game is so drenched in turn-and-burn, so chockablock with
Sidewinder slaughter that none of this may matter. Like falcons in the jetstream, we may end up irresistibly swept along.
Right now, it's hard to tell whether HAWX is going to soar like an eagle, or flutter like a peanut-stuffed blue tit when released.