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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Warhawk (PS3)

By Michael Palisano

Incognito's long-awaited Warhawk remake has finally arrived on the Playstation 3 and while it isn't quite what players expected, it's turned out to be an enjoyable online title. this multiplayer title delivers an action-packed and engaging experience with vehicular, air and land combat modes. Reducing its ambition seems counter-intuitive initially but, this approach allows Warhawk's gameplay to focus on tight controls and play balance that makes the title simultaneously accessible and challenging. Warhawk may not be what players were anticipating but it's still an excellent title that's worth playing or downloading, despite some minor issues.

Since it's announcement more than two years ago, Sony's Warhawk has undergone several transformations but the final result is an online multiplayer title that mixes several combat genres successfully. Warhawk is set in a desolate, war-torn futuristic battlefield where rival factions battle it out for supremacy. What's most interesting about the game is that in addition to its flagship aerial combat modes, players are also given the opportunity to leave their jets and battle against their foes on the ground either on foot or in vehicles such as tanks or ATVs. The game allows players to switch between these vehicles relatively easily which gives players plenty of flexibility. Players will find that the controls are fairly easy to understand with the ground and vehicle interfaces sharing common elements. Movement is controlled with the analog stick and weapons are fired using the shift buttons. You can call up the menus using the standard d-pad which allows you to switch between and select different weapons. It's a very intuitive set of controls and this approach also extends to the Warhawks themselves, which are a joy to use in combat. You simply press the accelerator and your plane takes off. You can adjust the height and direction with the left analog stick and perform dramatic maneuvers such as fast dives and barrel rolls using the right stick. The standard controls are fine, but players can also use the Sixaxis controller's motion sensing abilities to control the plane, which is a decent system that offers a somewhat responsive set of controls without being to gimmicky. Despite its other modes of combat, flying is still the game's best feature. Thanks to its superb controls, Warhawk does an excellent job of bringing arcade style flight mechanics to the online form, and its easy enough to get into the game without having to memorize to many complex commands. The planes are responsive and zoom through the skies with little effort, though there are enough nuances here and special moves to make flying something that can be done with style and flourish.

Warhawk's streamlined interface is fairly accessible and lets you battle foes on the ground with your soldier and engage in hand-to-hand weapons combat, use your vehicles to traverse the maps faster or get into a Warhawk which you can then use to battle rival planes or use them as air support when your troops are performing a ground assault. The developers at Incognito have done an excellent job of balancing the different types of combat and each has their plusses and minuses. For example, the Warhawks themselves are quite powerful in the air but are vulnerable to ground fire, especially from the fixed-position battle fields. On foot, your soldiers can inflict a lot damage to other ground forces, but need to take cover inside bunkers when they come under air assault. In addition to the standard weapons and missiles at your disposal, you can collect a variety of other weapons such as lock-on missiles, bombs and stealth abilities for the air ships, or grab additional weapons like sniper rifles, bazookas and grenades while on foot. The game's structure requires players to work together online when in vehicles with on player steering while the other shoots, which adds some cool co-operative elements to the gameplay without making it feel overly specialized. The battles themselves can become quite intense, since each map can support up to 36 players online simultaneously, which makes for some truly dramatic online games. Warhawk's gameplay structure is smartly designed and allows for waves of action but also some strategy, surprisingly enough. In order to win control in the Zone modes, you need to capture the enemy's major structures while not allowing them to infiltrate your areas. The requires you to think ahead and figure out you're opponents' tactics and work together to create counter strategies. Warhawk does an excellent job in this area and this makes it an intense online experience.

The flexibility of the gameplay also extends to the different modes that are offered. You can play Warhawk online and configure a number of different parameters. The most basic are the game types which include standard modes such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. There's also a unique mode called Zones which is kind of an elaborate Capture the Flag mode where you capture a base and increase its size. As the bases stay in your command longer, they'll increase in size and provide your team with additional spawn points. Players can then continue until they reach the time limit or win enough points to win the round. These modes are fairly self-explanatory, though players can set the time, number of opponents and score to further each variants' challenge. These various modes provide plenty of challenge and let you play through Warhawk from different perspectives during the course of the same mission fairly easy. The game's structure is incredibly streamlined and easy to understand, so you won't really have to spend a lot of time looking at the manual. The game supports both online and LAN play, and the number of players each map supports can be decided ahead of time. While it may seem like a small number, Warhawk's eight maps offer plenty of variety which allows players to experience a variety of terrains and environments in a single play session. Sony is promising that additional maps and vehicles will be available down the road as well, so consider these maps a starter pack for a game that looks to expand rapidly over the next few months. The maps are fairly large on the ground, and give you plenty of room to move around - though they seem a lot smaller when you're in the air. This doesn't give you very much room to wander around. This compact map design lets you stay focused on your mission without having to spend a lot of time finding your targets.

In addition to setting up its different game modes and maps, Warhawk allows players to create customized vehicles and planes to use online and reflect their own personality. The feature is a bit limited at this point, and allows only a few minor alterations, but it's a good start. From a visual standpoint, Warhawk looks quite solid with richly detailed and impressive environments and a consistent frame rate that brings players right into the action. There are a few nagging issues - for example, the lack of a first person viewpoint when flying is somewhat disappointing and the game's text indicators are a tad too small which makes them difficult to read, even on our HDTV. The in-game music is fairly decent, and the chatter between you and the other team members comes through fairly often using the retail version's included USB headset. Connecting to the game's servers is fairly easy, you merely need to click on a menu, select which server you want to play on a wait for it to connect. There were some frustrating disconnects, and some of the servers filled up while we were in the process of joining, but the experience was fairly seamless for the most part. While these features are fairly standard in PC games, the designers have done a good job in simplifiying things for the console audience, making it fairly easy to get online and start playing.

One of the more interesting things about Warhawk, in addition to its gameplay is the way its distribution is happening. Players can purchase the game either via online or at a brick and mortar store with a fully boxed, retail version. Interestingly, the online edition costs 20 dollars less than the retail game, which seems like a no-brainer on the surface. However, those who purchase the boxed version get a few nice extras in addition to the physical media. The game includes a decent blue-tooth headset and there are a few extras on the disc including an interview with the developers and game trailers. Most console players will probably go for the extras, though the game is identical no matter how you get it. While Warhawk isn't as revolutionary in the end as it seemed it might have been when it was first announced, the final product is an enjoyable and entertaining title. Eschewing an elaborate single-player story mode to focus on creating an online experience turned out to be a fairly good decision in the end that delivers some solidly challenging multiplayer action in densely-packed skies.

- Michael Palisano


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