HIGH Killing three mechs in the last ten seconds to win the match!
LOW The crashes-to-dashboard.
WTF So, mechs are basically steel ballerinas now?
Fundamentally, Hawken does not feel like a mech game. The surrounding elements are there — a wide variety of customizable robots, a dystopian future setting, HUD elements which make the FPS perspective feel like the inside of a giant machine — but it never manages to capture the essence of mech-based combat. Why is this?
The first problem is a lack of weight. Hawken‘s mechs bolt about like sprinters, changing direction on a dime, boosting huge distances and using jumpjets to hover around their foes while pelting them with gunfire. They have no weight or momentum to them. Nothing about the action or flow makes me feel like I’m stomping around in a 100-ton monstrosity, which is pretty much job one for a mech simulator.
Likewise, the maps leave a lot to be desired from an aesthetic standpoint. While they’re excellent for play purposes, with each one a warren of tunnels and clearings that allow for a wide variety of tactical options, the developers made a huge mistake in their look — everything seems to be designed around the mechs.
The key to making a mech feel impressive and significant is to show it intruding on a human-sized world. The mechs should be awkward and out-of place, steamrolling everyday structures as they fight outsized battles in the ruins of a human-sized world. This is an effect that Titanfall and the best Battletech games have created beautifully. Hawken occasionally has a door or window of a storefront visible in one of the maps, but by and large its world seems to have been crafted specifically for the giant robots sliding around it, which makes them seem considerably less special or unique.
Apart from its creative stumbles, Hawken manages to deliver a perfectly fine mech FPS experience. I tried six different mechs with a wide variety of weapons and abilities, and the developers have put together a solid class-based system. There are gatling guns and grenade launchers, missiles of both dumb-fire and lock-on varieties, as well as even more exotic options for experienced players (or those willing to buy their way into the higher ranks). The game has plenty of options for any conceivable playstyle, and being able to select which of my mechs I wanted to use after each death made shifting my role to whatever a match needed incredibly easy.
The game types on offer are also a high point — in addition the standard deathmatch options, I was especially taken by their twist on the base attack mode. Players from both teams rush to obtain fuel from a number of stations, then use it to launch a battleship to attack the other side’s base. Then the action moves to a single AA cannon, which is the only efficient way of blasting the battleship out of the sky. Whichever team controls it attacks the opponents’ craft, and saving their base – there’s elements of both flag capture and territory control in one mode, and I didn’t have a bad round in all of my time with the game.
The free-to-play architecture is surprisingly subtle. I’d previously tried a little World of Tanks, and found myself horribly outclassed by those who’d spent more time and money than I had. Hawken, on the other hand, seems extremely well-balanced.
Players with higher-level mechs clearly had advantage, but they were mostly tactical perks, rather than being able to give or take more raw damage. Their powerful jammers and improved special ability cooldowns may help a little, but strategy and reflexes are still paramount in each match. My first-level assault mech was perfectly capable of holding its own against anything another player could throw at me.
The only real restriction I noticed was a simple time-based incentive to get players to spend money. When I unlocked an upgraded version of my preferred mech (each model has its own experience track) I had two options: buy it immediately with real currency, or wait until my current mech was fully leveled up after about ten more matches of decent play and then buy it with in-game currency. While that may be more time than some are willing to put in, as far as I could tell, everything is unlockable through gameplay.
Hawken may not make the grade as a mech title, but when stacked up next to other free-to-play FPSs, it doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. The combat is faster and less impactful than I would have liked, but it’s still solid, and I spent more time with it than any other online FPS since the first Titanfall. While there’s not much chance I’ll eventually unlock everything in the game, Hawken has me thinking about going back and spending more time with an F2P FPS, which has never happened before.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Reloaded Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4, and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via free download and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the multiplayer modes. There are only training modes for single players.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains Violence. Let even your younger teens go nuts with this one — It’s robot-on-robot violence, with nothing salacious or rude as far as the eye can see. You might want to mute other players, of course, but beyond that, it’s as safe as action games get.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You’re actually going to be pretty okay with this one. There’s a minimap that warns of enemies who you’d otherwise need to hear, and when you’re being fired upon, an HUD graphic comes up to tell you exactly which direction it’s coming from.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.