Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. makes me want to punch the cockpit

Okay, that might be a little sensationalist…after all, I’m a huge Ace Combat fanpilot and the demo actually brings back that lovin’ feeling in blasting away waves of enemy planes and ground targets with a gratuitous amount of ordinance that never seems to end. But what in blue blazes is going on with the Assistance Mode? Seriously, who thought this was a great idea?

With shades of Origin’s Flight Commander, Ubisoft Romania’s newest flight sim (they’re the ones behind the Blazing Angels titles) makes you part of a PMC that specializes in providing air power to the highest bidders. It’s not a story penned by Tom Clancy (he sold the use of his name to Ubisoft for a $30mil of recession proof cash), but its Clancy-ish plot tying into other elements of the alternative Clancy-timeline of global conflict comes close enough, I suppose.

I played the 360 demo which comes with two missions: the tutorial mission which guides you through the basics and a combat mission filled with white knuckled action with the control pad over Rio as you defend it against enemy forces looking to stage a coup against the Brazilian government in the near future. If you’ve played Ace Combat 6 on the 360, then getting used to the demo’s controls will be as easy as afterburned pie. I jumped with with Expert controls “on” (it enables the bumpers to perform strafing maneuvers and you have to roll and pull back on the stick in order to execute your turns among other things). But the so-called Assistance Mode drove me crazy.

This is Assistance Mode ON. Believe me when I say that it's not very assisting if you are more used to flying a plane the way it should be...from inside a cockpit.

This is Assistance Mode ON. Believe me when I say that it's not very assisting if you are more used to flying a plane the way it should be...from inside a virtual cockpit.

Assistance mode splits the control scheme for your plane into two different modes. Activating Assistance Mode puts you in a fixed third person camera profiling the action from outside. While it gives you a great view of all of your enemies all around you as if you had multiple eyes fixed into your helmet at every angle, it also screws with your perception of how the plane should fly. You’re now forced to deal with the awkward third person camera, calculate the angle of your plane in relation to the objects in 3D space in addition to the camera itself, and engage them in combat while transposing your perceptions of control on a 3rd person plane viewed from the side. Even with the controls as forgiving as they are (forget G-forces or shredding the airframe if you really go nuts out there), this mode forces you to relearn everything again.

This is the EMS system pointing out the most efficient way in attacking the enemy. Fortunately, it can be used with or without the Assistance Mode.

This is the ERS system pointing out the most efficient way in attacking the enemy. Fortunately, it can be used with or without the Assistance Mode.

After years of flying planes in the correct method, from behind or from inside the cockpit in first person, this scheme simply felt as if it were working against getting anything done efficiently. It’s not as bad as Lair saddling players with forced motion controls, but the tutorial literally foists this on players and forces them to dogfight using it. I felt like I was wasting my time with a completely unnecessary control scheme. And this is Assistance ON? I would have expected it to dumb down the controls even further, but instead, it felt as if it were punishing me. You can’t even force it back into the right perspective no matter what you do in the control configuration, or switch back because your pilot teacher conveniently disables your ability to do so in order to show you the ropes in using it. Nice work. I quit the tutorial because I didn’t want to deal with this garbage.

Although not from the cockpit, this view is just as good. This is Assistance Mode OFF, BTW, which is delicious irony.

Although not from the cockpit, this view is just as good. This is Assistance Mode OFF, BTW, which is delicious irony.

Turning off the Assistance Mode actually makes flying the plane easier as it allows you to change the camera so that you’re chasing the plane from behind, are in the cockpit, or viewing the action from the HUD view of the cockpit instead making it far better in assessing your situation (thanks to the radar) enabling me to efficiently wipe out the enemy. But even here there were weird problems. The chatter was nice, the graphics look almost as good as Ace Combat 6 (I’ll give H.A.W.X. the advantage in ground effects, but its planes look nowhere near as good as Ace’s), but what is going on with entire armies disappearing from view?

Ace Combat gives you a number of objectives to fulfill and the sixth installment made it an all out war with units everywhere on the ground and in the air. Even after you complete your tasks, that doesn’t mean the enemy simply disappears, but in H.A.W.X., that’s what happens. After taking out a few enemy bombers coming in to hit their targets in the city, all other targets simply seemed to disappear and clear the board in order to make room for another batch of bad guys. This was just bizarre. After taking out enough tanks, the same thing happened on the ground. Disappearing enemies from the HUD? Really?

Still, I have to admit that I did have fun with the demo…after leaving the tutorial and engaging the game without using the stupid Assistance Mode…and might pick it up later when I feel the itch to dance with the angels. Okay, maybe I won’t take it that far, but the game has promise for flight geeks like myself that are still itching for another Ace Combat, Tie Fighter, or Crimson Skies.

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