It was clever of the developers to make the starting mech the ugliest. Some players will probably end up buying Meteor Credits just so they don’t have to look like an old TV with legs any more. But that aside, the game’s art direction is stunning. Its vision of the future is hard and industrial; a battered, lived-in world. The mechs look like they were pieced together from scrap metal, and designed for war, rather than to look pretty. Soft, natural lighting and a subtle grain filter add a layer of grit and realism. It looks like the concept art for a ’70s sci-fi film come to life. It’s such a compelling universe that it almost feels wasted on the confined maps of a multiplayer shooter.
Prosk is my favourite map, boasting storm drains you can use as makeshift trenches, and rooftops to hover up to and perch on. It’s a bleak, futuristic cityscape, like something from Ghost in the Shell, dotted with buzzing neon signs. Bazaar is a sand-blasted desert town, and features long, open stretches that offer Sharpshooters a rare chance to target distant enemies. Uptown is another city map, with a network of twisting corridors running through it that you can use as choke points. Origin is perhaps the most interesting in terms of verticality, with a series of stacked levels to fight on, and jump pads that spring your mech into the air. It’s not an enormous selection, and they’re small compared to most shooters, but they’re all visually, and tactically, distinct.
The Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes are entertaining enough, and the narrow maps mean that kills (and deaths) come fast. But besides the fact you’re fighting against robots, there isn’t much distinction between these modes and a run-of-the-mill, small-scale FPS. Kill assists are frequent, and you often find yourself finishing off mechs that other players have softened up. The action is fast and satisfying, and these battles a good way of swiftly racking up the XP necessary for item purchases, but Hawken sets itself apart from other shooters in its healing mechanic. At any time, you can hold C to heal. Your mech folds up into a ball and a tiny drone zips around it, zapping it with soothing lasers. This leaves you open to attack, but means that if you limp out of a firefight with only a sliver of health left, you can find a safe corner to repair, then come back fighting without having to respawn. It adds a layer of tactical consideration to a twitch shooter.
Missile Assault and Siege are more interesting. They’re team-based games, and sticking with other players is pretty much essential to victory. Missile Assault has two sides fighting to take control of three missile silos. When a silo is held, it continually launches rockets at the enemy base. The first team to destroy the other side’s base wins. It’s a fun take on Battlefield’s tried-and-tested Conquest mode, and more esoteric mech classes, like the Grenadier or the Rocketeer, feel more useful here. If they spot a group of enemies clustered around a silo, they can pummel the area with explosives to drive them away. You can hit Q to spot in team games, but it won’t mark specific enemies; only the area of the map your crosshair is pointing at on the mini-map.
Siege is the most difficult mode to get used to, but also the most rewarding. Players have to gather energy from nodes in the centre of the map, then rush back to their base and dump it. When a certain amount is harvested, an enormous battleship is launched and heads towards the opposing team’s base. When this happens, the other team has to secure an AA gun to shoot it down. When you’re with a team who know what they’re doing, Siege is Hawken at its best, more tactical and measured than a standard FPS but with all of that genre’s innate reactivity. When you’re not, it’s impossible to make any progress and can be hugely frustrating. You’re at the mercy of matchmaking, and there’s no server browser – although this may change in the future. The game is constantly being updated and tweaked, and the community is extremely vocal.
Piloting Hawken’s brawny mechs is a thrill, but the game’s tight-fisted F2P structure holds it back. If you don’t spend money you feel like you’re being punished, and you miss out on a large portion of the game. The classes are so wildly different that saddling new players with just one feels short-sighted. Buying a new mech with Hawken Points will take many hours of dedicated play, and by then your attention will have probably wandered.
If you don’t mind forking out, this is a beautiful and competent shooter with some depth. With additional maps and a more generous free-to-play model to enable players to more easily tweak their robotic steeds to some level, it could have been great.
Expect to pay: Free-to-play
Release: Out now
Developer: Adhesive Games
Publisher: Meteor Entertainment
Multiplayer: Up to 12 online
They’ve nailed the sensation of stomping around in a giant machine, but the F2P model needs an oil change.