By: Jeff Cater
Hawken is one of the latest free-to-play titles to grace modern consoles, and in it you’ll slog it out against some of the coolest mech-like creations I’ve seen in a long time. Hawken does host a bevy of great ideas and contain a huge amount of fun, but it also has a few perplexing issues that might push some gamers away.
First of all, the controls in the game are pretty darn easy to work with. It plays as a standard FPS, so if you go in with any previous experience with those games you’ll fit right in, guiding your mech with the left thumbstick and changing your orientation with the right. The face buttons are assigned to auxiliary systems such as fire prevention, repairs and using slotted items, and the directional pad houses your two emotes and some simple team communication options.
Curiously, your primary weapon is bound to the left trigger rather than the right. Really it only takes moments to adjust to it, as most of your “primary” weapons end up being some variant of a rocket launcher or charged laser and your “secondary” weapons are usually machine guns or semi-automatic rifles of sorts.
Dodging said rockets is done by holding the left stick in any direction and pressing L1, and it’s a skill that every single mech in the game has. Any mech you choose also has a Jump Jet that can be activated by holding down R1, and its utilization is crucial in most of the maps.
Hawken saw its initial release back in 2012 on PC, and since then it has been refined more and more over the last few years. For whatever reason, however, the PlayStation 4 version of the game looks strangely poor: the frame rate drops to ridiculously low levels at the worst times (firefights, jumping, turning…) and sometimes it takes a while to render the full resolution of various landscape textures.
Issues aside, the aesthetic is wonderful and all of the mechs feel like cobbled-together lethal scrap heaps. The levels vary from desert-like arenas with canyons to urban streets with tight corners and plenty of blind spots, and all of them look pretty damn cool once the textures pop-in all the way.
Weapon effects are nothing special, but rockets leave smoky trails in the air and snipers leave nice whispy streaks as they should. Cockpit effects are pretty damn cool, with your windshield being scarred from rocket blasts or shattered from a machinegun barrage — or even your cockpit suddenly bursting into flames.
Weapons sound pretty beastly, with satisfying thumps when a rocket connects dead center with your target. There’s also an AI voiceover that informs the player of critical system levels or allies in distress, which helps the immersion of the game immensely. Especially due to the low-key music that doesn’t really make an impact during gameplay.
In this free-to-play mech stomper, there are no fewer than six game modes to choose from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Co-op Team Deathmatch, Co-op Bot Destruction, Missile Assault and Siege. All modes but Missile Assault and Siege are the generic (but not bad) choices that task players with destroying their enemy.
In Missile Assault you have to work with your team to control three missile silos that attack your enemy’s base at regular intervals, while in Siege mode each team vies to control Anti-Air sites to bombard their foes’ aerial battleships. The options are there, and each one of them is fast paced and fun, rewarding both skill and teamwork.
There are also a ton of mechs (hyuck hyuck) to unlock and modify, which can all be done completely free of charge. It’ll take some time, but you can unlock and use top-tier mechs and weapons using the earned in-game currency.
Of course, you can also choose to bypass the grind and drop some real-world duckets to avoid days of work. The yearning for top-tier mechs lies in the need for more badass weaponry and more effective armor. Late-game mechs can even turn themselves into stationary turrets or utilize microwave cannons to really hold down an area. Regardless of what mech you choose, however, the game ultimately comes down to skill.
Yeah, XxMechBuzter840xX might have the upper hand technically, but it won’t mean anything if you’re simply better at placing your shots. Speaking of placing your shots, hardcore mech game fans might not like the fact that the game doesn’t really feature critical location-specific damage — i.e. removing a leg or arm from an opponent’s machine. Also the fact that every mech has the dodge and jump jets makes it so no matter which one you choose they’ll feel a tad same-y.
Hawken gets the important bits about being a shooter right, like tight controls and gameplay that rewards skill, but it’s still a few patches away from being appealing to the masses. Those frame rate drops will really kill it for a lot of people, but if Hawken can work those issues out then it’ll be one of the top free-to-play games available on PS4 and Xbox One.