A Wild Hawken Appears!: A Review of Hawken

Hawken image

Image from hdwallpappers.com

“Hey dude, you should try out Hawken.”
“What? Hawken? That’s not Dota.”
“Do it or I’ll SACRIFICE YOUR FIRSTBORN!”
“Geez, not that again. Fine.”
And that is the truthful tale of how Josh Duke introduced me to Hawken, a Free-to-Play Mech FPS developed by Adhesive Games.

My hesitation was real; there are a myriad of fantastic Free-to-Play games currently released, and Hawken was just not catching my fancy. But since my friends were enjoying it, and peer pressure being one of the most powerful forces in the universe (and threats to my nonexistent children), I decided to give it a go.

First impressions weren’t the best. The game thankfully runs you through a tutorial before being allowed to join any matchmaking, and it does its job well, but it definitely needs some polish. The graphics are overly bright in the hologram map, and the voice acting of the trainer is sub par. However, even though those aspects were a turn off, I was rather impressed with some of the game mechanics:

Unlike most shooters, you do not need to reload. That’s right, no reloading. I mean, you’re in a futuristic walking death machine- why the heck would you need to reload? Instead, it uses a heat system. Your primary weapon uses a small amount of heat, while your secondary weapon (usually a missile) uses a moderate amount. If you overheat, weapons are completely disabled, usually meaning a quick death from your opponents. I LOVE this idea. After playing a lot of shooters over the years, I feel trained to mash “R” whenever I find cover. It’s nice that a game found a balanced way to remove that feature.

Next up is the healing system. No regenerating shields, no health packs. When your mech has taken a beating, go find yourself a place to hide and hold down “C”. A cuddly little repair drone will pop out of your exploding carcass and restore you to full health overtime. WHAT! Awesome! “But Mattchew,” you might ask, “how is that fair or balanced?” Well sirs and ladies, when you are in repair mode the mech is completely disabled. Not only that, you can’t see the minimap. That means if you try to repair when an enemy is chasing you down, you’re going to die. I honestly think this is one of the best heal systems in a shooter in recent memory. The only similar mechanic that comes to mind is the Heavy eating his Sandvich in Team Fortress 2. That means no long fire fights with regenerating shields, and no worries from map creators about balancing issues because of health pack placement. The only downside is that if your team loses a big fight, and the enemy team is basically dead, it doesn’t matter. They’re going to be back to full health. That only stresses the need for teamwork and focusing down single targets, instead of everyone doing their own thing.

Finally, fuel management. Every mech has a fuel bar that allows several actions. Think of it as a glorified sprint bar. Holding shift activates jets which make you move faster (although you can’t shoot while sprinting), and certain combinations allow dashes (which are essential for dodging opponent’s missiles, and general positioning). Fuel is also used to do a quick 180 degree turn, in case you need to suddenly run away, or in an ambush. Oh, did I also mention every mech can fly? Because the mechs can freaking fly.

It was about three hours in when I finally decided that Hawken had something special. I had just been in a team fight where I almost died horribly several times, and I think I killed Josh’s eardrums fourfold from my school girl screams of terror. I pushed my mech to the absolute limit, used about every trick in the book, and got a triple kill- all against opponents with fancier mechs than my walking TV. That’s when I said through Steam voice chat “This made me feel like I was in an episode of Battlestar Galactica.”

That’s right. A land-based mech game made me feel like I was in an epic space-based flying shoot out. All of my opponents felt smarter. All of my enemies were better equipped. But through skill and guts we defeated them all, ready for the next challenge that awaited us.

On that positive note, it’s time to kill the mood with what I don’t like about this game. The class unlock system is stupid. Just plain ol’ stupid. I get that it’s Free-to-Play, and that funds have to come from somewhere, but I think Valve nailed that formula in games where a vast amount of customization is possible. The mechs are insanely expensive to unlock with the free Hawken Credits you receive for playing (it’ll take about ten hours to earn enough for the higher tier mechs), and you can only test drive a small sample periodically. Mechs you test drive don’t receive experience, so it doesn’t give you much incentive to stick with those freebies. Also, there is a lot of customization available in this game, so I can’t help but wonder if Adhesive would make more money by just having all mechs available, and thus more opportunity for people to customize. Team Fortress 2 is probably the best apple to apple comparison of how it should be done.

Thankfully, although the higher tier mechs are a lot better, they’re not so much better than your starting TV-with-a-windshield-wiper mech that you’ll feel the opponents have an unfair advantage. A player with a lot of skill will overcome those Pay-to-Win fiends (and it feels REALLY good to wipe the floor with them).

Overall Hawken has been a solid, solid experience. I wouldn’t say it’s as polished yet as some other shooters, but it has an insane amount of potential and is a lot of fun for free.

You can’t ask for much more than that.

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