Developer: Adhesive Games
Publisher: Meteor Entertainment
You only have to hint at the word “Mech” here in the Dealspwn Citadel and it will whip Matt and Jon into unstoppable euphoric state (it usually involves them just shouting the work “mechs” at each other for half an hour.) With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that we’ve been keeping our eyes on Adhesive Games’ upcoming Free To Play online Mech combat game Hawken ever since it debuted via a trailer last year. We were impressed by the visuals, intrigued by the combat, and (two thirds of us) drooling over the mech-based carnage. So, for the safety of everyone within a 3 mile radius of our position, it was decided that I should go into the recent Closed Beta test to see how things are progressing for the multiplayer title, ahead of its release in December.
The action takes place on a planet that humanity has industrialized to the point of collapse, a metallic dystopian landscape in which resources are now dangerously scarce. This provides the several arenas in which players will fight in competitive matches against each other, which at a base level is similar to the kind of competitive experience you would find in games such as Battlefield or Call of Duty. The big difference here though is that instead of being foot soldiers, everyone has giant mechs armed to the teeth with deadly ordinance, fighting to earn upgrades and more elaborate war machines with which to dominate all opponents.
Let’s begin by taking a look at the in-game mechanics. Those of you that have played any form of mech game in the past will be right at home with Hawken, with controls that not only familiar in layout, but feel perfectly balanced for precision in the middle of a firefight. Latency permitting, I always felt in complete control of my mech as I stomped around the arenas, looking to destroy my foes, and even blasting off the ground with the jets felt natural to the flow of the gameplay. The fuel for this is also shared with the ability to dash forward and dodge-strafe, which is the key move for surviving any skirmish intact. Perhaps the most important detail though is that the various different types of mechs all handle differently in the field. So, for example, the Berserker is able to dart around with relative ease, almost dancing around its opponents, while its much larger counterpart in the Brawler has to stomp around at a much slower pace. However, this of course comes with the advantage of being able to take much more of a punch before blowing up, whilst the Berserker can be swatted down within just a handful of hits.
At least it isn’t as fragile as the initial mech of the Assault, which players will be eager to replace as soon as possible. In my first match, I took the box-like walker into battle and was promptly reduced to flaming piles of metal (which would have been a bad thing, but it was quite the visual spectacle.) It is a genuine worry though that newcomers who do not join the fray on launch day will be at a disadvantage, and will be forced to make a rather tough decision: Either persevere and amass a serious amount of Hawken Points (awarded for doing well in matches) or pay for Meteor Points and unlock better mechs in the mircotransaction store.
During the closed beta, Meteor Entertainment gave all testers a small total of these Meteor Points, allowing me to sample the store process and pilot some of the other mechs available. Of course, beyond this there are plenty of cosmetic alterations players can purchase should they wish to make their hulking machines a little more individual. From various chassis’ to numerous paint jobs and decals, these alterations are completely optional. Elsewhere, experience multipliers can also be bought using MPs, providing varying lengths in time for the user, from a few hours all the way to a full day of boosted experience gain. You don’t have to purchase these, but the grind may take a little longer to achieve that next all-important purchase. The important thing is that those wishing to take the free route will be able to eventually purchase all mechs and upgrades, but they’ll need the patience of a saint to get there I feel. As such, it’s not “pay to win” by any means, but I wouldn’t blame any latecomers to Hawken for feeling that way. Although it may be too late to implement, an matchmaking service just for newbies might be what the game needs to ease players into the mix gradually.
Beyond the pre-set weapons for each mech, players can also unlock add-on items and internal upgrades to help provide an edge. These include grenades, turrets, heatsinks, and ammunition modifiers, all of which cost Hawken or Meteor points. Beyond this, the optimisation panel provides three skills trees in which players can adapt their mech to their playing style, with offense, defence, and support paths available. This provided my favourite aspect of Hawken so far, as points are not fixed once spent. Instead, players are able to reset and move them about as they please in-between matches, providing a sense of true freedom to experiment with different combinations.
This freedom also extends to when you are in-game, as players with more than one mech are not forced to make a choice they must stick with the entire match. Instead, you can change your war machine while you are waiting to respawn, allowing you to adapt your tactics as you need to in the middle of a heated game. It’s this sense of ease with giving the player the choice to mix things up that makes Hawken such an interesting prospect in the multiplayer domain, and ensures that players are not permanently punished for making the less optimal choice with their loadouts.
As far as the level design goes, I found the arenas to be well laid out, with multiple platforms on which the action can take place. For example, one level had a highway overlooking the streets below, allowing for mechs stationed above gaining a height advantage. Of course, that might not last long as nearby jump pads provide players with a quick way to access the high ground. There are even small corridors nestled out of the way, providing shortcuts for those who need them and, perhaps more importantly, a place to quickly repair your mech when the next hit will blow you up. Overall I found the layouts provided an arena for fast-paced action which fits in comfortably with the refined controls.
As long as you’re a fan of film grain (as there is a lot of it in Hawken) the presentation is some of the best I’ve seen from a mech-based game. Dust flies up from the shockwave as mechs crash to the ground, lamp posts are flung across the scenery as you walk through them, and the detail in the weapon fire (and any resulting explosions) is a delight to behold. Paired up with a sound design that makes every move you make feel like you are in a huge mech of much pain, I had a blast jumping into battles and unleashing missiles whilst my machine gun fired away (well, until the overheating started, then the pain began.) One such example of the detail Adhesive have included was when I started dashing forward with my mech right next to a wall. All of a sudden, sparks started flying as the metal of my chassis began to grind against the structure beside me, and a horrible screech came out of the speakers to complete the feeling of “I really shouldn’t have done that, but damn, that was utterly cool.”
Essentially, what Hawken provides is 15 minute blasts of unadulterated mech-based fun, and that’s just in regards to the deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. The Siege and Missile Assault modes provide a true sense of teamwork that you usually find in the Battlefield series, allowing players to have more than just mindless carnage should they crave a little more from their Hawken antics. A tutorial section is apparently on the way, which I think is for the best. I actually spent my first five matches without the knowledge that every mech comes equipped with a repair drone, meaning all the times I had charged into a fight with less than a fifth of a health could have ended much more favourably. Once Adhesive include this, and perhaps provide a less punishing entry for newcomers against their more battle-hardened peers, I feel Hawken could provide PC gamers with a great alternate multiplayer title once it launches in December. It will be up against stiff competition from Mechwarrior Online when that finally emerges from its closed beta, but as first impressions go, I think Adhesive are on the right track to providing a quality F2P experience.
Stay tuned to Dealspwn.com for gameplay footage of Hawken in the next episode of Dealspwn Playthrough!