So it turns out that MechWarrior Online (MW:O) may have just met its rival. Quickly taking up the spotlight is Meteor Entertainment’s HAWKEN, a mech FPS that aims to attract both the fans of the twitch-shooter genre, as well as those alienated by MW:O’s niche gameplay. But does it deliver?
HAWKEN is the antithesis to MechWarrior Online in many aspects, even down to the visuals. HAWKEN is powered by the Unreal Engine whereas MW:O runs on CryEngine. While both games feature detailed textures and immersive special effects, they’re very different in themes and overall appearances. (Although I still believe that they both can benefit from visual improvements.)
MechWarrior Online drops you in vast expansive battlefields, but HAWKEN throws you in multi-leveled urban arenas, many of which are quite claustrophobic. Even the Bazaar stage, which offers wide open spaces, forces you to take on closed-quarters combat more than half the time.
The mechs themselves also reflect the dystopian environments. Whereas MW:O features “clean-looking” mechs that are mass-produced (government-issued, if you will), HAWKEN’s world seems to have just survived a major catastrophe, thus explaining why the mechs look like random scraps of metal hastily assembled from some nearby junkyard. For example, the starter mech, dubbed Fred, appears to be a giant walking TV. No doubt it’s funny to look at, but at least it’s appropriate to the “lore” or theme of the game. I guess for the survivors of HAWKEN’s gritty world, you just have to make do. Like Marines.
HAWKEN’s controls are intuitive enough, but it never hurts to try out the Tutorial Mode to get a good feel for its gameplay mechanics. On the other hand, the online mechanized tank warfare simulator known as MechWarrior Online still lacks a Tutorial Mode. I’m sure it’ll be implemented soon, but it’s strange that HAWKEN beat them to it. Moving on…
HAWKEN’s Tutorial Mode is quick and straight-to-the-point, but still covers all the basics like movement and combat. Everything else depends on experience and reflexes. The only issue with this mode is that it automatically assumes you’re using a keyboard and mouse, and so the instructions reflect that even if you’re using a gamepad instead. It’s a minor nitpick, but it does lead up to my next point…
Yes, if it’s not obvious already, HAWKEN does support gamepads, such as the Xbox 360 controller. This offers a smooth transition for console gamers to adapt to this PC game. By default, the keys are assigned the appropriate buttons. For example, the triggers fire your weapons; the left analog stick controls your movement, whereas the right controls your aim; the left bumper lets you jump, while the right makes you strafe. The only issue right now is that there’s no way of tweaking its sensitivity, thus capping you at a certain speed. Trust me, you’d wish you could aim faster during the more intense moments.
Alternatively, you could use a Razer Nostromo (in conjunction with a mouse, of course) if you aren’t as adept with a gamepad. By the way, I use the Nostromo for MW:O because it gets the job done. (Note: There’s also gamepad support for MW:O, but it feels clumsy and therefore not recommended. It’s better to use an actual joystick if you must, like this bad boy.)
The garage is where you buy and customize mechs. To perform transactions, you’ll need in-game currency known as HAWKEN Credits, which you can earn by grinding through matches, or spend Meteor Points, which is the converted form of real-life money.
The mechs are all unique in combat usefulness. For example, you have the Berserker for mid-range all-purpose needs, the Infiltrator for mid-range stealthy assassinations, the Sharpshooter for long-range high accuracy shots, and the Brawler for, well, brawling. With these mechs, plus a few other ones not mentioned, there’s bound to be at least one or two that’ll suit a person’s playstyle.
As far as customizations go, it’s less robust than MW:O’s. You can only swap out your primary weapon and not your secondary weapon (as far as I know). You’re offered a minimal assortment of weapons to choose from, e.g. submachine cannons, assault rifles, etc. You may equip your mechs with support items, such as deployable turrets or EMP (electromagnetic pulse unit) charges that temporarily shut down enemies within range. And of course, there’s the Body and Paint Shops for all your cosmetic needs.
As you grind through matches, you’ll be earning experience points (XP). As you would expect, XP is what allows you to level up. Every time you level up, you advance with “upgrades”. Upgrades are necessary for unlocking pieces of equipment, increasing overall effectiveness, or earning optimization perk points.
Optimizations are separated into three tiers: Offense, Defense, and Movement. Human reflexes can only do so much during the heat of battle, so that little bit of defense, or that little bit of firepower, or that little bit of speed can make all the difference, and you’ll be thankful you invested perks into them. But be warned that a skilled player with great reflexes can still outmatch a player that has been optimized to an extent. I would know, as I’ve been on the receiving end plenty of times by level 1 recruits, sadly enough.
HAWKEN currently offers four modes of gameplay, which are “Deathmatch”, “Team Deathmatch”, “Missile Assault”, and “Siege”. The “Deathmatch” modes are self-explanatory, but the other two are interesting.
In “Missile Assault”, you must capture and defend three missile silos. The silos are basically nodes, but you don’t need to interact with them. You simply stand near them and, after a moment, the missile silos will automatically shoot rockets at the enemy base. You win once the enemy base is obliterated.
“Siege”, on the other hand, is a new objective-based mode that’s currently in alpha stage. You first need to collect EU (energy units) from the designated nodes on the map. Once you’ve collected enough, you must return to your base to supply the EU to your battleship, which will launch as soon as it’s filled with enough EU. Finally, you need to capture and defend the Anti-Air Control Center to guide its missiles in ridding of the enemy battleship. You win the match once your own battleship destroys the enemy base.
HAWKEN’s intense, fast-paced combat certainly appeals to the “gung-ho” type of gamer. Ironically enough, being gung-ho may just save your butt in some cases. Whereas MW:O is more tactical and defensive, HAWKEN forces you to be more aggressive.
Now when I say be “aggressive”, I don’t mean be reckless. Yes, while MW:O is arguably a thinking-man’s game, there’s still no excuse to act like an idiot here in HAWKEN. Believe it or not, common sense still applies to this game. I know, I know, shocking, ain’t it?
First off, your weapons generate heat when fired. Overheating your weapons will jam them momentarily, rendering you useless and vulnerable. So watch your shots, watch the heat.
Secondly, jump away or side dash if you’re getting hit. Unless you’re a Brawler, your mech is not going to have enough defenses to last long even when optimized. But beware that jumping or strafing also consumes fuel. Thankfully, fuel automatically refills after a few seconds, but you still shouldn’t abuse it or you’ll be out of it when things get nasty.
Third, focus your shots. This applies more towards team-based modes, such as “Missile Assault”. Just like in MW:O, you’ll want to group up and take down targets, preferably the ones that are already damaged. The faster the enemy goes down, the faster you’ll score points. If you don’t make the kill, at least you earn assist points, so you’re rewarded either way. Avoid one-on-one encounters if at all possible, unless you’re confident in your skills and/or running a solo “Deathmatch”.
Last but not least, take advantage of the environment since it offers some cover for you to hide, breathe, and repair your mech. Unlike in MW:O, you can actually fix yourself up during a match. Just don’t hide for too long since enemies will find you sooner or later. Repairing is actually a nerve-wracking experience in my opinion. But should you die, relax. You can respawn in HAWKEN unlike in MW:O.
Let’s actually be serious here for a moment. HAWKEN may be hazardous to your health if you’re not careful. I know it sounds funny, but I honestly haven’t felt this way about a game since playing an old PSX title called N2O: Nitrous Oxide (which introduced me to The Crystal Method, by the way).
Okay, so what exactly am I saying? Well, first off, the game uses the Unreal Engine, and if you’re familiar of what it’s capable of when the graphics settings are maxed out, you’ll know it can look somewhat “overwhelming” with its textures. On top of this is the game’s anti-aliasing and grain filter that softens everything to a degree, all of which can be uneasy to the eyes after a while.
But most importantly, this game shakes – a lot. Sadly, I’m not referring to Dead or Alive jiggle physics. I’m talking about shaking that can possibly disorient you and produce headaches. Imagine being bombarded with exploding missiles causing your screen to shake wildly, so you strafe away only to add more shake, followed by a forward dash to shake things up even further – all this just to GTFO of harms way.
I do agree that these visual features make for a nice immersive experience, but I would still recommend adjusting the settings if you’re prone to epilepsy or vertigo. I’ve been gaming for many years and even I can’t stand playing HAWKEN after a while, not because it’s bad, but because of visual sensory overload.
HAWKEN is free-to-play, so you’ve got nothing to lose for trying out this game. If MechWarrior Online just didn’t quite appeal to you for whatever reason, then perhaps HAWKEN will. Both are enjoyable mech shooter games with their own set of pros and cons. Just pick the one that better fits your playstyle. But if you’re looking for a challenging fast-paced shooter, HAWKEN would be the winner in this case.