I’ll admit that I didn’t know what to expect out of Hawken when we sauntered up to our appointment at PAX Prime. I’d been following MechWarrior Online for a while now, but Hawken was a complete unknown for me. Imagine my surprise when I sat down with Producer Paul Loynd, played the game at Adhesive Games’ perma-crowded booth tucked away in the corner of the show, and quickly fell in love. Hawken is MechWarrior on Bath Salts. It’s fast, ridiculously easy to pick up, and incredibly adrenaline-boosting to dive into. By the end of my quick death-match, I’d gone from last place to 2nd narrowly missing the win by a few seconds more. Where MechWarrior Online is more strategic, perhaps more “sim” oriented when it comes to giant mechs shooting each other, Hawken is breakneck speed, big explosions, and riotous fun.
If you’re not familiar with the game, essentially Hawken is akin to World of Tanks, but with several different game modes. There are a bunch of RPG elements to the game, including the ability to trick out your individual mechs, pick their loadouts, and “skill points” to assign to different aspects of each as well. You’ll have one pilot throughout the game, but you’ll have a garage filled with mechs to tweak and alter and customize. You’ll be able to alter their looks, as well as their gear, so if you want a cupcake-adorned death machine? So be it. You’ll be able to do that. Lots of new features, the sort that change the entire scope of the game are coming to the alpha and beta in the next couple of months before Hawken launches at the end of the year, and the general speculation is that these changes will be some sort of persistent clan warfare, but Paul couldn’t comment just yet and instead told us we’d have to wait with the rest of the world.
When I talked to Paul Loynd, he gave me the lowdown on what’s new to the PAX Build. I wrote about it over at FPSGuru as well, so here are the details:
“New to PAX were the Heavy Mechs, which is the first time these bad-boys had been shown in public. The team was doing on-site data mining from the show floor, and watched as the Heavy Mechs did quite well, but not so well that Adhesive was worried about cries of “Overpowered!” Their main focus with releasing the Heavy into the show floor was to see how players played them. Since they’re slower and less agile than the other mechs, they loved to see how gamers were approaching the battlefield with them: sniping from roof-tops, waiting around corners, and all the sorts of things one would do if they knew they weren’t the fastest and most mobile guy in a game of paintball. I asked what sorts of things the team was learning from the testing going on at the show, and Paul told me they’re noticing that a lot of folks aren’t switching their weapons, and since it’s PAX and not a proper “beta”, they can’t tell if it’s because they don’t know how, or if the players just aren’t focused on that part of the game’s meta. They did notice however that the newly redesigned UI gives a much clearer notion of when your guns are overheating.”
From a gameplay perspective, if MechWarrior Online is about simulation and could be compared to say Red Orchestra, then Hawken is more like Halo or Call of Duty. It’s faster, it’s about using the environment to your advantage, and it’s about simply killing the other guys before they kill you. The match I played was a straight-up deathmatch, though there are other as well (team-deathmatch, siege, and an as of yet unannounced team game-mode). I’m guessing the unannounced one might be of special interest to MMO PVP fans, but that’s all speculation at this point. Siege is a mode that has two rival teams fighting over control points and resources, and I’m sure you can guess what Team Deathmatch is. Creative Director Khang Le also recently told the press that a PVE co-op mode is in the cards as well where players will shoot endless waves of AI robots. And down the road he’d like to further flesh this out with more PVE missions and types.
Now I didn’t get to specify my loadout for this match, but Paul hooked me up with an all-around mech, and let me have at it. The first thing MW stalwarts will notice is that you can’t swivel your torso independently of your legs. It’s more like a traditional shooter in that regard, and therefore easier to get the hang of right off the bat. Having played both games, from a personal point of view, I’d say Hawken is more fun. But that’s largely because (again) it’s easier to pick up and get into. It’s somewhere between MechWarrior/Battletech and Armored Core in this way, and I absolutely enjoyed every second of the match I played. You’ll find yourself rocket-boosting to get a better vantage point, ducking in and out of cover behind buildings, and sniping mechs who think they’re safe from far distance. All your standard shooter mechanics are here, but in a gloriously heavy-metal package that makes the whole experience feel new.
I really want to get my hands on more of the mechs, the different game modes, and see how progression works. But for now, rest-assured that Hawken plays like a dream, and is absolutely ripe with potential. If they really do add some more persistent features to the game outside of your own pilot and hangar, I could see Hawken being a major competitor for my free time. Heck, as it stands now it’ll likely be the game I pick up this winter when I just want to bang some heads. Go to PlayHawken.com and sign up for the beta. You’ll be glad you did.