Impressions from the Hawken beta weekend: A slick mech game in desperate need of local servers

Hawken

By on October 30, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Indie darling Hawken has been the talk of the town ever since its fantastic trailer first released, showing a lovely, almost anime-style take on the hectic jet and thrust of modern mechanised combat. This weekend marked the first closed beta, and we were lucky enough to score an invite. So, how is it shaping up? Let’s break it down.

PC support

Hawken uses DirectX 9 and, to be fair, even with settings pushed to maximum, it isn’t exactly going to blow your mind. The art direction is beautifully slick and duking it out in the chunky, industrial slums or across the arid desert is great, but visually Hawken is not ambitious and seems to aiming for maximum install base with lower requirements.

I’ve taken a screenshot of the available options, which you can see below. Hawken provides motion blur, depth of field, post-process MLAA, anisotropy and PhysX particles, as well as field of view (up to 90 max, although you can edit the .ini file to make it higher), mouse smoothing, and others.

In action, Hawken is impressive. Mech animations are lovely and powerful, with soaring jets and clomping great feet. Watching a duel between two suits as they glide back and forth, lauching rockets and trying to lose each other in the smokestacks is great, and the cockpit HUD may seem cramped at first but after a while it becomes an essential part of the game.

Gameplay

Here’s the first thing to know for Australians: Hawken needs local servers. Badly. Depending on your location you can get pings of up to 250 ms or more, which leads to rubber banding, awful hit detection, and being killed before you even realise you’re under attack. The west coast of the US generally resulted in the best ping, but hit detection still felt sloppy even when compensated for with significant target leading. This is a shame, as the lightning-paced nature of Hawken combat means that snappy ping is an absolute must for a proper game experience.

When the game works though, it’s great. Hawken has of course been naturally compared with MechWarrior Online (which just went into open beta today), but the truth of the matter is that Hawken plays much more like a traditional FPS than a mech game. Sure, it’s important to watch your radar, conserve fuel and be aware of your surroundings, but even the heavy mechs like the Berserker have a speed and reaction time that makes twitch gameplay and tactics more important than loadout, deployment and strategy.

Verticality plays a huge part in Hawken’s gameplay. With towering skyscrapers, jump pads and steel canyons to navigate through, the radar can only help you so much. Jetting from tower to tower or activating your cloak and dropping into a shaft to come around for a rear-armour missile strike is marvellously fun.

Speaking of missile strikes, Hawken‘s siege mode deserves a special mention — you and your friends must use your suits to collect energy and return it to the base, all the while trying to stop the enemy from doing the same. Once enough energy has been returned, a battleship is launched which begins to bear down inexorably on the enemy base. At this point the game switches to a frantic take-and-hold battle, with the enemy desperately trying to maintain control of the AA guns so they can shoot the battleship down, and you trying to keep them off it. It’s delightfully tense.

Levelling and customisation

Playing matches earns you experience points in each class of mech, which you can then use to make various ‘optimisations’ in either offence, defence, or movement. Interestingly, this is entirely separate from physical customisation of your mech: swapping out different makes and models of cockpits, legs and repair bots is purely visual and has no in-game effect on your performance.

Each class of mech has a different, unique ability and multiple options for primary and defensive weapons. Infiltrator mechs rapidly became my favourite: with the ability to cloak and disappear from radar for a few seconds, their small size and mobility made for the class most able to take advantage of Hawken’s propensity for vertical combat. The default Assault class has the ability to deploy weapon coolant, instantly removing all heat buildup to allow for spectacular sustained fire — it’s a great starting class and playing with it makes you feel solid and powerful, although its default box cockpit is a tad on the ugly side.

Beta issues

Unfortunately, this is a beta, and it shows: customisations sometimes don’t stick visually, requiring you to toggle them on and off a couple times to make them stay. Each daily patch across the course of the weekend also forced me to rebuild my mech’s appearance (as well as reset all my graphics options). All these things will doubtless be ironed out before launch, but another thing that’s more concerning is texture pop: entering the mech garage and swapping mech models gives a second or so of blank textures before they properly load in, even on my GTX 670 with 16GB of memory to spare.

Other than that — and the fact it took anywhere from five to twenty repeated matchmaking attempts to actually get a match rather than an error – Hawken is shaping up to be a lot of fun… for overseas players. Without local servers, Hawken runs the very real risk of not being able to deploy successfully in Australia at all, which is worrying.

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16 comments (Leave your own)

Pretty much the conclusion I reached. It’s fun, but without local servers I simply won’t play it.

 

I wish this was a single player game (or at least had a single player mode with a story/campaign).

 

Desperately, indeed.

 
Lord_PorkSword

Yup, local servers would be great! The beta was a nice step up from the alpha as a lot of bugs were ironed out! Gameplay is quite fun but yeah it does feel more ‘FPS in power armour’ rather than mech sim, but I don’t mind that! There’s enough ‘mech stuff’ in there to give you the illusion you’re in a mech!

I didn’t have the Mech setup issues you had however I did have issues joining servers.
The texture loading annoyance is with the Unreal Engine itself and fortunately once the textures are loaded it’s all good!
I do have some concerns regarding the amount of grinding it’ll take to rake up some hawken points to buy the good stuff, but that’s just cuz I’m a cheap a$$ bostardo who won’t pay cash to earn them quicker.

 

It would have been nice if the article mentioned what their approach is regarding servers. Have Aus servers been discussed/rejected, etc.

 

After watching some videos, while I am quite interested in checking it out I have to agree I cannot even begin to guess how something that fast pace would work on 200-300 ms ping. Local servers are a must-have though with no news on it, I am rather concerned we are going to be an afterthought yet again.

 

Excellent games, yeh needs Aussie servers. Only other issue i have ATM is the negative scaling with my CrossfirX setup.

 

Been playing Hawken since closed alpha and I do rather like it a lot more then MechWarrior Online. But yeah if there are no locals servers ah doesn’t matter just go play PlanetSide 2.

 

interestingly enough mechwarrior online is perfectly smooth with our pings to American servers
would i feel the difference on a local server , most likely but at the moment it feels smoother than playing BF3 on local servers
also MWO devs have stated they will at some point sort us out with a local solution (same for Europe) but they need to get the game built first

 

Sounds really good. Is GoN looking at providing local servers?

 

I played the Beta on the weekend also and found that the Pings to the servers available in the 300′s. It had a HUGE hit on playability and as mentioned the hit detection was woeful for that kind of ping.

I remember playing CS on dial up with similar speeds and the hit detection was ‘okay’. It was playable. But this was just terrible and sadly ruined the experience.

Now hopefully they will release the server files as per a normal Unreal 3 dedicated server for local server farms. But till then, it really pulled from the experience.

The game experience minus the lag however is also a mixed bag for me. I was expecting more “FPS” feel? and whilst it was alot faster play than the MechWarrior kind. It really felt a little slow and cumbersome once you came under fire to turn around and either dash or take cover. Yes I know it’s a mech game, but from the original alpha footage 12months or more ago, it really felt slower than what we’d seen in the past.

This may have been made worse by the lag and already taking extreme damage by the time I knew I was under attack leave little to no time to make evasive action.

Motion blur was extremely overused… and turning it off seemed to make little difference. Graphically it looked very grainy… and no amount of changing settings made it better? Too much sand/effect/smoke? I don’t know, but I found it an eye strain to play.

I got a few rounds in before the lag issue really made me leave the game and not return for the remainder of the weekend. But I was a little dissapointed, but ever so hopeful that the feedback in the forums are listened too and acted on.

Ramjet

 

naduk,

Smooth yes. But when you have to lead your target using lasers to the point where the lasers visually miss the target but do damage something is horribly wrong. Also genuinely fast mechs still rubber band.

From what I’ve seen of the model at least Hawken appears to have a good chance of local servers. Any chance GoN could contact them about it?

 

Played MechWarrior last night and latency wise it was fine… To be fair though the general game speed of MWO is pretty slow, I was in the middle of installation Hawken because I prefer something alot more fast paced nowdays but with no mention of Australian servers it’s pretty QQ…

 
jerichosainte

I’m done with online shooters. Even with decent pings (mainly BF3) the poor hitreg combined with game lag and hacks that are pretty much impossible to call out and enforce it just spoils the game for the most part.

I’ve played a bit of MWO and its not really doing it for me. You can only get so much out of an online only game. I feel this is more suited to single player simulation based type gameplay. Immersion is not great either, It just doesn’t feel like you are in a 50 foot mech like the original games.

I’m with ElectroTyrian. But unfortunately we will probably never see it given both titles are F2P.

 

Local servers would be welcome but let’s face it, this isn’t likely to happen any time soon. :( I only managed to play on the final “bonus” day and didn’t have any of the issues you mentioned apart from the odd glitch with sync or joining a server. Between the game support and xpadder I had it running on my home theater setup with a 360 controller which is great fun.

I enjoyed it enough with a 230ms ping (US West) and found it playable. I did notice it would try to match folks with poor ping. I had one match where everyone was over 130ms ping.

Hopefully it’s only because it’s a Beta but the lack of maps was it’s biggest downfall IMHO. I only noticed the two, and their general flow was virtually identical.

You can turn and run quite fast. Just tap back and dodge at the same time to spin 180 then forward and hold dash to run away. I did plenty of that to get back to team territory after chasing down a runner for the kill.

It may be like a FPS but one with classes and hiding to bandage and pipe bombs and deployable turrets and …. Counterstrike it’s not!

I didn’t notice any texture pop but then I’m running off a SSD. It’s likely something that will get optimized before a release build anyway. I imagine there are options in the Unreal SDK for that sort of thing.

In short, it’s still worth a look. After all it’s free!

 

i think it’s solid and it plays a lot like quake.

there’s so many changes in the beta. the siege mode wasn’t even in the alpha, and the missile map had no textures.

the real thing that i think people didn’t get a shot at in beta, that changes your game a lot, is the upgrades. in the alpha you had all 30 points.

it really changes how your mech plays out. especially if you put 30 points into mobility on an assault mech.

a huge amount of feedback was given on the alpha forum about pretty much everything you’ve mentioned.

as for aussie servers. well, bloodline champions never got servers, dead game as far as we’re concerned.

 
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