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.
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.
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.
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.