Once touted as a Halo killer, Warhawk has arrived for Playstation 3 owners as of August 28th and is available either through the Playstaiton Store for $40 or retail locations for $60 (retail version includes extra video content and a Bluetooth headset).
Halo killer it is not. Development of the Warhawk single player portion of the game was discontinued and scrapped in favor of the development team spending their time perfecting the multiplayer. As Incognito told Sony: You can either get a mediocre single player and multiplayer game or a great multiplayer game.
With a single player story out of the way the only thing left to do is hop online and battle it out with other Warhawk owners. Sony offers many of their own servers (racks of PS3s) for online play denoted by the blue text in the server list, but you can also find a large number of games hosted by other players or create your own server. There is always a server with empty spots available, but not necessarily for the game play type you want (Capture the Flag, Death Match, Team Death Match, and Nodes). Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are the most popular, at least in the first week of Warhawk’s release. For those of you looking for a traditional Warhawk experience, you can join the dogfight-only DM and TDM servers.
Warhawk, originally intended as a flying-only game, might surprise many people with the quality of the ground battle it delivers. It has similar elements to the Battlefield series in terms of being able to jump into any vehicle (plane, jeep, tank, anti-aircraft gun) and start using it. While there may not be the huge selection of vehicles you get in the Battlefield game, you won’t notice since the action is incredibly fast. A dogfight can be going on above you completely separate from an intense ground battle giving you the sense that you are fighting in a much larger battle. That feeling is intensified with 32 player games, especially in Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, where crashing planes and exploding jeeps burst onto the scene while you battle it out with other players on foot.
Warhawk is fun, and often funny. A player may be sniped from a tower across the map, but once they respawn they’ll be jumping in a plane and lighting up that tower until the machine gun overheats and they are out of missles. I will often find myself saying “Is it over already?” when a game ends, usually oblivious to which side won. It really doesn’t matter to you who wins in Team Deathmatch because you were having too much fun lobbing grenades at the guy in the anti-aircraft gun who shot your Warhawk down a few minutes ago.
The maps are big, with nearly end-to-end view distance. I was impressed with the variety of different landscapes, many with unbelievable heights to fight from. Some maps have land masses floating in the sky, designed for the Warhawk dogfight modes. The foliage, water, clouds, and Warhawks are all well designed. There clearly was no motion capture for the soldiers, and the tanks and jeeps leave something to be desired visually, but due to the fast paced action they are not a hindrance to the fun.
My biggest complaint with the game is the Sixaxis control. You can turn it off, but it will put you at a disadvantage since you will lose one of your analog sticks (the aiming stick, in fact). Sixaxis works and can work well… if you are out for a leisurely flight to take in the sights. Unfortunately, you are usually being targeted by guided missiles, RPGs, and anti-aircraft nearly from the moment you spawn. The problem I have is the delay. When I rock the Sixaxis to the left or right I want the plane to turn right away, but there is a slight delay that throws me off just enough to cause me to either crash into something or overcompensate and make a wrong turn, taking me off target. Using the analog stick results in instant control, but as I said this puts you at a disadvantage. I haven’t tried Sixaxis in any other games to compare to Warhawk. If this is a common issue, it makes the last-minute motion control add-on by Sony a gimmick and not a great control feature. Sixaxis control cannot be assigned to just the plane, so you have to go into the menu and turn it off if you want to use the Jeep or Tank without Sixaxis (trust me, you do).
My second problem with the game is the server list and join-game system. Warhawk will pull down the 1000+ servers and you’ll see 27/32 players on one which means there should be 5 slots available. In my experience you have about a 10% chance of getting in on that server. It takes about 30 seconds for it to tell you the server is full, then you have to reload the entire server list again. This is dumb and is the biggest reason you won’t be able to connect up and have a quick game before you go shopping, out to eat, or wait for your significant other to undress. They need to update number of players (and other server information) on the fly as you scroll through the list of servers. Update: You can press the triangle button to update the server information when you have a server selected, but it continues to say things like “22/28” and return “Server Full” messages despite this supposedly updated information.
Warhawk can be a load of fun once you connect to a server. If you can successfully use the Sixaxis controls, it will make the planes a blast to play and add so much more to the Warhawk experience. In the dogfight battles there were a number of moments where I saw a glimmer of what fun the air battles could be with more a responsive Sixaxis controls, but for me the real fun can mostly be found on the ground.
5 words or less: Sixaxis issues, fast, fun, funny.