Potential that fails to deliver
First off, the premises: I played this game alone, on a 360 controller and on the easiest difficulty setting. If you're planning to play this game in some other variant, this rant/review might not be for you. I've heard that a flightstick will increase the level of enjoyment and playing in co-op makes the missions a bit less frustrating.
The game starts promising as the first few missions are rather enjoyable. The first mission starts off with you taxing off the runway while other planes and helicopters are taking off. There are soldiers running around on the base and it feels alive with buzz. You spend a few minutes carrying out a recon mission and end up with bombing a few units on the ground. Next few missions introduce you to aerial combat with some ground attacks. After that; the game decides that you should probably do everything.
As an example; in one of the missions you are flying an A-10 Thunderbolt. This plane is known for its tankbusting autocannon that fires depleted uranium bullets, its vast array of air-to-ground bombs and missiles. Do you know it's not known for? Its air-to-air capabilities. Good thing you have your AI mates with you in the air, covering your six while using your plane for what it's built for, right? Not in this game. The friendly AI here is tailored for two things; telling you that a bandit has fired a missile at you and flying in circles, not engaging potential targets. So who is supposed to shoot down these bogeys? You; using a plane built for air-to-ground combat and without any air-to-air missiles ('real' A-10s has a couple of missiles for self defense but not in this game). So while maneuvering a plane which nickname is 'Warthog', avoiding SAM missiles, heat seeking air-to-air missiles and Flak cannon fire, you're supposed to line up a couple of supersonic jetfighters and shoot them down with your gatling gun. Does it sound like fun? It's not.
Fun is not the adjective I would use in the other fights either. While the friendly AI is busy flying in circles, repeating the same four lines of dialog over and over again, the enemy AI is super aggressive. They have no problems spamming their unlimited supply of flares and missiles at you. So you're basically stuck with following the arrow pointing at the currently selected enemy plane until the line up enough for your cannon to take them out. Which sounds kind of fun. As Top Gun taught us, the problem is that the pilots relies too much on missiles and not enough on the cannon. But spending 30 minutes in every dogfight to avoid 3 incoming missiles at the same time as you're shaving of a few percentages of the targeted planes health is not fun. Especially not when you've been doing the same routine the last 10 missions.
The campaign breaks off from the tedious same-same missions of aerial / ground / aerial / ground / aerial combat by throwing in some UAV missions where you scan over a map, following targets and marking them with IR strobes. Sounds like fun? No, not really. There is also a AC-130 gunship you control. The mission is a version of the mission from CoD4. You switch between the three available guns and blow shit up. Repeatedly. It was at least more fun than the Predator drone missions. Sadly, I had to control the UAV three or four times and the AC-130 only one time.
The overall campaign is not very engaging. The story shifts between characters you have no relationship faster than Modern Warfare 2. Sometimes you're an american, sometimes a brit and sometimes a russian. Also, sometimes you're also a UAV / AC-130 operator. I didn't understand if you were supposed to be one of the three previously mentioned pilots when controlling the UAV, but that wouldn't have made any sense. Why use a top-ranked fighter pilot ace to control an UAV which everyone who knows an gaming controller can do? Shouldn't he either be catching up on sleep or doing actual fly-missions in a war?
As for the war. I think a war game needs to communicate to the player that he is a cog in a bigger machinery. He might be an important cog, but still, he is not fighting this war alone. It doesn't matter if it's Tie Fighter or if it's Falcon 4.0 or if it's Halo, you're not there alone. In HAWX 2 you might as well be. It is up to you to fight everything all the time. It's not only the rest of the squad you're flying with that's hopefully inept. As soon as the troops on the ground encounter a Tank, they're in big trouble. Quickly disengage from the Mig and take out that tank; or the mission is over. This becomes more and more obvious, and irritating, the further in the game you get. The aircraft carrier group that has enough firepower to level a medium sized country? Big problems from a patrol boat if you thought it was more important to take out that SAM site instead. Also, your cannon seems more adapt at taking out bunkered positions than those artillery guns on the destroyers or their tomahawk missiles.
A great mission could be that you had to escort a squadron of bombers, or being part of a squadron of bombers, but in HAWX 2 it is expected that you're both the fighter and the bomber. Independent on which plane you're currently flying which becomes sort of comical when the campaign is over.
At the end of the campaign you get a chance to replay all the missions with a custom plane. But there are planes that only can do air-to-ground attacks (doesn't even come with a cannon) and those that only do air-to-air attacks. Hopefully you can nail all those aircrafts with your unguided rocketpod, because when you're out of them, you have to reload the checkpoint to refill the ammo. And this is on easiest difficulty. I wonder if the developers themselves bothered to play the game solo.
When playing this game it becomes obvious that the developers were handed a request to implement a followup to the HAWX game. They were handed a bunch of art assets from the first game and started to work on it. Neither were not interested in either playing flightsimulators nor in movies such as Top Gun or Iron Eagle. When the development was nearly done someone seems to have started HAWX and seen the Enhanced Reality System and decided that they should probably implement something similar, ran out of time and decided to just keep it for landing and refueling. In the first game it was used for everything; from lining up targets to avoiding missiles. Not here. Also, the Assist Off mode is not implemented very well. In HAWX it was useful but awkward to use, in this sequel it's just bad; the camera never manages to follow the target, or they hide the target behind the 'incoming missile TV screen'.
As for strange developer decisions, how about them deciding not to rip of the soundtrack from Top Gun or any other well known flight movie which would instill feelings of awesomeness. Instead, they decided to rip the soundtrack from Terminator. I guess the local video store didn't have Top Gun in, so they decided to take the movie next to it instead?!? Guess we should be happy they didn't pick up Tremors instead?
Well, what more? The combat physics is awkward. It feels like the turning radius in mach 2 is the same as just above stalling speed. Forget hitting the brake, seeing the plane pass by and firing a missile. Or breaking, turning sharply to line up the target for the kill. All these basic flight moves that has helped us in every game from early Microprose games to more modern action flightsims as Ace Combat are instead replaced with 'follow the arrow, avoid missiles' approach. No Immelmans here.
To conclude; where Mass Effect 2 removed many of the things that annoyed players in Mass Effect, HAWX 2 seems to have ripped out things from HAWX without any real reason with a devastating end result. This should have been a much better game.