Hawken, created by a small developer studio called Adhesive Games, is part of this revival Mech-centered games have experienced in the past year.
The Hawken team launched an announcement video in early 2011, showing bipedal machines engaging one another in highly kinetic, fast-paced combat in a science-fiction dystopia with guns and rockets. There was plenty for a Mech-head to like there, but there were several questions that arose from it: Will this game really convey the sense to the player that they’re piloting a machine, or will it feel as though the player is just someone in a robot rubber suit? Or is this game going to feel slow and ponderous? How will they make this game interesting to a wider audience other than the robot fans?
To answer those questions, the developers released a closed beta late last year. What we found is that Hawken mostly delivers as promised. Imagine Tribes with several-ton mechs and you get a good idea of how the game plays. The machines are nimble and responsive while they duke it out in a satisfyingly futuristic landscape without feeling as though they’re made out of paper. The game is focused on delivering a multimedia experience that conveys the power, speed, and size of its machines. The levels have urban detritus scattered on them. The sounds are heavy and industrial, and a lot of attention has been given to the graphics in order to portray a mechanical world. There is an aesthetic in play here, deliberately executed, that immerses the player into the pilot’s experience. When you combine that aesthetic with the gameplay we saw in the trailer. Hawken is indeed about fast-paced action, though with a flow that is closer to multilateral fencing than a shootout, with mechs that feel like futuristic, brutal warmachines instead of bendy epées.
Mechs in Hawken can walk or use their jets, which allow them to jump dash and dodge from side to side. Using jets takes fuel. It regenerates automatically at a good rate. Players have some customization options for their machines, though with a somewhat limited range of possibilities.
Right now there are 11 classes and 3 types, light, medium and heavy. Each class has a unique ability they can use to do such things as increase weapon damage, mech speed, transform into a slow-moving turret or cloak out of sight. Mechs have a primary and secondary weapon, as well as items, which they can deploy on the field. They also have “internals” that tweak the mech by trading a stat for another, such as armor for damage by a percentage. The mech type determines the amount or armor they‘ll have, as well as their acceleration and speed. This establishes a basis for a good meta-game, where players have to use different strategies in order to deal with certain opponents, as well as how they behave in a team setting.
Compared to other action titles, however, there is less variety in Hawken. There aren’t that many weapons, and the choice of weapons each class has is limited to three primary weapon types. The secondary weapon can’t be changed at all. Some of the items players can equip on their mechs also function as one-use weapons with a long cooldown, and that does alleviate the problem some, but not completely. The game team is adding more classes and weapons at a steady pace, so there’s still a chance that this issue will be resolved.
On the other hand, during this beta we also found out that Hawken will be a “Free to Play” game. Hawken uses two currencies, one ‘soft’ the game awards players for their performance in-game, and one ‘hard’ the player can purchase for money, as well as an experience system that gates certain weapons and add-ons. Players can use these currencies to buy Mechs at level 0, addons, and so forth. This is standard fare for F2P games on mobile platforms as well as facebook games, so this setup is nothing new. In truth, the system hasn’t had much of a negative effect on the game. It is an aggravating mechanic for players that want to face off without the leveling and cash systems getting in the way and this system’s influence can be felt in subtle ways throughout the game.
In all, Hawken is fun. The meta-game and the aesthetics work well together to provide an interesting and dynamic challenge. It will be interesting to see where Hawken goes as its beta develops.