Hawken (PC), Review

Our full, play through review of Hawken, a free-to-play mech arena shooter currently in open beta.

Hawken is a free-to-play mech arena shooter currently in open beta status. It features a selection of eleven customizable, upgradable mechs. To be perfectly honest, the words “mech” and “customizable” did not give me high hopes for Hawken. I tend to gravitate towards games with “clear” endings and somewhat fear the ability, provided by games such as the Mechwarrior series, to spend endless amounts of time tweaking and refining robot chassis. Further, the mention of mechs conjures up notions of having to learn a plethora of systems and a complicated control scheme. Happily, Hawken favors its arena shooter qualities significantly more than its mech-based features, resulting in a fast-paced and easy-to-grasp, albeit pretty generic, shooter.

If Hawken has a story, it escapes me. I recall reading something about a nanovirus, but the game seems to ascribe little to no importance to its storyline and so I did the same. Upon beginning the game, you’re given a quick run-through of the menu screens, where you’re provided with enough credits to buy your first mech and a support item, a projectile shield. You have slots for offensive items and internal upgrades (which add passive improvements to your mech), but these unlock at later levels. You’ll also learn about optimizations, which are where you allocate the optimization points you earn gaining levels.

Optimizations in Hawken are split into offense, defense and movement categories and include features like increasing walking speed, decreasing damage taken from weapons or increasing firing rate. A nice feature of the Hawken optimizations is that you can add or subtract your points from them at any time, so you can always alter the way your mech plays.

After being acquainted with the controls in Hawken, there’s a training mission that briefly familiarizes you with how to control your mech. The Hawken mech is a lot spryer than one might expect from a giant, hulking robot-thing and the gameplay quickly reveals itself to feel not unlike fast-paced deathmatch games from the era of the original Quake and Unreal Tournament.

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In Hawken your mech can move in all directions, strafe and boost. You can side-boost to dodge attacks. Strangely, you cannot boost backward in Hawken and boosting while pressing back instead performs a quick-turn (something I never got used to). You can also jump and hover. You have a fuel gauge that depletes from boosting and hovering, so you have to lay off periodically and let it recharge.

You have a primary weapon (e.g., rifles, machine guns, shotguns) in Hawken and a secondary weapon, a missile that explodes on contact or can be set off in mid-flight. The weapons I Hawken never run out of ammo, but there’s a short cool down period required between firing missiles and shooting for uninterrupted periods will eventually overheat your weapons. You also have your defensive support item and a special ability, such as being able to cool weapons more quickly or temporarily power up weapons/defenses. Again, nothing ever runs out in Hawken, but you must recharge. You can hold down the repair key at any time to heal your mech, but this leaves you completely vulnerable, so it’s best to do in a somewhat closed-off space during a lull in battle.

Hawken’s tutorial gives you a basic understanding of how to play and throws drones at you to spar with, but these are in no way representative of the challenge you’ll face in online play. Hawken has four play modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Missile Assault and Siege. The first two are self-explanatory. Missile Assault is a team-based match in which you and your Hawken teammates fight enemies for control of three missile launchers. Each Hawken team has a base that the launchers will fire upon and a team wins when the other team’s base is destroyed. Siege is similar, but requires players to collect and drop off energy units in order to construct a ship that will fire on the enemy’s base.

Each Hawken game type is frenetic and simple. Though Missile Assault and Siege add more objectives, you’ll primarily be doing a lot of shooting and circle-strafing, again lending to the old-school shooter feel. Missile Assault felt like the most rewarding game type, due to having an objective beyond just “kill a lot” and was simpler to get into than Siege. Plus, winning Hawken Missile Assault matches seemed to garner the most XP.

Once in a match, Hawken isn’t exactly a welcoming experience. The issue is that opponents appear to be simply thrown together at random. Each time you die and respawn, you can choose to come back as any of the mechs you own, so someone playing Hawken could potentially have one mech in their garage at the max level of 25 and one just starting out at 1 and could bring out either at their leisure. I ran into quite a few experienced Hawken level 25 players early on and was repeatedly slaughtered.

There’s also the annoying, though not unexpected, feature of just about everything in the game being purchasable either with Hawken Credits, which are earned simply through playing or Meteor Credits, which cost actual money. Therefore, you can potentially run into opponents who have better equipment at earlier levels than you do simply because they shelled out some cash and you didn’t.

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Graphically-speaking, Hawken looks pretty good. Especially for something that’s free-to-play, Hawken is nicely detailed. There are some very 2D-looking textures up close, but it’s nothing too distracting. However, Hawken’s graphics are nothing earth-shattering. There are several different levels in Hawken, but they’re largely indistinguishable from one another. They’re all industrial or desert themed, making Hawken mostly drab greys and yellows. Also, because Hawken is a mech game, your view is always bordered by a robot’s insides, which I suppose is par for the course, but still strikes me as an annoying approach to a HUD.

Hawken’s sounds are all decently done with subtle mechanical whirrs accompanying your movements and satisfying explosion and gunfire noises. There’s no music in Hawken, save for one track that plays on the customization screens and, amazingly enough, I actually really like it. It’s got a nice epic, mounting tension feeling and I think it works really well for Hawken’s motif.

I have to level with you: Hawken is really not my type of game. I’m not much of a multiplayer guy lately and I’m definitely not a mech guy. So, that said, it was nice to discover Hawken was a lot less complicated than I expected it to be and that it reminded me of multiplayer of yesteryear, sort of like Quake with a side-boost. It took some effort, but I eventually scored some kills and helped out a winning team or two in a Missile Assault match. This was fun and rewarding and I could see how Hawken could be an addictive experience as you become more skilled in battles, fill your garage with mechs and build them all up to their optimal levels. Still, Hawken doesn’t really aim to do anything hugely unique or groundbreaking with its gameplay, making it an average online shooter at best.

Den of Geek Rating:
Story: 1/10
Gameplay: 6/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Sound: 7/10
Multiplayer: 6/10
Replayability: 7/10