With either a terrorist plot of assassinating the president or the threat of global nuclear war being a daily occurrence, the Tom Clancy universe is ripe with military conflict. For that reason, I’ve always felt that the Tom Clancy franchise of video games always looked to attract those that never quite outgrew their “G.I. Joe phase.” Games under the Tom Clancy banner like the Splinter Cell or Ghost Recon series have always teetered on the line between banal insanity and credible plausibility when it comes to creating a war-torn virtual battlefield. That is, after all, their “thing.” They create experiences where a player feels like an army of one, effortlessly mowing down countless terrorists, in its somewhat plausible reality. This idea encompasses every aspect of the Tom Clancy games and H.A.W.X. 2 is no exception.
For those who aren’t familiar with the H.A.W.X. series, it’s the Tom Clancy universe’s take on the video-game flight sim. Much like the other Tom Clancy games, the series’s last iteration was known for its arcade-like feel in a real-world setting. H.A.W.X. 2 follows very much the same formula: You choose from a plethora of fighter planes to accomplish certain tasks, which run the gambit from escort missions to bombing runs. While the game’s various backdrops and dog-fighting sequences look spectacular, playing these missions becomes quite monotonous. Some of the later, intelligence-gathering operations add a little variety to the mission selection, but there are far too many times in which the objective is to shoot down anything that makes the reticule on the screen turn red. And while the mission objectives might be lacking in variety, luckily the act of flying in H.A.W.X. 2 is quite exhilarating.
Controlling your fighter plane in H.A.W.X. 2 is surprisingly simple. Complex maneuvers like barrel rolls, summersaults, and nosedives can be performed with the flick of the duel analog sticks. The dog-fighting mechanic is also just as easy. Once an enemy gets between your fighter’s crosshairs, it’s only a matter of time before they’re shot out of the sky. At first, the ease of pulling off these Top Gun-esque maneuvers is quite exhilarating, but as you get deeper into the game, the whole experience starts to feel shallow.
H.A.W.X. 2’s greatest asset is also its greatest fault. For those who aren’t that familiar with the flight-sim genre, the game’s arcade-like feel will be fun and accessible, but that seems to be all that there is to the game. That feel becomes a kind of crutch, most evident when climatic action sequences, put in the game for dramatic effect, fall short due to the ease of pulling off complex maneuvers. The game at times tries to combat this by unnecessarily increasing the difficulty levels in certain parts of the game, but that just makes things worse by creating frustrating player experiences.
While there’s a definite audience out there for H.A.W.X. 2, I can’t see it breaking out of its niche cocoon, into which it’s comfortably walled itself. The easy accessibility of the game will have many interested in what H.A.W.X. 2 has to offer, but its shallow experience will only hold most people’s interest for so long.