Adhesive Games/Meteor Entertainment
Score: 3.5 (out of 5)
There's something about watching giant robots beating and shooting the crap out of each other that holds a special place in our collective pop-culture consciousness. Did it begin with the Transformers in the '80s? The Godzilla movies from the '70s? Or did penny dreadfuls in Victorian England spin tales of Ye Giant Clockworke Automatons Engaged in Mortale Fisticuffs?
With director Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim landing in theatres this summer, fans of cinematic mechs will be soon be well served. Gamers, meanwhile, can get their robo-rasslin' on with Hawken, a free-to-play game of post-apocalyptic mechanized mayhem.
Hawken takes place on a far-flung, far-future planet that's been largely stripped of its resources and apparently abandoned by much of its population. (That, or they hide indoors as mechs tear a swath of destruction through the streets. Can't say I'd blame them.)
Players strap into the virtual cockpit of a heavily armed bipedal mech and engage in the time-worn tradition of shooting the crap out of other mechs in online-only free-for-alls, team deathmatches and a couple of novel objective-based game modes.
While Hawken is officially still in pre-release beta (and free to download from playhawken.com), it already lets players fork over real-world cash to buy in-game perks. If people are paying for a product, beta or no, it's fair game for a review in its current form, with the understanding changes and improvements may happen over time.
Ah, "free" to play. No matter how much we might resist and protest, these types of games aren't going away any time soon. And some of the very good stuff in Hawken is undone by this piecemeal pay-as-you-go approach.
Visually, Hawken is an absolute stunner. More than once I ended up eating a hail of enemy cannon fire and missiles because I was too busy gaping at the intricate detail of the game world, sort of a blend of Borderlands and Blade Runner. The first-person cockpit perspective is equally immersive, with its array of instruments and grit-smeared windshield.
Hawken's mechs aren't like their larger and more unwieldy MechWarrior cousins; these are relatively nimble machines with the ability to sidestep and sprint (with rocket-assisted boosters, of course) as well as jump and hover. The game strikes a nice balance between twitch and tactics, and it's simply lots of fun to play.
But Hawken loses its lustre when it opens fire on players' wallets. The game is free to get into, but earning enough in-game currency to upgrade mechs' weapons, armour and abilities takes forever. This, along with the oddly lopsided online matchmaking, seems designed to steer players into shelling out cash for in-game credits to quickly upgrade their mechs to a competitive level. It might be only a few bucks here and there, but dang, I would much rather play an upfront price and get access to everything, rather than die the death of a thousand cuts. Too often, free to play simply means pay to win.
If you're a fan of battling bots, Hawken is definitely worth checking out, and you should certainly have some free, fleeting fun with it right off the bat. But as the game lumbers towards an official release, I really hope they dial down the mechanized money magnets.