NVIDIA Free-to-Play ReviewGuest_Jim_* - February 17, 2013
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Big robots, big guns, and big explosions seem to be the 'big three' for Hawken, which has its players piloting mechs of customizable design and armament. Once in your mech you'll mostly find yourself hunting down enemies to destroy, but depending on the game type you may also have to capture strategic points or energy to launch a ship. The first game type you are able to play in is Team Deathmatch, but as you play more matches, you unlock the other types.
Your first mech looks something like an old TV or microwave with arms and legs, but it gets the job done. Still, you'll want to quickly earn enough points to get yourself a new, better looking, and better armed mech. Really though, all of the mechs look good, as does the dystopian environment, thanks to the careful and extensive art design of the game. Buildings, ramps, and the ground itself have been carefully crafted to be full of detail you may not notice as you run around shooting stuff. That is the beauty of screenshots though and having a computer powerful enough to handle the game on 'Ultra' settings, with PhysX turned on.
Unfortunately there are two issues with the graphics that are disappointing. One is that the cockpit (at least of the first mech) is very large and limits your view of the environment. While my screen's aspect ratio is 16:9 or 1.778:1, the cockpit limits the view of the action to a ratio more like 2.5:1 or 3:1, depending on how comfortable you are looking through pieces of eyecandy. Field of view can be changed in-game or through a config file, but to my knowledge, there is no way to reduce the opacity of the cockpit.
The other issue is one I do not fully understand the existence of. Instead of just seeing the world of Hawken in its graphics glory, you are actually seeing it through a filter that adds a film-grain like effect. While I completely understand developers wanting to incorporate certain effects, it's odd that you cannot disable it and that even the cockpit suffers this. It's not as though you are in the cockpit, watching the action on a screen that introduces the grain, your vision itself has this grain effect. Of course, when playing you are not going to notice this, but it is noticeable if you take the time to look.
The gameplay is, more or less, what you would expect from a robot-brawling game. While you do move sufficiently fast to effectively traverse the environment, even without the thruster boost, you do find the screen bobbing somewhat from the large, lumbering steps of your mech. This can throw off the aim of your two weapons, which are always present in the frame. Your weapons have unlimited ammo by the way, but either need to reload or cool down after extended fire. Cooling can be accelerated using a special ability though, or by dropping points into the right optimization. You also have access to useful pieces of gear, such as a shield that blocks all weapons fire, but any mech can enter and exit the shield. Still, the shield lasts long enough that if you need to repair your mech, you can do so safely within it.
Overall the game is pretty fun, giving relatively high-paced action, but if you want, you can find a corner to hide in the arenas, which are somewhat larger than needed for the number of mechs within. Of course if the arenas were too small, there would never be a chance to isolate an opponent. Respawns are quick and it's definitely satisfying to see your enemy explode and then dash through the smoldering remains.
Unfortunately I would have to characterize this, to a degree, as a Pay-to-Win game, or at least note that the matchmaking is not ideal for new players. The first mech you receive is a decent machine, but does not have as much fire power as the heavy mechs loaded with rocket launchers, such as the one I just faced off against. From a high position that particular mech was able to rain down high explosives that could do considerable damage with a single hit, and there was just about nothing I could do about it. My guns could not kill it before it killed me, and that mech can repair just as easily as mine can. Perhaps if my entire team had gone after it we would have been able to take out that one opponent, but we were not fighting just one opponent.
Of course having a player on my team with a similar mech or comparably powerful mech would have helped, but in a match with multiple new players in it, that is not exactly something you can count on. Once you reach a higher level though, when you have multiple mechs of your own, this issue will very likely disappear, but for those low level games, coming up against such a powerful adversary could easily dissuade a player from continuing to play.