Last October, 2011, a game being developed by an independent studio called Adhesive Games caught my eye. That game was Hawken and it combined pretty much everything I liked in video games - multiplayer, first person perspective, explosions, fast combat - practically everything except boobies. However, it stood out among the other games being shown at PAX at the time because instead of playing as a soldier, you were the pilot of a lumbering hunk of steel destructive force called a mech. It was glory redefined.
Almost a year and a half later, I finally downloaded the open beta and proceeded to play the ever-loving hell out of it. Best part about it? It's free to play! You can play the game without having to pay a dime. If you want the full experience of owning and customizing your own mech, though, you'd have to pony up some cash. Here is their pricing structure.
My initial worry is that it wouldn't play on my aging rig. To my surprise, I was able to run it at 1920x1080 on medium graphical settings on a Q6600 processor and 9800 GT GPU. I was getting a steady 30 frames per second on it even when things got a little busy on screen. I was even able to fire up FRAPS to record some gameplay. Sure, my computer BSOD'd that night, so I may have fried something on my motherboard. I'll have to look into that a little more later.
Take my advice - do not play it on a 7 year old computer just to be on the safe side.
Customize your mech
Upon starting the game, I found that the two main clickable areas were the garage and the jump into a game button. As you open up your garage, it shows you all your mechs. If you're a newb with just a recruit mech, you'll still be able to customize it for real money.
You can swap out your body, the arms, the legs, the healing bot, thrusters, color, patterns and camo. Customization doesn't seem so deep, but I haven't really fully explored the possibilities and the game still is on open beta, so we're likely to be treated with more in the coming months.
I'm not sure if this is available only during beta, but you can take those mechs for sale on test drives. In the picture above, I was test driving an Infiltrator - low health but fast, and has cloaking capabilities, and a Bruiser - a heavy mech with a mini-gun and a lock-on rocket launcher. It's pretty bad ass.
It's pretty straightforward, as far as mech combat goes. You drive your bipedal tank over a map and you take down other mechs towards a goal. There are two available weapons at any given time, the primary and the secondary guns. Unlike most games where the primary is the more powerful weapon, the designation of primary weapon goes to your go-to low damage, high RTF weapon. Your secondary weapon is normally a massive damage dealing launcher or canon.
Movement options are what you'd expect. Heavier mechs walk slower, jump lower, and boost shorter. The lighter mechs can really run circles around bigger mechs, especially if the pilot is any good.
At any given moment, you can drop down and repair your mech to keep you in the game. Be careful, though, you're completely vulnerable when healing up.
You can't see it, but there's totally a repair drone in that picture.
There are four available game types available now, but we may see more eventually, but that probably depends on how successful the launch is.
Team Deathmatch puts you in a team against another team in a timed battle. The team with the most points at the end of the round wins. The trick here is to work in groups. Getting killed needlessly hurts your team because just staying active depletes the enemy's points. It makes sense to pair up with a class of mech that can complement yours. Don't keep doing this:
Missile Assault plays like Conquest in other games. Once you occupy a base, you gain access to it as a spawn point and as a missile silo. The silos attack the opposing team's bases. Once the health of a team's base depletes, the match is over. Good tactic for this mode is to defend your bases furiously, just like any other Conquest game mode.
Siege is a very interesting game mode. I played it once and I had absolutely no idea what to do. Apparently, you and your team have to collect energy from energy stations or downed mechs to power up your battleship. Once enough energy is collected, the battleship launches and makes a bee line towards the enemy base. From what I can tell, your best play here is to emphasize defense. Prevent the enemy from taking energy and that'll make collecting it much easier.
Deathmatch is a standard free-for-all. Pick a mech you're good with and start killing people. You earn points by dealing damage, not dying and taking out other mechs. I had my best deathmatch when I started kill stealing, because I'm a douche.
Still never won, though.
Even though I couldn't get the game up to the highest graphical setting, it still looked very impressive. Running on the Unreal engine, explosions and models rendered very nicely despite the heart attack I was giving my grandfather of a gaming rig.
The color and tone of the surroundings gave the game a very dystopian atmosphere. With modern games, the heavy use of grays and browns is very prevalent. Hawken isn't any different from that, mainly because of the feel the developers were going for. While the hues work for the most part, I found it hard to really be immersed because of all the bland metallic gray I was forced to look at.
However, I did find the HUD very remarkable. All the information you'd need would be believably found on your dashboard, such as health and item inventories. The radar, game timer and score floating on screen still makes sense since, well, it's the future and you can totally do that in the future.
Every step, every round fired, every missile launched and every bit of damage taken sounds aptly metallic and heavy. You really get the sense of piloting walking death tanks just by the quality of the sound effects. And since you and your opponents are driving tons of steel and iron, walking around makes a lot of noise. I love how you can effectively tell the distance and direction of everyone near you just by listening carefully.
There is no music to speak of, but I would imagine that would just ruin the mood of desperation and the assumed realism. But then again, something this high tech should have like an MP3 player on-board, right? Just sayin'.
This game is free to play, so the only viable excuse you have to not try this out is that you have a 7 year old computer and that you hate having any kind of fun whatsoever. If you even remotely love big robots and have always dreamed of piloting anything other than a Buick, play this game. Drop a couple bucks to get a good mech you think you'll pilot well, and start blowing some shit up.