E3 2012 Hands-On: Hawken

War is a machine, and I'll be the pilot.

When I walked into Hawken‘s media event on the lobby roof of the Luxe Hotel, I was guided straight to a computer. I sat down next to Mike Fahey of Kotaku, joined the opposing team, and proceeded to win two consecutive rounds. After a little bit of postgame trash talk, I realized this game has something special. Hawken is a free-to-play first-person multiplayer mech shooter, and the premier game of independent studio Adhesive Games. It is absolutely one of the most fun games I have ever played. In a chat with the developers, I attempted to explain why this game had me going back to play again and again throughout the night.

There are two things Hawken does at the same time that very few games are capable of achieving: it’s different, and it’s very fun. Hawken plays unlike any game I’ve experienced so far. The mechs feel appropriately heavy and physical, each step booming as you walk. Mechs are highly customizable, and function in classes. The demo I played had only light and medium mechs available, and the legs, arms, cockpit, and two weapons were all interchangeable. There is also an upgrade system in offensive, defensive, and movement abilities available though spending some sort of unexplained preset point allocation. The game seems to effortlessly convince me that I’m truly piloting a mech, as the HUD is directly integrated into the vehicle’s cockpit. Being able to to efficiently interpret the outputs of the dashboard are the key to survival as well as victory.

With all of this effort spent in getting the feel of the mechs just right, Hawken still manages to be fast-paced and incredibly exciting. The maps are small enough to ensure downtime is minimal, and there are plenty of hiding places and rooftops to escape to if you feel you’re in danger. The mechs can heal themselves slowly by holding down the C key, but they become immobile when repairing. Retreating from battle when damage to prevent a death was a strong influence on the success of a team. Snipers, rockets, assault rifles, and a wide variety of other weapons allow for combat from any distance. The status of your teammates is visible when looking in their direction, letting the player know when they need to go in for the save. All of these combined elements constantly force the action forward, and cooperation with teammates can lead to quite a few heart-pounding finishes.

Hawken is grounded, believable, and visually stunning, yet makes no sacrifices in ensuring every moment of gameplay is entertaining. It gives the player full control over their gameplay style as well as the appearance of their mech, but doesn’t feel like it is taking from any other multiplayer shooter due to its extensive variety of mech builds. Hawken is set on a post-apocalyptic, human-colonized world brought down by industrialization. Adhesive will be releasing a graphic novel to set up Hawken‘s lore sometime before the game launches for PC on December 12, 2012.

War is a machine, and I’ll be the pilot.

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