Hawken is an online only first person shooter that places players in the cockpit of their very own mech for competitive and cooperative multiplayer. Whereas titles like Titanfall allow the player to go around on foot, Hawken doesn’t give you the option to bailout. Here you live and die entirely in your two-legged tank.
Setting Hawken further aside from the herd of FPS titles available is that it’s a part of the Xbox One’s growing library of free to play games. And Hawken is truly free to play: practically everything aside from cosmetic content is purchasable with in-game currency earned through matchmaking. Microtransactions are present, but they’re wholly unnecessary if you’re in no hurry to unlock every little piece of content. You will eventually earn enough to unlock a lot of that content if you give Hawken half a chance, because chances are that it’ll hook you.
The mechs in Hawken are diverse and each of the 20+ mechs available sports a unique combination of weapons, equipment, and special abilities. While you are only given a basic starting mech at the outset of your time with Hawken, you’ll find it more than adequate to take on even the most expensive, top of the line options. This can be attributed to the highly impressive gameplay balancing employed by Hawken’s developers. Despite the fact that each of the numerous mechs here lends itself to a different play style, you can generally hold your own in any situation if you exploit the weakness of your competitor’s model.
Are you in a light mech that can’t take as much damage? Stay moving and get behind them. Are you in a huge mech that moves slow? Plant yourself in the corner of the room and unleash a barrage of missiles. Somewhere in-between? Use your jetpack, drop some bombs, deploy a turret, and go to town. Whether you prefer camping, run-and-gun, or steady handed map-sweeping, there’s a mech here that’ll fit your needs.
The gunplay in Hawken is satisfying. You aren’t in any danger of running out of ammunition and there isn’t any reloading, but firing most weapons makes your mech slowly overheat. Fire too many shots and your weapons temporarily go offline. This encourages conservation of precision without forcing the player to hunt for fresh ammunition. In such a fast paced game this has turned out to be a fantastic design decision.
There are plenty of different weapons that can be utilized in Hawken: missile launchers, Gatling guns, automated turrets, mines, bombs, EMPs—the list goes on. The variety present is more than enough to keep things fresh from match to match, as you can always change your tactics and playstyle when you pick which mech you want to spawn in with after each death.
Mechs feel devastatingly powerful, as any mech should feel. You’re able to dish out and take massive damage, but don’t expect any automatically regenerating health. If you want to heal you either have to gather energy from a slain player or deploy a repair bot, thus making yourself defenseless for a few critical moments. This leads to satisfying tension and skin-of-your-teeth triumph that is hard to obtain from similar game’s that heal you for standing still.
The typical gameplay modes that you would expect are here: deathmatch, team deathmatch, domination (under the name “Missile Assault”), and horde (under the name “Cooperative Bot Destruction”). Hawken also brings its own unique mode to the table called “Siege” in which players are tasked with collection energy, launching gunships, and securing missile silos, all in an effort to destroy the enemy base. There is, however, no single player option.
The only real criticisms to leverage at Hawken in the gameplay arena are the thin tutorials and arguably awkward default control scheme. The control scheme is something you get used to after a few matches, but the lack of tutorials means that those first few matches might be rough if you don’t learn well by example.
Hawken a good looking game—there’s no doubt about it. Painstaking detail has been put into the HUD in particular, as each map begins with a boot-up sequence complete with reminders that pilots have agreed to operating agreements and that no one is responsible for whatever harm they incur. Little things like this go a long way towards immersion.
The mechs themselves are well designed and they look distinct enough to identify what you’re dealing with from a distance. Maps are large and well-designed, and each has a fairly distinct looking environment.
The sound design is competent. The mechs and weapons sound right, maps are occasionally populated with the sound of howling wind, and there’s nothing particularly off in a general sense. That said, the sound doesn’t stand out. There isn’t much to say about the music, which is generally forgettable, both in game and in the main menu. The auditory component of Hawken is definitely weaker than any other aspect of the game.
Assuming that you do alright, it could still take you a few dozen hours to unlock everything in Hawken, and then it might take a few dozen more to master every different mech. If you’re a completionist then this is a game you’ll have a good time with.
Otherwise, this is like any other competitive FPS: it has infinite replay value up until the moment that it doesn’t. You can keep leveling up for a long time, you can keep facing off against other players online, and you can keep unlocking things, but that only matters so long as you find the experience satisfying.
On the whole, Hawken is a fun, challenging, fast-paced FPS that does almost everything well. It’s a satisfying multiplayer experience that doesn’t require you to pay a single dime. Diehard players – or impatient ones – might enjoy themselves more if they throw a few bucks into the premium currency, but for everyone else this is a free to play game that is actually free. For the quality on display here and the innovation present, you should definitely give it a try. The only thing it’ll cost you is some time.
Reviewed by Brandon Drake