When someone talks about a game being released as "free-to-play" on the PC market, you usually find a role-playing adventure loaded with Microtransactions to boost your player, or some other miniscule effort that doesn't really make you feel like the download was worthwhile. There are some exceptions to the rule, however, and among some of the better ones coming to the PC front later this year is Hawken, the latest from Adhesive Games. The company is currently gearing up for a massive showcase at this year's Penny Arcade Expo Prime event in Seattle, which is happening later this week, but they gave us the opportunity to go hands-on with the game to see how it was shaping up.
Essentially, Hawken is a first-person mech shooter, one that gives you a wide selection of vehicles to choose from before venturing into a handful of city maps. When we first jumped into the game, we saw the graphic engine running rather impressively, featuring about the same level of detail that we saw in last year's Killzone 3 over on the PS3. Considering the "free-to-play" terrain, this is a damn good feat -- though you will need to make sure your PC specs are up to speed so you can get the most out of your game.
Up to ten players can take part in each of the multiplayer match-ups, and from the sessions we jumped into, we ran into no problems joining the lobby, selecting the available unit to our liking, and then hopping right into battle. Various tools of the trade are within reach, with others you can unlock over the course of the game. We're talking machine guns that can chip away at an enemy's shield and armor, booster jets that can provide the advantage of reaching higher ground, and powerful rockets that can easily turn someone's fun run into a one-way ticket to the junkyard.
There are different mech types here, all of which are worth playing around with. The stronger robots are good when you want to deliver a pounding to someone and don't feel like running away from a fight. Meanwhile, if it's speed you're after, smaller units are also available, moving a lot quicker but not carrying so much firepower. Your best bet is to play around with both types and see what works for you. (Each one also comes with a customary special weapon, ranging from a huge pack of explosives to a mech-decoy deployer, allowing you to divert attention and sneak up behind enemies.)
But in order for Hawken to work, Adhesive Games had to find the right approach with it. Did they want to make it completely arcade-style, or perhaps go with a more tactical set-up, along the same lines of Namco Bandai's super-serious Armored Core games? Well, there's actually a fine balance between both types of games here. You'll have to study up on your tactics, but you'll be just fine targeting enemies and using defensive techniques to avoid taking massive damage.
Hawken controls just fine, whether you go with the big lumbering mechs or something a little zippier. Being able to move around each war-torn city level is a cinch, even if you're boosting above. What's more, targeting almost feels like second nature with the right gaming mouse, and you can easily perform other feats to help you get around, such as using a quick 180 spin-around to take an enemy who's about to pound you from behind or dodging an incoming attack with a quick evasive dash. Granted, you'll need to use them at the right time so you don't run out of energy too quickly, so time your moves just right.
For a free-to-play effort, Hawken looks absolutely fantastic. Like we said, the level design is about on the same level as Killzone, with metallic threats running about, beautiful lighting detail (particular with the freeway overpasses that hang over the city -- and yes, you can jet up to them) and great robotic animations, including when the things eventually come apart from your weapons. And it moves at a rather fluid pace, even when there's a lot happening in your multiplayer session. The game's still in testing, but if you want to get a look at what it's all about, it'll be on hand at this week's PAX event.
If anything, the lack of additional maps in our hands-on time would be the only real complaint -- but honestly, we can see Adhesive Games trying to save something for when the public beta kicks off in just over three months' time. You can head over here to sign up: http://www.playhawken.com. If you think it's just another free-to-play experience, you've got another thing coming. Hawken means serious business, and that's good news for action fans and first-person shooter nuts alike. Lock and load for its arrival on December 12th!