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Warhawk: Swoops in for the Kill

Warhawk was one of the first titles shown for the PS3 and is one that many were itching to get their hands on - something only a select few were able to do. As luck would have it (or perhaps, really good connections), we were able to get an invite to the recently ended closed beta. Though it got off to a rough start, with a little playtime and a good Bluetooth headset, it developed into a surprisingly fun game that really shows off the potential of the PS3's online features.

The Warhawk we saw last year and the one featured in the beta are two completely different entities. Since last year's E3 showing, the game has undergone an almost complete transformation. Gone is the open-ended mission structure and, well... for that matter, the entire single-player game has been removed, leaving only a Battlefield 1942-styled multiplayer game featuring large, diverse maps that support up to 32 players.

After logging into the game, you are presented with a list of servers detailing what game types are available, the number of players and the latency of each connection. As expected, connections were filled with lag early on, but as the beta progressed, so did the lag problem - which bodes well for the final release.

After entering a game, you are immediately greeted with a game whose sense of scale is a rarity when it comes to console releases. Combat takes place on both the ground and in the air, each of which is just as important as the other. Although flying the Warhawks, which are sort of a combination jet/helicopter, is where a lot of the fun is (after all, the game is named after them), you need strong ground support if you want to achieve victory. Not only does it give you another set of missiles to fire at opposing Warhawks, but there are places they can't go and things they can't do.

When out of the vehicle, you have access to a set of rifles and machine guns as well as rockets. You can also jump into a tank or jeep (taking the role as either driver or gunner), which is infinitely more fun than going on foot. Still, as important as the ground game is, the most fun comes when flying.

Jumping into a Warhawk and flying isn't as easy as it sounds and takes a little while to fully understand. In our first outing with the game, several staff members tried, and failed, to fly a Warhawk. Some had limited success, though most of the time we either crashed or were shot down. Warhawks feature two control schemes, one that plays more like a helicopter and another that plays like a jet. It takes a few games to fully come to grips with the controls, mostly because of its use of the SIXAXIS' motion control. Motion controls aren't the default control scheme, so you can use the more comfortable dual analog method if you prefer, but it is worth it to try and learn the motion-based scheme.

Another great feature is that maps scale based on the number of players in the game. The idea is that maps can accommodate various group sizes, alleviating the situations where you may spend most of your play time simply searching for someone to attack. Regardless of map size, pacing is generally fast, though how fast depends mostly on how long it takes to get things organized.

On top of all of this, Warhawk looks great, especially on a hi-definition display. Each map has its own characteristics and personality. These also translate into how the match plays out since some lend themselves better to certain styles. Vehicles show off all sorts of details. The framerate is rock solid and draw distance seems to go on forever, giving you a great view of the battlefield.

The only problem I came across, at least when playing on a standard definition display, is that menus tend to obscure a little too much of the screen. Though I appreciate having detailed instructions on everything (at least after I figured out how to access the inventory), it got in the way. Again, I only noticed the problem while on a standard definition screen, but it is worth noting since a number of players still haven't made the jump to hi-def yet.

Our first impressions of Warhawk were not good and the constant stream of bad news coming from its development only made things seem worse. After our first few games at the start of the beta, most of our staff was ready to write it off entirely. However, I kept plugging away at it and it wasn't until I found myself in a game with well-organized groups and purchased a headset that I actually "got it." In the long run, this may be the only thing that really holds Warhawk back. Despite its best efforts, Warhawk isn't something that will immediately grab you; it takes time and some effort before you can really open up the game. Based on the beta, it is worth the effort.

Warhawk will be available as a download on the PlayStation Network (PSN) Store or as a retail copy which will include a Jabra Bluetooth headset, which, based on reviews, looks like a pretty decent headset. If you haven't already invested in one, the retail will be the best way to go since the ability to communicate is half the experience.

Warhawk is slated for release on August 28, 2007.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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