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Warhawk
Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Incog Inc.
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 2 - 32 (Online Only)
Genre: Online/ Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Remember Warhawk on the PSOne? Well, except for the convertible hover jets (called warhawks), the PS3 version has little to do with the original - so if you don't remember the original, there isn't much catching up to do. In fact, Warhawk completely ditches the single-player experience, or even a sense of why you are fighting, in favor of a 32-player, Battlefield-style game that is just as exciting to play as it is to look at.

Warhawk looks stunning - especially if you're playing on an HD monitor. Though you would expect the warhawks to get the most attention when it comes to details, everything in the game looks great and fits within the overall feel of the game. Everything feels like it comes from the same technological base, so nothing stands out as being out of place when compared to something else. Watching vehicles explode is just as dazzling as watching them in action. Each breaks up with just the right amount of explosive impact, right down to fiery smoke-trails left by crashing warhawks.

Drawn distance is one of Warhawk's more impressive feats. You can virtually see everything ahead of you in each map, which gives you a great advantage if you're flying a warhawk or positioned in a high area.

Sound has just as much impact as the visuals, though to be honest I rarely paid that much attention to what was going on. Voice-chat is perhaps the most important aspect of Warhawk's gameplay, and during a match, it is very easy to drown out explosions, gunfire and other background sounds as you try to coordinate your next move (provided, or course, you find a good team to pal around with).


Gameplay:
Warhawk comes in two flavors, a direct download from the PlayStation Store for $40, or as a $60 retail package. Both packages contain the same game with the only difference being that the $60 version comes with a packed-in Bluetooth headset which, if you don't already have one, is almost mandatory if you want to get anywhere in the game.

As far as gameplay, Warhawk is very simple. It doesn't take all that long to understand, especially if you've played any of the other open-warfare games like Battlefield. Matches take place over five maps that scale based on the number of people in the game. If you manage to fill out a full match of 32 players, you'll have a sizeable map to play on, while smaller games will generate smaller maps. Each map also comes with different configurations, such as allowing more warhawks on the map.

Regardless of size, the game plays the same; playing as one of two teams, you try and capture bases that are scattered across the field. Although the game offers a few different play modes, most are just a variation of the same central theme. Zone and Team Deathmatch center on teams capturing bases. The difference between the two is that in Zone, each captured area links together, generating points for your team the longer you hold them. Capture the Flag places a flag in each base that teams must capture. The weakest of the play modes is Deathmatch, which takes away from the game's biggest strength - the team-based play mechanic.

In addition to online matches, you can also play split-screen matches with everyone in the room (two players can even play split-screen online) or in a LAN match.

The aspect that makes Warhawk such a blast to play is the number of vehicles and weapons available. You always spawn on foot in a location that is usually stocked with all kinds of weapons like missile launchers, various rifle types and machine guns as well a vehicles ranging from jeeps to tanks to the game's namesake warhawks. As you explore the map, you may even find a few gun emplacements. Although smaller games aren't as dazzling as big ones, it is a lot of fun to enter a game and see warhawks buzzing around the skies dogfighting other warhawks or strafing ground-based targets. Then again, it is just as fun to jump into a tank or grab an anti-aircraft weapon and down one of the big metal birds.

As you play through matches, you'll earn various rewards based on achievements earned during matches. As you earn more rewards, you'll also unlock new clothing options for your solider. Though it probably doesn't sound like that big a deal, it gives players a visual way to brag about their progress.


Difficulty:
Nearly every piece of hardware shares some sort of paper-rock-scissors relationship with one another, so there is a good sense of balance regardless of what you are doing. As is the case with this style of game, the difficulty is directly related to how well your team works together. If you get into a situation where everyone wants to run the show or be the hero, then you probably won't have that great a time. On the flip side, if you find a group of players that know their roles, you can easily have the time of your life and not spend all that much time respawning.

Outside the general difficulty, the controls do contain a bit of a learning curve, especially when it comes to flying the warhawks. There are four different control schemes that you'll have to learn, so it does take some time. Since I was part of the beta, I didn't have too hard a time jumping into the game, though it wasn't uncommon to hear someone complain over voice chat about one aspect or another.


Game Mechanics:
One of the funny things about Warhawk is the lack of instructions. Although the retail version comes with a manual, it leaves out a few items. Most of the important stuff, like the variable controls on the warhawks, are explained, though some of the terminology isn't - which could leave you scratching your head early on as you try to figure out what everything means. Thankfully, the game is straightforward enough that you'll learn most of the terminology within a couple of games. If you opt for the download version, you're in a little more trouble since that version doesn't come with one at all. Instead, you have to take a jump over to Sony's site and download a copy.

Getting back to the controls, there is a lot here to digest - especially for a first-time player. The ground-based controls aren't too hard, nor are the other vehicle ones since most play similar to other third-person shooters. Where you are likely to have the most trouble is getting the hang of a warhawk. It is always easy to tell who is new to the vehicle simply by watching their flight patterns. Though you can use the analog sticks to pilot the craft (it offers two different flight modes), the more responsive way is by using the SIXAXIS' motion-based controls. Unlike Lair, which uses a similar control method, flying a warhawk is much smoother, though when action gets a little too rough and you have to make quick moves, the response does drop just a bit.

The packed-in headset (a Jabra BT125 headset) is a nice value if you haven't already purchased one. The initial setup was a bit cumbersome, though the sound quality was generally pretty good and the headset itself was comfortable once I got used to having it in my ear.

Regardless of whether you get the download or in-store version, Warhawk is one of the first truly great games to show up on the PS3. It still has its share of troubles, though the amount of fun packed into the experience is unmatched.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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