While the last few months have finally seen a rise in PSN activity, and plenty of excellent multiplayer titles, Warhawk still stands as arguably the best mass warfare based game to date.
Based on a PS1 title of the same name, Warhawk is a multiplayer only third-person combat game from Incognito. Incognito was formed by Scott Campbell and a few others after the fallout of SingleTrac (studioshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incognito_Entertainment), whom developed the original Warhawk as well as Jet Moto 1 and 2, TM1 and TM2, and a few other PS1 games. while the now famous David Jaffe worked with SingleTrac and Incognito (for Twisted Metal: Black on PS2), the PS3 version of Warhawk was directed by Dylan Jobe, who is accredited with the main decision to focus solely on multiplayer. The developers have not exactly denied the inclusion of a single player campaign as an expansion to the existing title, but no word has ever been given on if that is true.
This review will include the Omega Dawn expansion, as you can now purchase the original title w/ the expansion on the PSN store for a slightly higher price. It is definitely a more complete online experience with the additional content of the expansion. If you refuse to pay for any DLC after the original title, simply omit the comments on the expansion. This review also focuses on the current state of the game; I am not going into detail about the month long plague of bugs that nearly ruined the game around launch. Every single major bug from September has been removed in 2 free patches that are available to any legal copy of the game, Warhawk runs flawlessly now in that regard.
The easiest way to describe Warhawk's gameplay quickly is simply an arcade-paced version of any Battlefield title. It is heavily focused on teamwork in all but the deathmatch game types. You have access to 4 vehicle types, as well as being able to traverse the landscape on foot. Weapons for a player on foot are available as pickups, similar to older PC shooters like Quake or UT. You can carry up to 8 weapons as a soldier, as well as have 8 pickups available when flying a Warhawk. The game also features an older health system, in which there is no regeneration of any kind. Soldiers need to look for a spinning red and white cross for additional health, Warhawks and dropships can pickup a red cross in the air, and ground vehicles can pick up a gear. They all look slightly different, but accomplish the same thing.
There is no story to Warhawk other than there are two rivaling races of humans/aliens called the Eucadians and the Chernovans. They hate each other apparently, and destroyed each others landscapes before you bought the game. No matter what game type you are playing, you will always be one or the other races. Eucadians are always the 'blue' team, and Chernovans are always the 'red' team in any team based game. For deathmatches, everyone is highlighted with a red name, despite the fact that you can chose which race to be in that game type.
Including the expansion; the game ships with 6 full size 'worlds'. Each world can be broken down into 5 distinct districts for gameplay types, or the 6th set being the entire world open. You could argue that brings the total individual map count to roughly 30 (each of the full 6 maps has 5 individual smaller map sets), but they definitely overlap each other at times. Despite the small number though these maps are absolutely massive, and it will take a very long time to learn all the different areas to each map. Every map shares a similar amount of balance in which there is a central focal point, be it a pair of bridges or a heavily bunkered central fortress, and the other half of the map slightly mirrors the first half (elevations are similar, but buildings and terrain can be different. roads though are always near identical to keep flag running equal at both main bases). There are plenty of smaller bases thrown around each map also, which can be capture to have front line respawn areas, vehicle spawn points, etc.
There are technically 7 different vehicles in Warhawk, but 6 of which are just different team versions of the same type, leaving the game with 4 different vehicle types. There are 4X4s, tanks, Warhawk/Nemesis, and the dropship. The dropship looks the same for both sides, while the others have different plating/modeling to look more at home with that races aesthetics. Its only appearance variations though, with no confirmed differences in armor/health or speed ratings. The vehicles are very balanced against each other, which helps the gameplay tremendously. The Warhawk is by far the fastest vehicle in the game, and is able to get across even the biggest maps in little time. It also has two flight modes, one of which has you racing around like a jet fighter, the other a helicopter like hover for excellent ground support. It also has access to many different weapon pickups, that are all pretty standard for a combat game like this. The down side though is that it is relatively weak, being able to get popped by a single tank shell (happens more often than you would think) or just a few guided missles from an enemy Warhawk. The Tank is kind of the opposite. Its the slowlest vehicle in the game, but is second in terms of strength. It can absorb high amounts of fire and has an extremely powerful dumb-fire cannon that can make quick work out of anything but a Dropship. the 4X4 is the fastest ground vehicle, has room for 3 (one of which can operate the mounted .50cal gun on the back), and is relatively strong at taking some weapon types. I say some because it still leaves the players exposed. In which players can be easily knifed out of the 4x4, or sniped, without having to destroy the 4x4 itself. Few things in gaming are as rewarding as a well placed sniper shot from literally a mile away, watching the driver slump out of the moving 4x4, and then seeing the 4x4 coast off a cliff with two other passengers still in it. Aside from vehicles there are also 3 types of player mountable turrets, ranging from guided rocket launchers and AA flak cannons, to smaller .50cal guns mounted at map choke points.
Then there is the Dropship. On paper this maniac is absolutely awesome. In practice though it has proven to be almost too complicated to use correctly. It is easy for one person to be a deadly opponent with it, but its biggest advantages come from its ability to transport tanks in to enemy territory with a crew of 7 laying waste to everything around. It is simply difficult to coordinate 7 players into using the thing effectively. Like the Warhawk, it has 2 different flight modes, but in this case both are a form of hovering. One mode has the ships 3-per-side crazy ass cannons locked and ready, the other is a faster hovering mode that retracts the guns, but allows all passengers except for the pilot to pivot their own swarm missle turrets. Like I said, on paper its ridiculous, but I have counted only about 15 people that actually have used it in all its glory. Despite the expansion releasing just around a month ago, most games using the dropship consist of random people camping the spawn point just to get in it and see what it is like. With just a pilot, even with the insanely powerful cannon, a few Warhawks can make pretty quick work out of one with enough weapons pickups. The thing is strong though. Its the only vehicle in the game that can absorb a direct impact from a TOW missle (a camera guided missle launched from a hovering Warhawk...the most powerful pickup in the game). Like the name implies, the dropship can also carry either ground vehicle type. It does effect the speed and hovering abilities of the Dropship, especially with a tank, but overall its a very effective way to get a small army behind an enemy's base.
The game ships with 4 different game types. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF, and Zones. If you are unfamiliar with how exactly deathmatch and team deathmatch are played, I would recommend a new hobby. CTF in Warhawk is also similar to other multiplayer games, with a decent amount of balancing that can be toggled on or off in the server settings by the admin. For example, the default CTF game type has vehicles and everything, but a flag carrier can no board a Warhawk or Dropship directly, however can ride/drive a jeep or tank. The dropship is capable of carrying a vehicle with a flag runner inside the vehicle, but the flag runner can not directly mount into a dropship or warhawk. However the 'fly w/ flag' option in the settings can toggle that on or off, which makes for some very intense high scoring CTF matches. The other gametype of Zones is probably the most teamwork oriented gametype available. It plays somewhat like the onslaught type of UT '04, or Warfare of UT3. Players fight over territories spread all over the map. Each territory has a 'size' indicator based on a scale of 0 to 3, 0 being neutral and 3 being the biggest. When a player of a particular team gets near the center of the zone, the size indictor scale begins to rise towards 1. When it reaches 1, the zone is expanded to capture more of the surrounding area. At that point it will continue to rise, but players no longer need to camp the very center of the zone, they can move around the expanded area which is displayed on the mini-map. However the trick is to link zones. Some zones are able to reach the full size of 3 on there own, but smaller 'support' zones have to have the larger zones slightly overlapping their area before they can also reach the size of 3. So basicaly, capturing as many close zones as possible creates one very large zone, in which you control all the spawn points for players and vehicles in that entire area. the scoring is based on your teams kills and control of the map, the more the zones, and the bigger the zones, the more points you get over time. You can either win by having the highest score at the end of the time alloted, or win by controlling every zone on the entire map, resulting in a domination and an immediate game ending slap to the other team.
The visuals of Warhawk are tough to explain. Overall its a fantastic looking and running multiplayer game, but its more in polish than anything else. It doesn't have the photo-realism of CoD 4, It doesn't have shadowing on every single tree or shrub (although it does have very good shadows for everything else). But it does have extremely good character models, some great use of HDR with the sun shining through volumetric clouds, some impressive water (although with some rather lame hit manipulation). The most impressive thing by far though is the smoothness of the game. There are times where you will have over 25 players all in your immediate area, with 2 dropships battling it out right above you, 3 tanks rolling in, a dozen ground troops in your face, and Warhawk buzzing towers left and right, and the framerate doesn't begin to show a problem. Warhawk has by far some of the most intense moments of any multiplayer game to date, with more stuff happening at once than anyone would care to admit. Still running smoothly in situations like that is impressive in its own right. The game's art style is a modernized version of WWII era stuff. Lots of big towers and bunkers, but with the destruction of a recent bombing run everywhere. One thing worth noting though is that the game doesn't scale down very well. Playing Warhawk on an SDTV results in very hard to read lettering for everything from players to server names and stats. I play the game regularly on both an HDTV and and SDTV, where as CoD 4 is perfectly acceptable on an SDTV. Warhawk on the other hand requires some very precise sharpness tuning on an SDTV just to read who exactly killed you. Aside from that though the game has some incredible draw distances, with not a single instance of anything popping into view. If you can't see it on screen, its simply too small to see from that distance. You can glare across a map and see Warhawks zinging around when they can't be much bigger than a few pixels.
The sound of Warhawk is arguably second to none. It ships with support of Dolby Pro Logic IIx, which equipped hardware breaks down standard Dolby Digital 5.1 sound into a true discrete 7.1 channel stream. I am unclear on what the PS3 sends out natively in this regard, on whether the PS3 is actually sending out discrete 7.1 surround sound, or if its just normal Dolby Digital, with the imaging designed for use with a 7.1 channel system. In either case this is something that really has nothing close to comparison. Most professional reviews barely touched on this, leaving me to assume they didn't compare Warhawk with UT3 and Cod 4 on a true home theatre system (UT3 and CoD 4 are regarded to have some of the best sound around, and in my case UT3 is terrible sound wise and CoD4 is simply acceptable). The imaging in the game is what is immediately noticed. A tank can fire from across the map, in which you don't hear the blast, only the cruising shell tumbling past you with full doppler effects, then blasting a warhawk parked to the other side of you. The sound of a missed sniper shot buzzing your head then ricocheting off of the mountain behind you. Low flying Warhawks screaming past you. The drone of a moving dropship, or its cannons spraying a mountain off in the distance. Everything comes from exactly the place it should within your room. If you hear a tank rolling around at your 4 o'clock, spin your guy to look in that direction, and there it is. You could literally get it on screen with your eyes closed. That and the game has very good effects in general; THX certified with a very robust bass track. A tank close by will be shaking your HT so much you won't be able to hear much of anything else, and explosions will be enough to levitate your carpeting
The gameplay has been more or less addressed in everything above. The pacing is fast, and the balancing approaches perfection. You can be on foot with a rocket launcher and be an extremely deadly opponent to anyone with in distance. You are faced with the choice of how you want to go about taking on your enemy, but everything has near equal strengths and weaknesses. If you like taking to the air, do it, but hope someone else takes out their turrets before hand. If you want to roll in with a tank, you will murder pretty much everyone save for the Warhawks w/ TOW missles (it will take you week though to get to their base), or the big ass dropship you didn't see just behind a hill. The gameplay is awesome though. You can explore hidden areas on maps to gain a good sniper location, you can wonder around aimlessly for no apperant reason with no goal in mind (a very very common tactic to newcomers), and you can simply get in a Warhawk and only fight off the other high flyers around. But the real fun starts when you get groups of friends in it together, with headsets and someone who has a clear idea of what to do. Once you are on a team that is bloody organized in Warhawk, the amount of carnage you push on the enemy is pretty much the coolest thing in video gaming right now.
The presentation of the game only lacks in the still on going problems with the PSN. There is no access to unified messaging right now, something that borders on unacceptable with a multiplayer only game. The game does not support any type of invite system yet, but does have the option for you to follow xmb friend's into whatever game they are in (assuming there is enough space in said game). With that said all your XMB friends show up in game, with those that have registered to play the game available to view stats, clans, etc. The game has pretty much the craziest stat tracking system of a game to date, with more stats than any human should ever care about. There is a ranking system as well, with ranked servers available that allow you to unlock character and vehicle customizations based on points and awards given. As of right now though there is gigantic spacing between the higher ranks, which would literally take months to accomplish if done correctly (i.e. no stat padding or cheating, etc.) There is no party system however, or a squad system like Resistance. These have been more or less confirmed to be coming in future updates, but are sorely missed as of right now. The best part though is that the game has hundreds of dedicated SCE servers per territory. These are tailored to all types of game modes and have different max player limits. A dedicated server will give 32 player lagless awesome'ness to pretty much any decent broadband connection, and the fact that there are so many, results in you always being able to get into one.
Overall Warhawk is a game that no multiplayer fan should miss. It is arguably the biggest console online game to date in terms of how much stuff can be going on at once. It takes bigger PC games of this type and balances them out much better than anything in the past. While the maps are absolutely huge, they also support 32 players and its rare to go more than a couple hundred yards without running into someone you would rather leave dead than alive. the biggest complaints for the game come into the community issues that are more a problem with the current state of the PSN, than with the game itself. If a future firmware update does bring unified messaging, invites, and game joins like promised; Warhawk will be very close to perfect.