At first glance, Hawken looks freaking amazing, as if it were the heralded online mech game everyone has been waiting for. "True giant robot combat has finally been mastered" is what we would think. Players can now tactically fight each other as long-range 'bots protect close ranged mechs with artillery rounds. That sounds pretty cool, but it's not Hawken.
From what we've observed in the beta, Hawken is a bit different from what most expect from a first person mech title. It's taken the traditional slow, tactical gameplay found in most mech games and replaced it with fast paced shooting. Instead of trying to be the better strategist on the battlefield, players are now duking it out as if it were another Halo title. Except, instead of Spartans or elites, players are playing as giant robots who bring only suffering. Stranger still, it actually works.
Adhesive Games has not only taken a whole new spin on giant death machines, they've done quite well at translating their idea to a playable product. Hawken, in its beta stage, shows promise for a title that's trying to break away from the norm. The mechs are much faster, and much more capable of performing functions without the assistance of others. It's a much faster, and more 'arcadey' feeling title than MechWarrior Online.
The customization is also a bit different than what most players would be comfortable with. Rather than having players saving up for the “best” weapons or body parts, they level up their respective mechs and then put points into skill trees in a way not dissimilar from a title like World Of Warcraft. It's a new approach on Mech games, but it may have strayed a little too far from the norm. Customization has gone from building a completely unique machine that represents you, to fulfilling one of the archetypes that are presented to the player.
The fullest realization of archetypes being pushed onto players is the class system offered in the game. While these classes are a bit different from the RPG types of “Healer, dps, tank” and all of them focus on doing damage to one extent or another, players will notice a lack of customization after they pick one of them. While no one is necessarily expecting the customization that was offered in Chromehounds or Armored Core, being forced to pick the bot you feel best suits you, rather than building your own custom machine, feels a bit restrictive. Sure, there'd be the guys who'd abuse dual flak-cannons (shotguns), but that's part of the fun in the title.
As far as presentation goes, the game is gorgeous. Going into the tutorial with little knowledge of what the game was trying to portray (other than robots kicking the crap out of each other), I was quickly able to piece it together. Before the player is a dystopia. The world has been destroyed, and players fight in what were once-fruitful cities. While the story is paper thin, it looks good. The graphics do a fine job of portraying just how horrible a place Illal is.
The controls also manage to handle properly. While they take a while to get used to, I can't see too many players fumbling over the controls as they try to figure out what's going on. Again, I cannot stress enough that these machines do not control like a 'traditional' mech does. Making them boost around and turn on a dime is something they are completely capable of. There are no secret tactics to be learned. Just be the fastest moving and hardest hitting player and you will succeed. That may sound simple to some, but trying to lock a target from 40 meters away while jet-strafing sideways in between two buildings takes quite a bit of practice.
Hawken will certainly be a different title when it's released, and that's not a bad thing. The kind of arcade gameplay offered to players could very well open the door for more gamers to enjoy the mech genre. I may not be a huge fan of how simple the title is, but that doesn't mean it's bad. It's a very well designed game that is as player friendly as it is fun and will be definitely something to consider when it launches.