Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Bird of a feather?

Ubisoft tells us to meet at Hammersmith tube station, but once we do we're taken around the corner to a car park and a waiting Land Rover. There a slightly embarrassed man dressed as a 'Future Soldier' stands shiftily, plastic rifle in hand.

Soon we're rushing off to a 'secret location' outside London. It turns out to be a fully functioning airport somewhere past Slough.

Which is all very well, but it does mean that all of my recordings suffer from the echo and bounce of being taped in an aircraft hangar, and are occasionally obliterated completely by the tootling parp of a low-flying biplane.

Plus, I get told off for smoking.

We're here to see HAWX 2, the Tom Clancy in the sky sequel which makes the macho stylings of Top Gun look like Jimbo and the Jetset.

As usual in Clancy-land, things are kicking off. Three nuclear warheads have gone missing from a Russian airbase, presumably having fallen into the hands of the separatist factions which are staging increasingly frequent terrorist attacks across Russia and Europe. This time, the action is split across three separate airforces: the American HAWX, the British Navy, and a Russian special forces unit, encompassing 32 different flyable, licenced planes including support gunships and UAVs.

When the presentation begins, with journalists spread out in ranks of chairs in front of the screen in authentic briefing style, it's clear that visual quality is something Ubisoft Romania has been working pretty hard on. The ground detail has been upped considerably, with individual trees and beautifully textured and lit rock formations rolling smoothly by. There are still plenty of tweaks being made, we're told. Hopefully these will address the frame-tearing which spoils the otherwise lovely view.

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It's all spattered with typically Clancy pre-mission briefing graphics - all swooping reticules and dizzying satellite zooms, vector holographics and gruff military types using words like 'imperative'. The chaps dressed as Future Soldiers are stood at the hangar door, doing their level best to look more serious than ridiculous. They're doing fairly well.

Soon, we're unleashed on the game itself, sent off to pods to flight-test a build of the game running on 360. I start with the opening tutorial level, figuring that my ground/sky distinction skills could probably do with a bit of work before I take a $45 million fighter into combat.

It all starts peacefully enough, sat in the cockpit of a desert-camo F-16 on the deck at Prince Faisal airbase. One of the fan requests after the release of the original HAWX was the implementation of a full take off and landing system, and the development team have done just that. We're promised carrier and runway take-offs and landings, both under fire and unbothered, which will affect difficulty levels considerably.

I taxi gently along the runway of the base, between sun-baked Nissen huts and frolicking airmen, when a Tannoy announces an infringement of the base's exclusion zone. This triggers an alert which sees choppers warming up and my F-16 swinging onto the main take-off strip. We're off.

A quick and easy take-off later and I get my first taste of the flight model. It's definitely an arcade approach, forgiving and responsive - although it's still possible to stall and enter a flat spin. Interestingly, and unlike IL-2 Sturmovik, the flight model remains unchanged between levels of difficulty, although weapon loadouts will become increasingly stingy with difficulty and there's a significant difference in the way which different planes will behave in the air.

Creative director Edward Douglas makes it very clear to me that "It's not a simulation, we're not trying to be a simulation...We're not going to make the player learn how to fly a plane to play the game."

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