HAWX, the latest game to join the genre-spanning Tom Clancy series, is pitched as an accessible air combat title with a few twists. With a heavy emphasis on intense dogfighting and gravity-defying manoeuvres, and an intriguing story crossover with previous and forthcoming Tom Clancy titles, Ubisoft Bucharest's latest addition to the ever-expanding range has a bit of promise, so when we were invited over to Ubisoft's Paris HQ to talk to lead designer Thomas Simon and check out the latest build, we flew at the chance. Well, made our way through the Chunnel.
Read on for our in-depth interview, and check back for our first hands-on with both the single and multiplayer facets of the game.
Eurogamer: What does HAWX stand for exactly?
Thomas Simon: HAWX stands for High Altitude Warfare - X means prototype. It's a unit of very very skilled pilots who are basically trained by the US Air Force, a special force, to fly any type of aircraft. Not only US planes but planes from Russia, France, UK, etc. They are used to flying anything that has a jet engine. And they use them for special ops. The player is a former HAWX pilot that joined a private military company that is creating an Air Force branch - but he stays closely joined to the US and in a certain part of the campaign he will rejoin the HAWX unit, which will be reactivated to help the US defend itself against the private military company that launches a massive attack on the US territory.
Eurogamer: Where is HAWX set?
Thomas Simon: In the first mission, you actually replay a GRAW 2 air-strike mission in Mexico, but from the air - but it's like a flashback. When the game starts for real, you're in 2014, just after the end of GRAW 2 actually, and you've joined the private military company in a mission in Africa. Afghanistan, Middle-East are the first part. Then tension will arise in South America - we showed a map at UbiDays of Rio De Janeiro - so we have several missions there.
Then, when the conflict and the tension explodes in the US, the mission will take place over US soil. In one of the campaign missions, you have to protect a Space Shuttle in Cape Canaveral to help the US launch a new anti-missile satellite to restore the SLAM network, which is actually part of the EndWar storyline, so we have some crossover with GRAW and with EndWar like that.
On the US soil we also have three major cities that I won't disclose now, but are quite iconic locations, and other places that are all based on real locations with real satellite data. It's not like any location, it's the exact place as seen from the air.
Eurogamer: Does HAWX incorporate prototype military technology like the other games in the Tom Clancy universe?
Thomas Simon: In terms of technology, it means taking technology that's already believable and take it one generation further. It's the mature version of what's just a prototype now. So what you've seen for ERS (Enhanced Reality System) for some planes that you've seen is in that spirit. And it's not just technology and military authenticity; it features a strong storyline with high stakes. It's also the elite forces, hence the HAWX squadron you're coming from. Yes, it has all the ingredients for a Clancy title.
Eurogamer: When you're playing the single-player campaign, do you always control one specific plane, or do you flick between squadrons?
Thomas Simon: You control yourself. You are David Crenshaw, the pilot from GRAW 2. First you're flying with your wingmen, and you have the possibility to give orders to them. You haven't seen it today because we didn't want to show it - it was not necessary for the demo. You have your team-mate to cover your six, attack a specific target, and attack random targets, so it's really part of the system...
Eurogamer: Quite typical of the usual Tom Clancy game approach, then.
Thomas Simon: Yes, we wanted to link with GRAW, definitely. Obviously we are replaying the mission in Mexico, and you meet the Ghosts again later in the game. In EndWar we are really announcing some elements of the storyline in the game - and actually more than that, but we can't say everything now. But, yes, it's being part of the Clancy family, it's like the second generation of titles. Some titles like Splinter Cell have really impressed so much, and they really helped create a whole universe. And now we are able to - with other people from Ubisoft that are working on Clancy titles - start playing a bit with the universe itself, creating crossovers, and it's getting quite exciting.
Eurogamer: Can we expect crossovers with the Rainbow Six or Splinter Cell games as well?
Thomas Simon: Er, Rainbow, yes, something like that. You'll see! There's a massive attack on the US, so many US forces, secret or not, should be involved in the conflict.
Eurogamer: Is the crossover blatant or is it more subtle?
Thomas Simon: Some elements are really clear and obvious. Close air support for GRAW in Mexico or in other places in the game - this is really a gameplay feature. Some elements are referenced to the storyline, so it's part of the general flavour of the game. It's not only one type of element, we try to use as much as we can.
Eurogamer: Tell us about the multiplayer side of the game.
Thomas Simon: Team Deathmatch will be available for a total of eight players, two teams of four. This is the best mix, in terms of experience, otherwise it's too crowded. You haven't seen all of the features, for example the support kicks in when you accumulate enough points. It takes time to discover every element. It's not just killing planes - you have a bit of strategy in how you use the support and what kind of weapon you can choose.
You have some special weapons that you choose not just to attack, but to defend your team-mate. You have a system of requests; you can request that someone attack your target with you, and if you accept, it will work automatically so that you attack one target together, so you can optimize it around there. Basically you just push the d-pad up to ask your teammate to 'attack my target', and if they confirm, they will do it. Down means 'attack the target which is attacking me', and if you accept they will select it. It's just a shortcut. You can of course use voice, but this is like a shortcut.
Eurogamer: Does the voice recognition work in HAWX in a similar fashion to other Clancy titles?
Thomas Simon: Yes - you'll be able to switch targets and weapons, shoot, go on/off, call for cover.
Eurogamer: Any plans for co-op online?
Thomas Simon: Yes, there will be a co-operative campaign, encompassing all 18 missions. You'll be able to play it from the beginning to the end, or drop in at any moment, because it's simple to join in with friends. You'll be able to go off and play a mission with a friend and then continue by yourself. It really is totally flexible. You don't have to start with your friend - you could even start the game at the very last mission by joining a friend's game. It's up to you.
All the experience points you will gain during campaign solo, campaign co-operative, team deathmatch will be feeding the same pool of XP, and this will unlock planes and weapons, etc. You can really play the game in the order that you want.
Eurogamer: Is the XP system similar in essence to Rainbow Six Vegas 2?
Thomas Simon: Yes, the spirit is the same. You play in the order that you want. Whatever you do during the game will be rewarded by experience points, so you don't have to worry about starting at the beginning of the campaign. Obviously the best learning curve experience would be to start playing the campaign by yourself and then play with friends, because with more people in the co-op campaign, the more the difficulty increases, but it's really up to you.
You also have some challenges that will either unlock Achievements or special XP rewards that are designed to be achievable with more than one person. I mean, one single guy could do it, but it could be really hardcore.