Version tested: PlayStation 3
Omega Dawn, the previous add-on pack for Warhawk, didn't exactly send us all squiffy with uncontrollable excitement. Earning a copper trophy with 5/10 scribbled on the side in marker pen, the main complaints were that the new map was simply too large and empty to generate exciting skirmishes, and the new dropship vehicle was little more than a glorified bus, useful only for well-disciplined clans capable of plotting forward assaults and consistently rallying their troops into one place. "Incognito needs to try much harder," Richard concluded.
With this second nibble at the expansion pack cherry, we're pleased to report that hard work has taken place, and the results are immediately evident. Those rugged warriors at Incog have clearly taken the criticisms onboard and this second expansion benefits enormously from the feedback.
Let's start with the new map, Vaporfield Glacier. Simply by switching from the standard dusty brown palette, this new environment automatically feels much fresher and distinctive. The icy terrain won't be a hindrance though - there's no discernable effect on the controls, either on foot or in vehicles. You won't be sent skidding into a ravine should you choose to gun that jeep into enemy positions.
Vaporfield Glacier breaks down into ten new arenas, allowing for every style of play from enormous open battlefields to intimate corridor deathmatches. At the top of that list is Tundra Assault, supporting the full 32-player line-up, with acres of virtual space to explore. Unlike Omega Dawn, where large battles felt like too much hiking and not enough shooting, this sizable layout is much more balanced and throws up thrilling combat opportunities wherever you end up, however you're playing.
Western Waste, Battleline and Espionage are designed for 24 players or more, and showcase the frostbitten military compounds that face each other over the central snowy ravine. Medium-sized skirmishes are the order of the day in arenas such as Communique and Spearhead, although my personal favourite is Express Lane, which makes excellent use of the elevated highways zig-zagging across the middle of the glacier. Combined with the new vehicle (yes, I'm getting to that part) this is ideal for those who like their combat fast, brutal and on wheels.
Finally, for more standard deathmatch fun there's Olasvik Village, an exhilarating rat run set in amongst the skeletal remains of bombed houses; and Grinder, which feels rather generic with its military HQ location, even though the design is nicely balanced. Dogfight, as the name suggests, is the map to choose if your vehicle of choice is airborne. The intricate canyons, frozen archways and tight tunnels littering the landscape will test the most experienced pilot.
So, in terms of map design, Broken Mirror is already far better thought-out than its predecessor. There's something for every style of play, and all the separate elements come together to create a large coherent map, sectioned off in a way that feels organic. Expect to spend your first few hours just scurrying, racing and flying around, seeking out the numerous tactical vantage points.
And what of this new vehicle, the Armored Personnel Carrier? Is it just a land-based version of the dropship? Thankfully not. If anything, it's the opposite. Whereas the dropship was only really useful in a few very specific circumstances, the APC is a versatile beast that will fundamentally alter the way you play. This isn't always a good thing, but let's focus on the positives for now.
Available in slightly different designs for both Chernovan and Eucadian forces, whichever version you use you'll benefit from the same tools. First and foremost, you can use it to ferry up to six soldiers around the map, with each able to pop out of their own hatch to return enemy fire. With its snub-nosed design, it makes for an effective battering ram, smashing through enemy jeeps with a satisfying crunch. But the APC also doubles as a spawn point. As long as there's a friendly unit behind the wheel, you're able to rejoin the fight inside its armoured bosom. It's tough as well, capable of taking five direct hits from a rocket launcher before exploding.
That's still not all. The APC also boasts an E-POD shield, deployed with the R1 button, but actually it feels like one benefit too many. After the take-it-or-leave-it dropship, what we have here is a vehicle capable of thundering through your defences, protecting itself with an energy shield and allowing enemy forces to respawn endlessly behind your lines. It's a fortress, basically, and one that bestows an incredible advantage on any team that works together in order to make full use of it. It certainly makes life as a lowly foot soldier even more futile than ever.
Once you include the new items added in the 1.3 update, the balance of the game has shifted considerably. Get a few soldiers with wrenches in the APC, and they can patch whatever damage it does soak up. Get some soldiers with the new shield device, and couple that with the APC's shield, and you've got a team that's incredibly hard to push back. A game that was once about staying in motion and swapping vehicles now seems more focused on bunkering down behind shields and using one vehicle for almost all your needs. Whether or not this will affect the gameplay detrimentally remains to be seen, but it's not hard to imagine that many matches will now become a mad scramble for the APCs, followed by lots of turtling as teams hunker inside their transports, behind their shields, and throw ridiculous amounts of ordnance at each other.
There are a few other tweaks worth mentioning. Ten of the existing map layouts have been updated so APCs can be used. APC availability for these maps can be toggled in setup lobby, so you don't have to worry about blocking friends from familiar maps if they don't have the expansion. There are also some variable weather effects, but as this mostly manifests as a crude snowstorm overlay on the screen, it hardly makes a huge difference to the gameplay.
Broken Mirror certainly addresses all the major complaints directed towards Omega Dawn, although by giving the APC so many tactical advantages Incog may have created a monster. However, it would be silly to allow concerns about how the game may change in the future to distract too much from the advances made in this expansion. This is DLC delivered with TLC (yes, I've been saving that) and anyone who has found themselves drifting away from Warhawk should find plenty here to coax them back.
8 / 10