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Sony’s first-party end of year line-up is looking quite promising (Ratchet & Clank Future, Killzone 2, Heavenly Sword, Uncharted,…), but the first one from that list to be released is Warhawk. This third-person shooter, developed by Incognito Inc., is now available for download through PSN and will shortly appear on shelves.

The PSN Network has had more than its share of criticism over the years, but ever since the PlayStation 3’s release, Sony’s network has made tremendous strides in both features and performance. And now we have Warhawk, the game to silence the critics once and for all.

Getting into a game of Warhawk is very easy and intuitive. You check the server list (filters can be used) and pick a game to your liking. Warhawk is already jam-packed with people playing the game, there are a large ammount of official servers and there is practically no lag at all, even when battling with a full roster of 32 players. Warhawk also features an expansive friends list and the option to add servers to your favourites.

Warhawk is first of all a team-based action game where you can duke it out on foot, in tanks, AA guns and jeeps or in the air, piloting Warhawks. There are four different modes to play the game; you have the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and CTF modes, but the most interesting one is ‘zones’, which is mostly reminiscent of Battlefield’s conquest mode.

In zones, you score points by capturing strategic points (which also serve as spawn points). The more you capture, the more points your team will earn. But there are some catches. Each point has three different expansion levels (indicated by circles on your map) and you can only upgrade to the next level if your circle doesn’t cross an enemy’s circle. Expanding a strategic point allows more vehicles to be spawned and activates more defenses, not too mention it earns your team more points. The other catch is that all points also serve as nodes. If you can link all your strategic points back to your home base, that also increases your score more quickly, so once you have linked several zones together, you’ll have to defend them carefully.

Winning requiers some solid teamwork, though it’s not near as tactical as Battlefield 2 or G.R.A.W.2. Warhawk is certainly more of a fun shooter than a realistic combat simulation and it’s easy for anyone to pick up. The controls are very responsive and controlling tanks, jeeps or airplanes feels natural, at least when you’re using the standard control scheme.

You can also activate the Sixaxis’ motion sensors to control vehicles, but the downsides outweigh the positive effects. When flying a Warhawk using motion-sensing, you can use the sticks to aim the on-board guns more accurately. It will take some practice, but in the end flying with motion controls will be just as effective as using the analog sticks. However, turning the motion sensors on also influences the steering of tanks and jeeps, which sucks, put bluntly. So, overall, it’s best to keep the motion sensors deactivated.

Warhawk plays much like an advanced game of rock-paper-scissors. Airplanes will quickly dispose of tanks, but are vulnerable to anti-air guns or surface-to-air missiles, which -in their turn- will soon be blown apart by tanks. It’s good to see that you’re not defenseless when on foot.

You spawn with a puny pistol and some grenades, but the spawn areas are usually pached with useful weaponry such as an automatic rifle, a flamethrower, a sniper rifle, mines and a rocket launcher with homing ability. Carrying a rocket launcher makes Warhawks sitting ducks, even more so because you’re too small and too agile to be hit by them. However, dealing with incoming tank shells or a jeep with a gunner will be whole other story.

The stars of the show are without a doubt the Warhawks. These machines have both a flying mode and a hovering mode and you can simply switch between them by pressing the triangle button. While flying you move a lot faster than while hovering, but you’ll also have a much harder time hitting something with your onboard guns.

You also can’t use those constantly, since they’ll overheat relatively quick. Warhawks can also use a speed boost and carry a wide range of weapons (which can be collected by flying through colourful pick-ups). They range from invisibility, homing missiles, aerial mines and cluster bombs to cruise missiles (which you can steer directly) and chaff (to evade incoming homing missiles). If all you want to do is fly and shoot people out of the sky, you can try the ‘dogfight’ mode, which only allows for Warhawks to enter the fray.

Unfortunately, there’s no singleplayer campaign, nor a tutorial. If you want to try out new tactics or get used to the different maps, you can also play try the offline MP. The game supports splitscreen with up to four players on the same console. At this time, there are five maps available, which isn’t much, though that number will increase with upcoming DLC packs. The good thing is that the maps are large and allow up to 32 players.

But if you want to play with less people, it’s nice to see that the maps scale to smaller variants. Regardless of the max number of players, the maps are very replayable and full of action. Killing opponents, capturing flags or zones or defending well ears you experience points, which are used to gain higher ranks (from recruit all the way up to general). Playing well also nets you ribbons (by doing specific things in a single round, such as capturing two zones) and medals (for reaching career milestones, such as capturing 500 zones). You can also check the leaderboards to see where you stack up and look at your career stats to see how you’re doing.

Warhawk looks very nice too. The units are quite detailed and the framerate maintains a high level throughout.

It doesn’t drop, even with dozens of jets dogfighting in the air. The levels are very wide and well designed and they look distinctly different from each other. The sound effects are good too (pretty much every triple-A title has good gunfire noise these days) and the military theme track is nice too. The game also supports voice-chat, though you’ll have to hold L3 pressed when saying something, which can prove quite tricky in stressful situations. The retail version will contain a Bluetooth headset if you’re interested in voice-chat.

Warhawk is a great game, both gameplay-wise and from a technological standpoint. It’s no small feat to have hectic 32-player multiplayer matches running smoothly, especially when they take place in the air and on solid ground. Add the fast servers and the addictive ranking and award system and you get a MP game that can keep you busy for a long time. Though 30€ (40$/20£) might be a bit steep for a downloadable game, it’s well worth the money. Still, if you can wait just a bit longer, I’d suggest getting the retail version, which costs a bit more, but contains a decent Bluetooth headset. So overall, Warhawk is a recommended purchase, especially when you consider it can only become better with more maps and modes.

Our Score:
related game: Warhawk
posted in: PS3, Reviews, Sony Entertainment
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