For more than a year now, Adhesive Games' indie PC mech shooter Hawken has tantalised us with breathtakingly gorgeous scenes of giant robot carnage amidst dystopian cityscapes that combine anime sensibilities with Moebius-level intricacy and detail. The aesthetic has won us over time and time again, but what of the gameplay?
It's even better.
My most anticipated appointment of E3 2012 was my invitation to play Hawken during a special event held last night at the Luxe hotel in downtown Los Angeles. It's also the appointment that had me the most anxious. This would be it. I was finally getting to play a game that I'd been salivating over since the first footage arrived in March of 2011. Each new asset from this free-to-play mech game raised my expectations to new heights. That's dangerous when you're dealing with a small team of unproven developers.
My unease followed me up the stairs in the lobby of the Luxe, past the registration line and through the hallway to a room where a couple dozen PC monitors flashed scenes of mechanised mayhem. Its grip grew tighter as I took my seat, turned on my voice recorder to take notes, slipped on a headset and fiddled around with mech customisation options prior to my first match.
If you were to listen to that voice recording now, you'd hear five minutes or so of me getting familiarised with the controls, aided by one of the developers. You'd hear my voice raise as I noted key points I wanted to address or remember. You'd hear nervous laughter as I took my first lumbering steps. And then you'd hear nothing else for 15 minutes except for breathing, clicking and the occasional under-the-breath "yes!"
Hawken completely captivated me.
As stunning as the visuals are they were not the main attraction here, though I must say that those trailers we've all seen are nothing compared to the game running in 60 frames-per-second on a crystal-clear computer monitor. In the rare quiet moments between spawning and engaging the enemy I found myself pausing to admire the view, soaking in the atmosphere before the distant sounds of thundering ordnance drew my attention.
The simplicity of constructing my custom mech threw me at first, being used to the more robust options and staggering depth of games like Armored Core. You pick a light, medium or heavy frame (the heavies were absent in the demo), choose your weapons and fiddle about with a modest selection of parts. colours and patterns can be tweaked to an extent, but not so much that it spoils the splendor of the games' visuals with garish splashes of colour.
And I am good at it. Of the three rounds I played I managed to stay in the upper levels of the team rankings each time. That's not bragging; it's shock that I might have found the game that an ageing gamer, tired of spawning into a first-person shooter and taking one step before being shot dead immediately, can excel at. I attribute this to the fact that while there have been plenty of passable mech experiences over the past few years, it's been ages since we've had one that's truly been great. The more mature gamer remembers the greatness of the genre, and is ready to reclaim that greatness. Younger gamers are welcome to play as well, of course, but don't get too cocky or we'll have to put you down.
The Hawken gameplay experience doesn't live up to the expectations set by months of teaser trailers and expertly composed screenshots; it exceeds them. This is the multiplayer mech combat game I've always wanted, a perfectly balanced experience that collects the best aspects of the genre in one complete package.
Find out for yourself on December 12 when Adhesive Games sets Hawken free.