Hawken's open beta has been going for several days now. We sent three of our finest pilots into battle to see what they thought of the free-to-play mech game so far. Does it stand tall, or is it likely to stumble under its own weight? Julian, Paul and Tim share their impressions.
So you’ve all been playing Hawken, and you seem to be quite enthused. So, obvious first question: what piqued your interest?
I’ve had a soft spot for mech games since I was a wee one, though in
recent years there’s been a drop off in the number that come out; well,
ever since the Mechwarrior games stopped being released. So when
Hawken’s trailer appeared last year, I was onboard pretty sharpish.
that’s not to say Hawken’s one redeeming feature is that it ticks the
“Has mechs” box. It’s gone for the multi-level inner city setting.
Earlier mech games usually set missions out in more open fields giving
you a good few hundred meters to line up your shots. Hawken’s brought
that distance down to the tens of meters. It promised from those early
videos to try something new.
For me, it was two things. One was the fact that I’d not properly
engaged with a mech game since the Mechwarrior games of the late 90s and
I was seriously wondering if we’d ever see their like again. The other
was the look of the thing. When I first saw videos of mech combat in a
futuristic, uber-industrial city, I thought this looked very novel
indeed. My interest was piqued.
great. But for me, the art and videos they’ve shown made the game look
absolutely stunning. It’s a gorgeous piece of work. I remember clearly
the first video the team released; and it looked finished. I’m thrilled
it got made.
How much have you played of it since you got in?
I played a few hours during one of the closed beta events and since
it’s release last week I’ve sunk a few more in. Probably six or so in
I’d say it’s less than half that time for me. Perhaps three hours? My
excuse is that I set aside time to play when the beta was supposed to go
live, only to find the servers down.
Tim: I’ve put in about eight hours or so since the game went live.
And the verdict? Do you like it?
Ish. Hawken is initially a lot of fun. I really enjoy the level
layouts; often I’ll find myself in a fight where I’m outnumbered and I
can just dive over the side of the building we’re fighting on. It really
encourages you to be aware of your surroundings: you can survive long
drops or use your jetpack to make low buildings into a staircase,
letting you enter battles from odd angles and surprise the other team.
The things that made the fun wear off are the repair tool and the grind.
‘C’ will have your mech shutdown and a repair drone begin restoring
your health. I’ve not found any restrictions on where or how often you
can use it. Granted shutting down your mech in the centre of a firefight
isn’t sensible but I’ve managed to duck behind a low wall and heal
myself a number of times. It’s a camper’s dream. I’ve found games where
whole teams are hiding out and repairing themselves, just waiting for
the enemy to come to them.
I’m quite ambivalent about it. Fundamentally, it doesn’t feel very
exciting. The three dimensional firefights are a good thing, as are all the special dodging moves and the
sense of weight you have as you’re sat there in your mech, but there’s a
restricted map selection right now. There’s also not a great deal of
communication between players, or any incentive to do so, so you don’t
get very much teamwork or sense of team cohesion. Even in something like
Team Fortress 2, where everyone’s too busy shooting each other to type,
you still see frequently see players performing a few basic acts of
cooperation, with everyone understanding what the team needs to do.
some of this will be coming from the fact that Hawken is new and we’re
all adjusting, but that means there’s no better time to encourage us to
work together. Right now, it’s just a game where, unless you play
deathmatch, half the people on the server don’t shoot at you.
I say half, but actually I wouldn’t have minded some more diligent
auto-balancing of the teams. All of a sudden I found I’d been thrown
back about fourteen years in time when my team suffered spawn camping
and a significant disadvantage in numbers. It took several minutes for
the teams to even out, during which time I failed to see the outside of
my base. Spawn camping, really? In this day and age?
various game modes, teamplay, resource collection or sieges, are
welcome variety, but it could do with not only more maps, but larger
ones too. Similarly, you don’t get to play with much at all for quite
some time, getting stuck with the fixed, basic TV set-on-legs setup
until you’ve earned thousands of Hawken Credits. Don’t expect to
customise yourself any time soon.
I’m really enjoying it, but I’m only playing the team deathmatch mode
after having pretty rough experiences in the others. In most matches, I
agree with Paul, there isn’t much communication. But, on the other hand,
Team-DM doesn’t actually need it. Instead, team-work tends to flow
quickly from the situation. I’ve found the matches occasionally
thrilling: particularly when a crowd of friends fire off loads of
rockets at far away Mechs, and they all explode at once.
of all, I think I’ve completely adapted to the controls and how my Mech
responds to my movements. It took quite a while to adapt, but once I
was there, I started pulling off some quite lovely kills. So much of
success in Hawken is anticipation and adaptation; understanding the
situation you’re in and taking advantage of it. That means preserving
your fuel for when you need it. It means getting the first shot in, and
dodging any missiles. It means not just wildly hitting the jetpack when
you engage hoping for an aerial kill.
I can see the problems. I would have cut Deathmatch entirely from the
game - it doesn’t show Hawken off at its best; you don’t ever get to
feel part of a pack. And I think having two more complicated modes -
Siege and the King of Hill like Missile Assault - is probably a misstep.
of Hawken’s things is how dense it is: the maps are ridiculously tight.
It’s actually quite hard to get your bearings for the first few hours. I
do wonder if Adhesive should take some of the choice of what they play
out of player’s hands - lock the Siege and Missile Assault modes off
until you’ve put in more hours.
But: I love the pace of it, I love the sense of weight, and I love the Mech art-style. It’s a real pleasure to play within.
Most of all though, I feel like I’m starting to get quite good at it. That feels nice.
Julian, you’ve been playing Mechwarrior Online as well. What are the key differences?
Hawken is to Call of Duty, as Mechwarrior is to ArmA. It’s not an ideal
comparison but it gets something of the different play styles across.
The damage model in Mechwarrior is much more detailed. You can disable
individual limbs of other mechs, which will disable all the weapons that
are attached to that limb. And, like in Counter-Strike, if you die in
Mechwarrior you have to sit out for the rest of the round, so those two
things, together, promote a much more cautious way of playing. Hawken
has a health bar that, when it reaches zero, has you explode and then
you just respawn and run back into the fight.
also different roles for the mechs in Mechwarrior, which makes games
more complex. The light mechs act as spotters, rushing forward to get
line-of-sight on the enemy assault mechs, that lets the heavier mechs on
their team fire their ordinance accurately. In Hawken you tend to be
playing more as an individual on a team than a part within one.
If you had to pick one game to marry and have robot babies with, which would you choose?
Mechwarrior 4. It nailed the balance between arcade action and
sim-level control; the blend injected a complexity to the combat that
led to some heart-stopping moments: there’s nothing quite so terrifying
as sitting in a mech that’s just overheated, leaving you sitting
helpless in a cockpit with warning lights and klaxons going off praying
for your onboard computer to reboot, while an enemy Atlas assault mech
bears down on you.
Hawken’s in beta right now, and the release date has been pushed back a bit. Is there any obvious reason why?
The game’s stable and works fine but I think there are some real
problems with balancing. There are mechs in the game that I keep coming
across that I can’t take down single-handed, I can fire all manner of
rockets and bullets into them and only take half their health. They’ll
then turn and destroy me in moments. It’s fine to have tougher mechs,
but considering I might be looking at 20 hours of play before I can get
the same mech it doesn’t encourage me to buy the game. It just makes me
want to play Mechwarrior instead.
hoping it’s making them reconsider the self-repair drone. Even if they
changed it so you can repair allies but not yourself that would improve
things: you’d second-guess using the thing to help an ally if it left
you both vulnerable.
I think there’s a few. Julian’s right that some weapons feel about as
effective as flinging wet spaghetti at your opponents. While making some
mechs or weapons tougher or weaker is just fine by me, making some of
them practically ineffective is something else. There are times when you
find yourself in a fight with someone who’s just too tough and you
immediately realise you’re just screwed.
me, something more frustrating than that was finding the environment
very sticky. I’d get caught on corners or find I couldn’t move because a
small obstacle was sticking out the environment and blocking my way.
This happened to me an awful lot and it really ruined the sense of
momentum and movement. Although Hawken is about big robots, it’s not
necessarily about big environments and the levels are pretty tight,
claustrophobic affairs, so you’re bumping into things a lot. This
doesn’t make you feel big or powerful.
also had a few frame rate problems at times. I’ve not got the best
graphics card in the world, but it’s a decent GeForce with a gigabyte of
video RAM and occasionally the frame rate would plummet, not
necessarily when things got busy either. Hawken looks good, but it
shouldn’t be bringing our graphics cards to their knees. Although,
saying that, if a bit too pastel-coloured for my liking, and thank god
enemies are highlighted, else I’d never see them in a world of
It’s going to be free-to-play. How do the free-to-play mechanics work in game? And, would you spend actual money on it?
are two currencies at work in Hawken: Hawken Credits and Meteor
Credits. At the end of every round you receive a few Hawken points, the
Meteor Credits you need to pay real money for.
I gave you a bit of a breakdown of how quickly you accrue the free
points (15 minutes = 120 Hawken Credits). Conversely, you can buy 1152
Meteor Credits for £5. Now, one of the basic mechs that you might be
looking to buy is the Beserker. It’s on sale for either 6,410 Hawken
Credits or 720 Meteor Credits. So you can see how much of a time saver
it would be to drop the £5 and buy the mech, using the leftover to buy a
isn’t that much for a mech that you may well spend hours playing with,
going up a few levels and unlocking upgrades but, personally, I can’t
see myself spending money on Hawken. The game doesn’t grab me. It’s too
simple a mech game to hold my attention; I like that it’s an accessible
mech game but it feels pretty insubstantial in comparison to
At the moment it feels a lot like a very sluggish first-person shooter.
That might be okay by you and a slower pace might suit your taste. I’ve
not got a problem with that myself, per se, but I want more to go with
that concept. I really want the locational damage that Julian mentions,
for example, to emphasise the fact that, yes, these are giant robots,
huge chunks of machinery.
also like a lot more to play with earlier on. The rate at which I was
earning Hawken Credits, even when doing very well in matches, told me
I’d really have to commit to this game if I wanted to progress without
getting my wallet out. Through my first five levels, my mech development
options were limited to adding a few minor buffs, the sort of thing
that League of Legends players will be very familiar with. These did
things such as make me repair myself 0.1 seconds faster, or caused me
dodge a fraction of a second faster. I’ve never understood why League of
Legends bothers with these miniscule buffs and I really don’t think a
first-person shooter about giant machines of death should be concerning
itself with having its players ponder over the most incremental of stat
increases. That doesn’t feel very epic-and-giant-roboty.
Most importantly, at present, Hawken looks like it’s going to be one heck of a grind.
Unless it makes its battles exciting in themselves and not feel like a
means to an end, a task that leads to more credits and better equipment,
then I’m just not interested.
Tim: I wish I was a student again so I could play it all day and earn all the Mechs...