Despite being foiled by the small-print in the copy protection of the download, we here at Thesixthaxis have been having so much fun with Warhawk that not only have the plants suffered, we’ve lost weight, developed acne and even had to recharge the Sixaxis’ batteries. Such a rare occurrence normally only happens on Firmware updates, so there’s got to be something here in Warhawk that we’ve not encountered before on the PlayStation 3, and we think it’s called addiction. Xbox 360 owners are frequently teased by the whole lemmings-like notion that gamers flock towards the next-big-game, endlessly watching their friends list to see what everyone else is playing before migrating across so they don’t miss out. This hasn’t yet happened for us on the PS3, until now.
With a full friends list at your disposal (and only then) Warhawk can either be purchased via the PSN (for a bargain £20) or in the good old game shops around town for double that (with a headset thrown in) – although not until mid-September. Either way, Warhawk installs itself to your hard drive for quick loading and no-doubt easy patchability. You’ll also need a broadband connection even if you’re playing locally – Warhawk requires you to be signed into PSN at all times.
Local games can be played over the LAN or split screen on the one TV with friends, but you’d be missing the party that way – Warhawk demands you respect its wishes and play online, and does away with all single-player notions like bots and a storyline. Once online, four game modes including team and solo Deathmatches, Zones and Capture the Flag all open up, as do the clans and customisation aspects (which enable different colours and emblems for your character and aircraft). A good clan is essential as the team games really rely on co-operation and voice chat.
So, Warhawk is an open battlefield of foot soldiers, jeep and tank commanders (and passengers) and the titular aircraft pilots. Players don’t belong to a class as such, but are free to specialise as required, and can hop in and out of any vehicle that’s not under enemy control. Whilst the Warhawks themselves are nimble and powerful (weapons are picked up via floating icons around the maps) each ground-based vehicle is its equal, and the item pickups and various weapons of mass destruction have been tweaked to perfection. Example: the Warhawk, whilst hovering (they have flight and hover modes) can use its missiles and machine gun to great effect against ground troops and those in jeeps; equip a soldier with a portable rocket launcher, or add a passenger to the back of the jeep (with its mounted gun) and things balance out again.
Naturally, you’re going to find yourself out-gunned and outclassed against better players, but even death is only short-term with a 5 second delay before you’re back in the game again, respawning at any zone your team has taken control of. Moments of sheer brilliance are peppered across each and every game in Warhawk: the bravado of team-mates capturing a flag will be juxtaposed with shrills of panic when the dreaded ‘missile lock’ appears on your screen moments later. It’s everything it should be, and the tweaking at Beta stage earlier in the year certainly seems to have paid off.
So, the beauty of Warhawk isn’t in the graphics engine, which, despite being capable of smoothly throwing large amounts of cleanly-textured polygons around a huge landscape and the animated antics of the 31 other players, isn’t exactly bursting with next-gen effects and almost looks plain in still shots. Nor is it in the sound, although the music is rousing and the 7.1 surround set-up is impressive enough in the heart of battle, with Warhawks screaming ahead and the distant crackle of flak cannons punching the rare silence. And the gameplay has been seen before; the likes of Battlefield have handled war on this scale several times over, and the concept of ground and air troops working together harks back to Armour Geddon on the Amiga.
No, Warhawk’s triumph lies in a wildly successful blend of all these factors together: the massive draw distance, even with afterburners on full, means picking out targets and dodging missiles is down to skill, not the rendering code or the frame rate – the audio as vital as the smooth motion sensing, the intelligent button placement or the calls from team-mates above and below in determining your next move across the battlefield. With a full complement of rifles and grenades you’re only as deadly as everyone else around you – pick a good clan (with headsets and tongues) and devote the time, and you’ll have an absolute blast. Warhawk is easily the best multiplayer game this generation. There, we said it.