By Neil Schneider
It’s the year 2014. You are David Crenshaw, an elite fighter pilot and the leader of a ragtag squadron known as H.A.W.X. Armed with the latest fighter jet technologies the world has to offer, you are the best – and everyone is counting on your squadron for air support and the eradication of hostiles. This is the premise of Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., Ubisoft’s futuristic flight simulator.
After your introductory mission in Mexico, the H.A.W.X. team is deactivated, and your career is moved to the private sector. Working for Artemis, a for-hire company that contracts military services out to world nations, fighter pilot skill is big money! Keep your customers happy, and your planes get stronger, your weapons get sharper, and your rank and prestige grows higher.
While H.A.W.X. could be classified as a flight simulator, it plays more like an arcade game. Pilots have a choice of playing in third person, or a first-person in-cockpit viewpoint. Controls are a very easy mix of mouse and keyboard, and most of the weapons are based on the lock-on, shoot, and pray system.
The game’s strongest asset is its graphics and graphics engine. The moment you start a mission, you can’t help but marvel at the terrain’s quality – every shape and nuance is captured to near perfection. Even more impressive is the speed that the game runs. To compare, when I think of the Flight Simulator series, I think of a slow lumbering simulator that is too far ahead of the hardware it is running on. This game runs smooth as silk on mid-range equipment, and the graphics are more memorable. Granted, they are two very different games – but this does reawaken the visual possibilities of a good flight simulator.
From mission to mission, the objectives are very similar. You usually have to defend an important airplane or squadron of planes, or bomb a series of targets in a limited amount of time, or do a combination of the above. It gets repetitive very fast.
As you advance, you get to choose which planes you want to fly, and pick weapons or weapon packs according to the appropriateness of the mission. For example, you may want extra long range missiles, or missiles that can take out four targets at a time, etc. To shake things up a bit, the enemy can have jamming stations that make it difficult to lock on targets, or facilities that are angled in such a way that you have to fly in a special path for your weapons to hit their mark.
I think multiplayer is more fun than the single player component. You can choose your weapon types, define the level of realism you are after, and ultimately have fun blowing each other up. As you take out enemies, you earn experience points which are used to gain rank, fly better planes, and buy special features. For example, wouldn’t it be nice if you could deactivate your enemy’s ability to launch missiles for a few moments? Maybe you would like to jam their radar so they can’t lock onto you so easily?
The only caveat is the game isn’t filled with countless gaming servers, and the wait time for available players will vary.
So! How does this game play out in stereoscopic 3D?
AMD has been kind enough to supply some hardware so MTBS can improve its testing equipment. The iZ3D system specs include:
AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition Quad Core Processor 2.5Ghz
Patriot Extreme Viper PC2-8500 4GB RAM
AMD 4850 GPU
Vista 32 Bit
iZ3D 22” Monitor
iZ3D drivers 1.10 RC1
Stereoscopic 3D complements H.A.W.X. Seeing missiles fly out into the distance, watching your plane poke out of the screen in third person view, and the action of flying through exploding planes are all examples of S-3D gaming at its best. I especially enjoyed scenes where the screen is covered in rain drops during bad weather.
Unfortunately, while H.A.W.X. demonstrates great potential, some blaring anomalies slipped through iZ3D’s quality control fingers. First, while this doesn’t occur every time, there could be a doubled cursor on the main menu interface. Sound harmless? Imagine my horror when I deleted countless hours of game play when I deleted my profile because I was looking at the wrong cursor! Fortunately, I was able to download save games from the Internet, so all was not lost.
My version of H.A.W.X. is based on a Steam download, and what I found helpful in resolving this doubled cursor is to permanently turn off the window that gives you your multiplayer license key on Steam. See if this helps you too.
There are several in-game anomalies. First, when you rotate your plane, shavings from the ground disconnect from the terrain and create a divided looking sky. Second, ground fires are rendered as 2D objects, not in S-3D. Finally, when you fire missiles, the smoke trails are only rendered in one eye, not both (the big puffy ones, not the thin streamers). While not impacting the game itself, the main game menu page is rendered horribly as well.
H.A.W.X. was frustrating on iZ3D because there is nothing about this game that would challenge iZ3D’s driver capabilities. In my opinion, this was completely a quality control issue, and if I am being hard on iZ3D, it’s because I know they are capable of much better than this.
On the bright side, the performance of the game is very good. I would expect an 8800 series GPU or better would run this game just fine.
Our NVIDIA solution is based on the following specifications:
AMD Athlon 64X2 AM2, 4400+ 2.3Ghz
PC2-5300 4GB RAM
NVIDIA 8800GTS 512
Vista 32 Bit
Samsung Syncmaster 2233RZ / GeForce 3D Vision Glasses
NVIDIA 186.18 Stereo Drivers
First, let me give NVIDIA some big credit where it is due. The first time we tried H.A.W.X., the interface would split uncontrollably when out of screen effects were attempted. H.A.W.X. was unplayable in every sense of the word. With the 186.18 drivers, this issue is completely resolved.
Another benefit is the drivers support DirectX 10, though the visual benefits aren’t that obvious with this title.
Finally, where smoke and fire effects were once rendered in 2D or were rendered at screen depth relative to the objects they are connected to, we are finally starting to see a true stereoscopic 3D representation of what this game should look like.
The remaining thorn in NVIDIA’s side is mixing objects with smoke or cloud effects. An example of this is when your plane is flying in front of or on top of clouds, you see a faint cut-out of your plane. Not a doubling of the complete object, more like an outline of the left and right image.
While NVIDIA recommends turning off depth of field, engine burn, and post processing effects, I have not seen any improvements by doing this. This may have reflected recommendations from an earlier driver version.
This is much closer to what H.A.W.X. should offer in stereoscopic 3D, but with much of the game taking place in the clouds, the remaining anomalies are a detriment.
Similar to iZ3D, the performance is also very good – a credit to Ubisoft’s efficient game engine.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. is an S-3D gaming paradox. It’s a decent 2D game, but in S-3D, it has much greater potential. Unfortunately, until these blaring anomalies are cleared up by both the driver developers, its potential is artificially stifled.
I am hoping to be able to update this game review in the near future with updated driver versions by all parties. Share your thoughts on this review in our discussion forums and view additional S-3D images in our H.A.W.X. gallery.
How Memorable Is This Game
Stereoscopic Effectiveness iZ3D
Stereoscopic Effectiveness NVIDIA
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