Adhesive Games’ Hawken is another fresh Free To Play game hitting the Steam Marketplace — a mech-based first person shooter that features fast-paced combat. Ironically, it’s still in Early Access and is in fact not free. Anyone who had a Hawken account before they jumped on the Steam bandwagon has access; otherwise it can be had by buying one of the two starter packs on offer. You get a selection of mechs and some in-game currency for your money in addition to early access. The alternative is to wait until Hawken is opened up to all players for free download, but for now the developers seem to just be testing the waters.
Gameplay in Hawken is based around five multiplayer modes: Siege, Missile Control, Co-op Bot Destruction, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. In all modes your central focus is shooting other robots with your guns. Mechs come in a variety of styles, each with a unique ability (such as cloaking or enhanced weapon cooling) as well as a permanent secondary weapon (typically a grenade launcher or TOW missile). Each mech has three primary weapons which can be unlocked as the mech levels up. Leveling up your pilot (which happens very quickly) allows you to access internal components that enhance your mech by offering things such as reduced damage while hovering or better cooling for your jetpack. Leveling up the mechs individually unlocks the aforementioned primary weapons as well as some cosmetic items. In-game currency governs all items that affect gameplay, though anything can be obtained through in-game purchases. That said, most of these premium purchases unlock cosmetics like paint jobs or alternate legs/chassis etc. You can pay your way in Hawken if you don’t want to grind, but you are not at a disadvantage if you choose not to. The starting mech, the CRT-Recruit, is actually very good, so new players are not necessarily going to get wrecked from the game’s outset.
Guns have limitless ammunition and are instead governed by “heat” — the more weapons you fire, the faster they overheat, and you have to wait for them to cool down. There is also a bar indicating fuel which is used to boost or hover in the air. Smaller, weaker mechs get larger fuel gauges and this certainly helps balance gameplay — generally speaking any mech can take on any other. An interesting element is the ability to hold down the C key to repair your mech — it temporarily shuts down, leaving players vulnerable to attack. You can duck out of combat and heal up behind a wall before jumping back in to assist your team. This adds an interesting dynamic to gameplay, as it forces you to really pursue weakened enemies to finish them off which puts your mech at risk. The gunplay itself is satisfying and has the right feel. Teamwork is favored heavily as being a lone wolf rarely pays off in Hawken.
Supposedly Hawken takes place in a world where rampant industrialization has forced humans to fight for survival, but if resources are a problem, metal clearly isn’t one of them. Every five seconds another mech is getting thrown in the scrap heap and a few of the levels take place in seemingly Borg-type metal environments. The Siege and Missile Control modes give a sliver of narrative as they provide very brief cut scenes showing the enemy’s base getting blown apart, but that’s about all you get. But it’s an online multiplayer game, who needs story when you have guns and jetpacks!
Like most PC games the graphics will depend a good bit on the specs of your machine. That being said, the game is clean and polished looking and you’d never know it had a relatively small team behind it. The GUIs, brief cut scenes, and transitions have lots of little nice touches, but not to a point that the screen ever feels cluttered. Like most first person mech piloting games you see part of the inside of the cockpit, but in Hawken it provides some actual in-game information. Players can view their current mech’s unique ability and what key enables it, as well as what item is equipped via a handy little screen that ducks into the dashboard when the item has been used. At any time the names of all players can be seen from anywhere on the map, which makes it enjoyable to play in a party as you always know what direction to stomp in to get to your friends. These details help add to the presentation of Hawken while also enhancing the actual gameplay. The menu screen can seem a little cluttered though, and navigating into the store or garage to get or equip parts takes some getting used to, but soon the menus and interfaces become second nature. The game is using the Unreal Engine 3, so if you have played any of the games using that engine (you probably have), then you have a general idea of how the visuals look.
Hawken is unique in the F2P arena in the sense that it is well balanced and is not broken by the developers’ implementation of in-game purchases, as with so many other F2Ps where the economy either steals the fun and joy from the game or causes a horrible imbalance in gameplay. It’s a game that is best played with friends, as uncooperative teams can be the Achilles heel; often times people will just drop out of a match if they don’t think their team can win. Overall the gameplay is enjoyable and fast paced, though Siege matches can drag on longer than the other game types. It’s the kind of game you could boot up and play a match of while you wait for water to boil on the stove. Is Hawken worth the money for early access? I would say yes, because the early access packages give you a selection of mechs to choose from which help you discover a set up that suits your individual play style. It’s most definitely worth installing when it goes full-on free. The only hesitation I have is whether or not the game has lasting power. Hawken is going to need balance patches over time as new mechs are released, and if it wants longevity it’s going to need new maps and game modes.