Anyone that bought a PlayStation back in 1995 remembers Warhawk. It wasn't the greatest air combat game, to be sure, but it was good enough to warrant an improved sequel. Surprisingly, Sony never made a follow-up... until now. Warhawk shall rise again, this time as a launch title for the PlayStaton 3.
I got a chance to take the new Warhawk for a spin here at E3. The demo they're letting us play on the show floor only includes a single mission, but I came away from it feeling like I understood the game's premise and was given an idea of the console's graphical horsepower.
The area in the demo includes the skies surrounding a large mountainous island. On the island is a military base, which, in the opening seconds of the demo, is loaded down with fighter planes. As the demo opens, a swarm of enemy aircraft attack, causing the friendlies to "launch all vipers" (to steal a phrase). Right quickly, the air is PACKED with enemy and friendly airplanes. Hundreds of them. Then the screen focuses on another scrambled aircraft, an armored beast known as "Warhawk." This baby looks high-tech. It's sharp triangular wings are meant to strike fear into the heart of man.
Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that this new "Warhawk" is a VTOL aircraft. That's right--you'll be able to fly the "Warhawk" as a fighter plane, or set it into hover mode to concentrate precision firepower onto enemy targets.
After being scrambled, the base commander in the demo orders the player to destroy as many of the enemy planes as possible. I did so, and was then told that four flying battle fortresses were on their way to nuke the island. Oh snap. That's where hover mode came in handy, as well as the Warhawk's missile payload. This new game incorporates a lock-on feature that allows missiles to follow and track enemies once launched. Taking out the flying fortresses was no problem thanks to the lock-on feature. Every 10 seconds or so, I was blowing entire sections of each fortress to bits.
And I really enjoyed those explosions too! Besides being large and fiery, there's also a palpable percussion effect that occurs when something big explodes. The speakers on the display weren't up very loud, but I could feel the entire kiosk shake every time I blew up one of those big bad boys.
There doesn't seem to be anything particularly new or noteworthy about the overall design. It's an arcade style air combat game, with a bit of a twist in the form of the hover capability.
The control mechanics are somewhat unique though, since the controller as a whole is what's used to actually steer and point the aircraft. To bank left, you angle the controller down on the left side. To pitch upward, you turn the controller so that the logo is facing you. Weapon controls, for machine guns, missiles, and thrust, are handled by standard button inputs (X and circle for guns and missiles, shoulder triggers for thrust).
I found the motion-sensitive controls difficult at first, but I quickly figured them out. Soon enough, I was flying past clusters of enemy planes, turning around, switching to hover mode, and blasting those bogies out of the sky with the Warhawk's guns and missiles.
For the most part, what's noteworthy about Warhawk is that it is gorgeous. Some of the mountain terrain could have used extra polygons, but that was easily forgiven since there were so many other details to enjoy; not to mention all of those enemy planes and the ensuing gunfire. There are a couple cave-like tunnels cut into the island. It was fun to fly through them and emerge on the other side with machine-guns firing. Seeing the four battleships come into view was an awesome sight, as was watching them disappear chunk by chunk in fiery, particle-heavy explosions. I was also impressed by the way the water looks. It's glossy, mottled, and reflects the sunlight in a warped manner just like a real ocean might. Honestly, flying low to the water began to make me feel thirsty after a while.
One particularly impressive effect is the way the game implements cloud cover. Clouds turn into fog as you fly through them, just like real clouds do. The scaling wasn't perfect, and I noticed some blocky pixels on occasion, but the overall effect was quite striking.
On the whole, the graphics look extremely sharp. They're not saying what resolution the game is running at, but I wouldn't doubt if its the full 1080p HiDef. Not coincidentally, the demo is being displayed on a 1080p-capable Bravia HDTV produced by Sony Electronics.
Obviously, time will tell on how Warhawk turns out. Even though the gunplay was chaotic and suitably lengthy, the demo only featured a single small area. According to the displayed info-card, development on the full game is only 30% completed. There's still 70% more to go until the game's release in November 2006.
5/11/2006 Frank Provo