Hawken is a simulation of Mechs in a street fight, complete with batshit insane controller
It is hard to create something in a video game that mixes a sense of power and speed. The most powerful creatures in gaming are slow, lumbering behemoths, while we think of lightly armored vehicles when we sense speed. The Mechs in the upcoming PC game Hawken feel monstrous, and the cockpit rumbles and shakes as you fire your weapon and move around the battlefield, but the game is fast. It feels like your Mech is in a streetfight, right down to the quick and nasty tactics that will allow you to walk away alive. It’s absolutely thrilling. It’s also free-to-play, and that could be a problem.
So what will we be paying for?
I sat down with Jason Hughes, the producer of the game, to talk about the game. The project began when Intel’s first-person shooter Project Offset was cancelled, and the core team from that game, around five people, decided to create their own game. A video was released that showed an early version of the game in action, and the response from Mech fans online was instant and overwhelmingly positive. Back then “quite a bit” of the game was finished, according to Hughes, and the team has been dealing with the switch to free-to-play and adding polish to the game’s systems. Free-to-play is a strategy that can be done well, but it’s a fine line to walk. Distressingly, Hughes stammered and paused his way through his answers when I pressed for specifics about what we will and won’t be paying for. “I’m not a big fan of pay-to-win. That’s a scary term. It’s about balancing regular progression through the game, the points you get and how you unlock things, and then we find where the monetization comes in to support that or accelerate it. But we never want people to drop down X amount of dollars and they completely dominate,” he said. Players will be able to earn and unlock things like weapons and aesthetic options to help them stand out online, and you’ll be able to pay to accelerate the speed you unlock things, but Hughes doesn’t seem to know how that will work in the final product. “We just have to figure out what exactly we’ll have for monetization,” he said, claiming that process will be “collaborative” when the beta begins.
When the game plays this well, who cares?
I had the chance to play a few rounds of the game, and the play itself is nasty, in a very good way. There are different classes of Mech, but they all move at a good pace, with the ability to rocket forward or juke to the side to avoid fire. You can also use rockets to jump short distances, but these abilities will place you on your opponent’s radar after use.Piloting your Mech is an amazing feeling. You’ll need to think ahead about how you want to attack the other side, and what weapons you want to bring into battle. It takes half a second or so to spin up your chain gun, and your rockets can only fire in short bursts. I had the ability to throw a turret on the ground to flush out the other side. Gun fights can be over quickly if you’re not careful, but if you find a quiet spot on the map you can deploy a small flying probe that can repair your Mech. You’ll just be vulnerable when these repairs take place. Hughes spoke again and again about the time and effort put into polishing and tweaking the game, and it shows. Hawken does an amazing job of making you feel like you're encased in tons of steel, before then making that steel move and respond to your every whim. This is why the team doesn't seem worried about the upcoming free-to-play MechWarrior Online. “Hawken has its own place,” Hughes said. “People can play both and have different experiences. We’re sort of walking the line between Western Mech games and Eastern Mech games. We’re very fast, very Gundam-type style.” While the game may be easy to pick up and play, the gritty visual style of the world and the customization of the Mechs are very much in mold of American Mech games. Adding speed to that idea is very much like the idea of a fast zombie; the formula is changed up instantly, and arguably for the better. The game will also benefit from a custom controller by Ripleigh, releasing in the first quarter of next year. The buttons will be programmable, you will be able to control every aspect of your Mech with a variety of switches, buttons, and toggles, and there will even be a slot for your tablet. You see, Hawken will be playable via Gaikai, the streaming game service. By attaching your tablet to this controller, you'll have a portable Hawken platform, with no PC required. I have no clue if that's something people want, but I applaud companies that are willing to create something this obviously over the top. The core game play is impressive, the beta is coming this December, and we can hope that the team is able to put together a solid plan for monetizing the content. In a way, I wish Hawken was simply a for-pay title, especially with how many pitfalls free-to-play can introduce to a game if it's not handled well. If the play is matched with a solid business strategy, however, the sky is the limit.