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H.A.W.X. 2

Ubisoft's high-flying and reality-defying air fighter is back. It's here, and we've played it!

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There was something oddly erotic about a bunch of journos crowding around a television in an aircraft hangar to watch a Frenchman slowly and meticulously align his jet fighter's refuelling rod with a fuel tanker's expectant pump outlet. Between muttered apologies and repeated, clumsy attempts, it took about four minutes to successfully get it in, at which point the relief in the hangar was palpable.

So, mid-air refuelling is a new feature in HAWX 2, the sequel to the only flying game to allow you to switch off your jet fighter's computer in order to carry out protocol-breaking mid-air backflips. Take-offs and landings are here too, by demand, as are UAV bombing runs and night-time raids. Otherwise, as with the original, it's Clancy-grade political intrigue laced with the most brazenly arcade form of aerial combat imaginable. Four-way co-op and eight-player competitive modes form the game's multiplayer component, with the single player campaign spanning three different militaries and three different pilots: the Americans, the British and the Russians.

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The first of the four missions we played demonstrates a take-off from a US military base. Detailed surroundings, moving vehicles and tiny men waving their arms gives HAWX 2 a sense of scale that the previous game - in never allowing you this close to the ground - lacked. The actual mechanics of moving about on the base are worryingly regimented though. Your plane, for example, won't accelerate past a certain point until it's on the runway, and trying to crash into a building or flatten the ground crew (as you're naturally inclined to do) causes the game to simply reset you to the runway. Landing, on the other hand, is a rather more exciting affair, with subsequent missions seemingly demanding that you touch down on smaller and smaller runways. The Oil City mission later in the game, for example, has you landing on a perilously thin strip of tarmac perched atop a deep-sea oil rig.

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Of course, in the sky HAWX 2 is back in its comfort zone. Ground detail has been improved massively, with dense forests and properly scaled buildings allowing missions to take you closer to the floor. You'll be armed with guided, precision missiles - arm these and you're given a view of the ground below while your plane effectively flies itself, allowing you to pick your targets with ease. We're also promised missions featuring the infamous AC-130 gunship, the turret-laden skytank that just loves to kill.

Missions using unmanned aerial vehicles give you even more reasons to stare at this newly refurbished ground. Not only will you be bombing bits of it to hell, but later missions will introduce an element of espionage, tasking you with eavesdropping on conversations in the cities below. If it all feels a bit Splinter Cell, that's because it pretty much is - at times you'll be working with Voron, the Russian equivalent of Splinter Cell's Third Echelon. Goggle-eyed Kestrel, Sam Fisher's ruskie counterpart in Conviction's co-op, even makes an appearance.

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HAWX 2 - its single-player mode at least - feels immediately similar to the original, which reassures and worries in equal measures. The game's new features can be scrawled on the back of a fag packet, and few of them are drastically game-changing, but HAWX was enjoyable, dumb fun, an utterly barmy air combat game that never took itself very seriously. If the sequel can match that level of chaotic bravado while introducing vaguely sexy refuelling sequences, it should be well worth the airfare.

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