We didn't review Hawken the first time around, despite playing it quite a bit back when it initially landed on PC. It launched via a standalone client, later releasing on Steam, before eventually drifting out of focus. However, now the mech shooter is back in business, repackaged and reworked for the console crowd. It's still the same game as it was back in the day, and after jumping back in for a few hours, we have to say that we still like it as much now as we did back then.
Hawken draws on memories of Mechwarrior, with the player assuming the role of a pilot inside a giant hulking machine on legs, powerful guns strapped on each arm, ready to wage war on similarly serious pieces of military hardware. There's a range of mechs in terms of size and potency, and overall we'd say that there's a decent selection on offer. Each one comes with different weapons, armour, special abilities, and fuel capacity.
The developers opted for a free-to-play model. You unlock an in-game currency as you play, and this can be spent on unlocking new mechs and various upgrades, and naturally you can pay real money to speed things up a little (and by that we mean simply buy new mechs outright, there are no XP boosters here). There's also a lot of cosmetic items you can buy, nearly all with real money, for those who like to differentiate themselves on the battlefield.
Let's get it out of the way now: you can play Hawken and not spend any money and have fun. It doesn't take long to unlock the first couple of mechs, and although you'll have to invest time to get the best models, if you're focused in terms of direction, it shouldn't take an unreasonable amount of time to get to the top of the tech tree (actually it's more a tech web). Yes you can drop a few coins and get one that will give you an edge earlier, but we don't think it's an unfair system, and you can still be competitive in a reasonable amount of time without spending a penny.
Perhaps it would have been cleaner to simply make it cosmetics only that are unlocked with real money, but the system the devs opted for isn't outrageous or anything like that. We got given a Founder's Pack for the purposes of the livestream that you can see below, and simply put, we had as much fun before we unlocked the new mechs as we did after, and we don't consider the financial model a problem.
And we did have fun. Obviously there's frustrating moments with any online multiplayer game, especially if - like us - you're no pro player, but in Hawken the battles are frantic and explosive and full of crushing, twisting metal. The mechs move with a satisfying clunk, and they each feel substantial and carry significant heft. They plod around the battlefield with a mechanical judder, although you can dash forward and even use a jet pack to boost up into the air and gracefully ark through the sky.
There's various ammo types to contend with; missiles fly around, bullets, spray, and some mechs can temporarily knock out the vision of others. Fallen mechs drop balls of energy that replenish health, and a feature we really like is that you can step back from the action and repair yourself, although you're extremely vulnerable if you get caught, which creates a really interesting battlefield dynamic.
The action unfolds over a selection of modes. None of them are revolutionary, but they all work well. There's a co-op mode versus bots, as well as a wave-based mode that has you fending off increasingly hostile enemy drone and mechs. Then there's a respectable selection of PvP modes that do a good job of mixing things up.
Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch do exactly as you'd expect, but Missile Assault and Siege are a bit different. Missile Assault is actually a domination type mode, that has teams contest three capture points, but Siege offers a different experience, with both teams trying to destroy the opposing base with the help of giant spaceships flying above. Players collect energy to launch a spaceship, which then advances towards the enemy base dealing damage as it gets closer. Games played in this mode tend to take longer than your typical match, and for players looking for something a little more tactical and more substantial, they'll surely gravitate in this direction.
There isn't a huge number of maps, but they're fit for purpose. We liked the less the industrial arenas, as the natural contours of the environments added an extra dimension to battle. There's urban environments too, but they're very angular and due to their composition, they didn't always feel like real places, more that they were built with the express purpose of having mechs fight over them (which of course they were). Some of the maps also felt a bit dull in terms of colour and art style. We liked many of the visual and particle effects, but there's a lot of sepia tint going on (another reason why we like the snowy and grassy maps).
The mechs themselves are, as you'd expect, imposing and largely impressive in their design. They managed to come up with some cool variants, ranging from the boring starter unit (it's just a box on legs), through to some of the really cool high level models. Their animations are smooth from a cockpit perspective, but their movements can look a bit unnatural when you're looking at other mechs or watching in the third-person while you're waiting to respawn. Another potential criticism of the PS4 version we tested is the frame-rate, which never felt silky smooth (although it was somewhat disguised by the sometimes jerky movement of the mechs).
Hawken has aged quite well considering we first played it knocking on four years ago. Since we last put it down it feels like surprisingly little has changed (although we're sure plenty has, the UI for example). The game itself was solid back then, and it remains solid to this day, even if it's not particularly impressive from a technical perspective. Given the low financial barrier to entry and the fact that fun can be had straight out the gate, we'd happily recommend you download it and give it a spin. It might not be a classic, and it doesn't feel fresh either, but if you're after a mech shooter to while away a few hours, look no further than this.