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Warhawk (PlayStation) artwork

Warhawk (PlayStation) review

"Iíll lay it down upfront: I did not like Warhawk. From the sometimes indecipherable graphics to the unwieldy controls, every part of my aesthetic was offended. "

Iíll lay it down upfront: I did not like Warhawk. From the sometimes indecipherable graphics to the unwieldy controls, every part of my aesthetic was offended.

Take the cutscenes. They all play like under-budgeted reproductions of the Wing Commander film with no action scenes and worse actors (recall that Freddie Prinz Jr. had top billing in the Wing Commander film). This is one of those games I had to make sure I played with my door shut, lest someone catch me at it.

Usually, the offending scenes involve a strict female commander yelling orders at two swarthy pilots named Hatch and Walker, destined to save the world or die trying. In the first scene, she also yells at a unnamed bearded corporal who speaks in the halted monotone achievable only by someone who has truly forgotten his lines. From their dialogue we learn that some guy named Kreel is unstoppable AND diabolical, that intelligence canít find anything on him, that mysteries kill people, and that Warhawks work best when they are 110% ready. What we donít learn is how to control said Warhawks. Probably because the rebels never figured it out, either.

Controlling the Warhawk turned out to be highly unappealing to my fingers. Iím a fan of simplistic controls. I like a button that thrusts, a button that brakes, and a button that shoots. Warhawk has these, but to utilize them properly requires hitting a lot of them in obtuse combinations. Unlike most flight simulators, Warhawkís eponymous vehicles donít have a constant speed. You have to set the speed using your brakes and thrusters to get it where you want it for your rushes and then re-adjust it every time you want to do a proper turn. Confused? Even changing your view from the insipid first person view to a more manageable third person requires two buttons and took me a week to figure out how to activate. Itís not a very self explanatory game.

This trend carried over to the mission briefings. In the first stage all I was told was that I was looking for a red canister. I could figure out that achieving this probably had something to do with the giant machine-gun littered pyramid in front of me, but it still wouldíve been nice to have had some confirmation before I started wasting missiles on the thing. Nonetheless I enjoyed my first charge against the target, rushing in with guns blazing and missiles launching while enemy bullets slammed into my shields with explosive midi blips. I blazed past the pyramid in a flash of glory, succeeding in taking out one of the turrets. And now I needed desperately to turn around and head back to the fight. And thatís where my enjoyment ended. To do a sharp turn required me to hit a multitude of buttons at once. I had to reset my craftís speed to slow with one trigger, rotate to the left with the directional pad, and jam the two front triggers to activate spinning so I could dodge off any incoming fire from the guns now targeting my rear.

I ended up changing weapons, firing a plasma burst, and turning extremely slowly to face the pyramid in a dead stop while gunfire decimated what was left of my shields. Warning signs sprung up all over my ship. I was going to die if I didnít start moving. I hit the forward button and watched as my craft, still in a dead halt, rose several feet into the sky. Silly me, pushing forward doesnít actually move you forward... thatís what the gas button is for! I was soon a pile of scrap littering the terribly rendered ground.

But Iím not a lifetime gamer for nothing. I persevered and beat that damn pyramid, though it didnít make me any more appreciative of digital controls. I pretty much just spammed my tracking rockets and hoped for success, which was finally achieved on my last life. Like an injured animal using the last of its strength clawing its way to some comfortable hole to die in, I signed on for the second mission (after watching another embarrassing cutscene). Now, I know despair when I see it, despite its many guises. In the case of Warhawk, it came in the form of this second mission, which was a narrow series of maze-like canyons lined with enough turrets to make any Tower Defense game jealous. Combined with the fact that half the enemies blended into the background, this ďCanyonĒ stage represented a level of difficulty which I had little desire to tackle. I was only slightly perturbed when my craft was blown into a billion bits by a well placed rocket.

Then something strange happened. The game gave me an ending. Not just a game over screen. A real ending, albeit one made entirely of scrolling text. In this particular ending, Hatch and Walker end up being tortured to death in front of Kreel... who then dies by choking on a chicken bone while enjoying the event. It seemed Iíd indirectly completed my objective, though the game assured me that I hadnít actually beaten the game. Altogether, it was an unexpected moment of genuine humour amidst painful mediocrity.

I get the sense that when it was first released, Warhawk was quite revolutionary for its genre. The live action cutscenes and the humorous endings wouldíve been seen as high style back in the day. The controls, though poor, are ambitious and the PS1 was all about ambition. Just download the original Silent Hill. Controlling the protagonist of that game is a little bit like learning to drive shift stick for the first time. Thereís a lot of running into walls and cursing. But then, Silent Hill has aged way better than Warhawk. In the horror genre difficult controls embody an immersive relationship with the main character, making you feel just as unequipped as they are to handle the situation. In Warhawk, you play as the two ace pilots of the rebel alliance, two guys who should have the skills to handle this. Yet more often than not, youíll feel like that fat guy in Star Wars who couldnít ďstay on target.Ē With lots of practice, Iím sure a player could get used to the controls and kick some serious ass but I doubt the modern gamer will have much reason to do so. Warhawkís six missions arenít rewarding visually or mentally to a crowd thatís evolved past the innovations it had to offer in 1995.

Still, if you want to take a crack at the Canyon level, be my guest. The code is O, Triangle, Triangle, X, O, O, Square, O. Oh, thatís right. I forgot to mention that Warhawk uses a passcode system. It doesnít save anything. Not your progress, not your inverted axis, not your tv brightness, not nothing.

So we have terrible graphics, confusing controls, and no save function. Mix all three of these in a large bowl, bake for 30 minutes, and run screaming in the opposite direction. Thereís little nostalgia to be found here.

zippdementia's avatar
Featured community review by zippdementia (October 06, 2009)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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