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Hands-On With Hawken

This PC free-to-play game puts you into the virtual cockpit of a hulking war machine, and fans of mech combat games are going to love it.

Hawken shouldn’t exist. By all rights, development on this free-to-play multiplayer mech combat game should have sputtered out months ago, when the independent developers creating it ran out of money after risk-averse game publishers failed to step up to the plate and fund this fantastic anachronism of PC gaming. Nobody publishes mech games anymore, not since the last great Mechwarrior game, not until Meteor Entertainment coalesced in Seattle as a dedicated free-to-play game publisher and signed Hawken as their inaugural game So Hawken exists, it’s here at E3 2012, and we played it. Here’s how it works.

When you hop into a match you’ll be asked to select a mech chassis, weapon loadout and utility item. During our E3 demo we only had access to light and heavy chassis with two loadouts apiece, but more may be available by the time Hawken enters open beta this December. Once you’re mech is locked and loaded you’ll be dropped into the battlefield, where you’ll either battle other players in a straightforward deathmatch or face off in teams to compete for precious energy resources.

Fans of classic mech combat games like Mechwarrior or Chromehounds are going to feel right at home stomping around post-apocalyptic battlefields in one of Hawken’s lumbering mechs. Hawken mechs feel like a compromise between the walking tanks of Mechwarrior and the lithe mecha of Armored Core; the Hawken mechs are slow and ponderous, but you have access to limited use of jump jets to dash laterally or hover in the air.

Sadly, as of now there’s no option to swivel your mech’s upper torso independently of it’s lower torso, so devoted Mechwarrior fans may have trouble strafing and fighting strategically. All weapons in Hawken have unlimited ammo but generate large amounts of heat when fired, so you’ll have to carefully conserve your fire or else risk overheating and shutting down your mech temporarily. This happened more often than I’d care to admit while playing Hawken over a LAN at E3, and I do wish there was an option to disable the heat failsafe and continue firing at the risk of utterly obliterating your mech.

Of course when you do finally obliterate your mech you’re just sent back to the hangar, where you can change your chassis and loadout before rejoining the fray in a fresh mech. During our demo all items were available and we saw no hint of unlockable chassis, equipment or skins, but we do know that developer Adhesive Games plans to release additional content that players can purchase in exchange for in-game points.

While Hawken producer Jason Hughes claims that Hawken players can earn points by progressing through the game, you can expect that Adhesive Games will also have game content for sale. It remains to be seen whether or not Hawken players who pay real money for in-game items will have an advantage over players who earn their gear by playing the game. Either way, dedicated PC gamers should keep an eye on Hawken when it enters beta this December.

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