It’s arguably damning “Warhawk” with faint praise to say it’s one of the best exclusive games for the Playstation 3. Frankly, it doesn’t have a lot of competition, as the system is hurting for standout titles. But “Warhawk” will be a relief to gamers who ponied up $600 for Sony’s sleek sexy next-gen system and then waited for the choice exclusives to follow. This is a fast and frantic multiplayer shooter that looks good and plays great, though it’s most definitely for experienced gamers only.
“Warhawk” is an online-only game. But on Sony’s Playstation Network, as opposed to Microsoft’s Xbox Live, there is no additional fee to go online. Players simply sign in, select a server, and they’re dropped into one of two teams fighting on large open maps. The graphics are gorgeous and the interface makes it easy to figure out what’s going on amid all the loud and richly drawn chaos.
In a typical match, players scramble for weapons and vehicles, including some tricky but rewarding aircraft capable of dominating the skies by grabbing floating power-ups. Each team tries to control key strategic locations. The longer one team holds the most locations, the more points it gets. The planes might rule the skies, but it takes boots on the ground to win the war. Eventually, a score or time limit is reached, and it starts all over again. This is a relatively common formula, established years ago in Electronic Arts’ “Battlefield” games. But until now, there wasn’t anything like this on the Playstation 3.
There are also options for traditional kill-or-be-killed death matches, capture the flag, and aircraft-only dogfights. With a nice variety of maps ranging from ruined art deco cities to Pacific islands to desert canyons, “Warhawk” boasts plenty of distinct arenas.
Game supports up to 32 players — a nice balance between the crazy-high 64 of some “Battlefield” maps and the low 16 players of death match-oriented games like “Halo.” The maps seem nicely tailored for 32, and the game plays decently underpopulated.
Vehicles are limited to jeeps, tanks, and aircraft. As for weapons, there are about a half dozen of the usual suspects: the flamethrower, the assault rifle, the rocket launcher, and so on. Everything has a slightly historical look, but “Warhawk” is designed to be intuitive rather than esoteric.
There’s not a lot to learn here, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a learning curve. The only way to figure out the game is to jump directly into the multiplayer mayhem, which can be daunting for the uninitiated. There is no tutorial, and no provision to practice against computer controlled players. Instead, upon picking up a new gun or stumbling across a control flag, brief hints flash onscreen and then disappear forever before they can be read. “Warhawk” seems to have been made for people who already know how to play “Warhawk.”
A player’s rank will steadily climb as he plays. The rewards for ranks are merely cosmetic (different character looks and customized aircraft paint jobs), but some servers are limited to players of a certain rank. This theoretically means new players won’t have to play against veterans, who will be busy with people just as good as they are. Online communities for these types of games tend to get prohibitively competitive after a month or so; Sony has wisely built “Warhawk” to avoid this.