Hawken is back! Except that it really isn't. 505 Games has taken the corpse of the fantastic mech PvP romp—which died well before its time—and turned it into an ugly PvE game that I've had to stop playing because the broken mouse sensitivity and overenthusiastic cockpit animation have hammered my head.
I knew I'd need to temper my expectations when it was announced that Hawken Reborn was a PvE-only affair. No more thrilling fights against human-piloted mechs for me. But multiplayer wasn't the only thing that I loved about the original Hawken. The impeccable art, sound design and the lumbering feel of the mechs also played a big role. It had this wonderful ability to conjure up compelling, fast-paced brawls that still managed to feel tactical and considered. None of this is evident in Hawken Reborn, sadly.
The early access version features six story missions and a more open-ended patrol mode, all set in the same zone. It's hideous. It's a cluttered mess that's cursed with an art style that makes everything look like dirt. The original Hawken had such a strong look and was dense with atmosphere, without sacrificing the clarity of its maps, but this doesn't even reach the level of a pale imitation. It simply has no visual identity.
Worse: piloting your mech is deeply unpleasant. Hawken's mechs had real heft. Even when you were going fast, you always felt aware of just how massive your beast of a machine was. In Hawken Reborn, the mechs are floaty and jittery. The hypnotic motion of the cockpit has been replaced by a metal prison where everything wobbles and spasms, while the overly-sensitive mouse controls forced me to stop playing because they made me feel so nauseous. Changing mouse sensitivity currently does absolutely nothing.
The sound design doesn't fare much better, making projectiles feel insubstantial as you pour them into suicidal enemy mechs. Fighting very simple AI foes means you never experience the thrills and tension present in the original. You also need to fight through lots and lots of tiny human troops, drones and turrets, which is even less satisfying. Just give me a meaty mech brawl, 505.
I just have nothing good to say at all. The UI? Bad. The missions? Bad. The cutscenes? Bad. The cash shop that's up and running before 505 have even added customisable controls? Very, very bad. Who is this even for? Hawken wasn't such a big deal that it can coast by on the name, and this clearly hasn't been designed for fans of the original. The whole thing is just bizarre.
On Steam, user reviews are currently sitting at mostly negative, and the only surprise there is that it means a small number of people are actually enjoying themselves. I do not know how this is possible. The cash shop has been criticised extensively by players, along with bugs, crashes and all the disappointments I noted above. It's also been suggested by players that the cutscenes are AI-generated, and if they aren't, the art team sure is trying to emulate the oddities of AI art. In a word: shit.
Even if you never fell for the original, there's not much to keep your interest here. I'd be willing to accept big design changes if they generated compelling mech fights or gave me some novelties to draw me in, but what 505 has made is just too generic to stand out. The only thing I'm going to remember about it in a few months is the disappointment.
What's deeply tragic about this situation is that we could have had a real Hawken comeback. 505 had the opportunity to resurrect something awesome that never quite found a large enough audience. Instead we've got this, and it's hard to imagine anything good coming out of the early access version. Since it's free-to-play, 505 will likely be relying on the cash shop to fund it, at least in part, and I just don't see many people being willing to spend money on this after they've played it.