A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hawken is a downloadable, free-to-play multiplayer first-person shooter where players fight each other in giant mechs on a distant planet. Players represent soldiers working for corporate interests, vying for control of scarce resources on the planet. There's not much character development outside of this, giving the game no real positive or negative messages. There's a certain level of complexity in crafting and customizing equipment, weapons, and so on for players' mechs. Once you're in the actual cockpit, though, the controls are fairly intuitive. Violence, while not particularly bloody, is nonstop, as the whole point is to eliminate opposing forces, and due to the game's online nature, kids could be exposed to offensive language from other players. The game uses a free-to-play model, offering a variety of cosmetic and gameplay additions to the game via real-money transactions.
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What's it about?
In the dystopian future of HAWKEN, corporations are locked in a cutthroat battle against one another in a winner-takes-all war for control of the dwindling resources of the planet. To that end, the corporations have recruited mercenaries to pilot high-tech war machines in epic-scale combat. You are just the latest recruit to join those ranks, piloting your own mech, customized to fit your style. Whether it's a fast, light assassin mech with a long-range sniper rifle or a slow, lumbering tank on legs armed to the teeth with heavy-duty cannons and rocket launchers -- whatever you choose, it's up to you and your team of fellow pilots to take back the planet and leave your enemies in a heap of smoldering scrap.
Is it any good?
This futuristic robot-arena title is fun in doses, but eventually, the decision to either pay for gear or repetitively play for hours for the same item starts to drain the fun out of the game. Now, in video games, you might take the pedal to the metal in the driver's seat of a high-performance sports car one minute, and the next you're doing aerial acrobatics from the cockpit of a fighter jet. But neither of those activities can compare to strapping into the pilot's seat of a massive mechanized war machine, duking it out against your foes in an epic modernized version of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. At least, that's the premise behind Hawken, the free-to-play first-person shooter that's made the jump from PC to consoles. While the game makes the transition fairly well, it's still a bit rough around the edges. The real question is whether or not there's enough to keep gamers' interest and help them overlook some of those frayed bits.
On the positive side, there's no shortage of action in the game. Matches are fast-paced, brutally destructive battles that test all your skills as a pilot. Balance is important in Hawken, too, with each model of mech designed with a particular set of strengths and weaknesses. A light mech will never survive taking a heavy mech head-on, but by using your speed and keeping distance, you can chip away at that behemoth until it's ready for the recycle bin. But the free-to-play nature of the game is a bit of a mixed bag. Short of cosmetic additions, there's nothing in the game you buy with real money that you can't eventually unlock in the game. Unfortunately, that means you'll be spending a lot of time grinding in matches to get a good stable of playable options if you're not willing to shell out some extra cash to get access to those new items early. But you'll earn enough in trickles to always at least feel like you're making progress. The game's biggest hurdle is that it's starting to show its age a bit. Although the visuals have a realistic and gritty appeal, they aren't exactly pushing the limits of what consoles are capable of. Still, considering the entry price, Hawken is worth checking out if you're a sci-fi fan looking for a unique shooter experience to play with friends online.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in video games. What is it that defines the realism of the violence? Is the impact of the violence reduced when the participants are locked inside large robots instead?
Talk about the economics of gaming. How does the free-to-play model compare to the more traditional retail model? Are you more likely to spend actual money to pick up the content you want, or will you wait to earn it through gameplay?
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