I think that every science/technology loving nerd out there has at least a little love for the mech subgenre of first person shooters. I'm no exception to that either, having spent a significant stint as an ardent Armored Core fan. Changing the combatants from human beings to giant robots is such a fun diversion from the usual “by the numbers” feel of the gameplay in a lot of first person shooters. The latest upcoming title to get fans of the subgenre excited has been the long awaited PC title Hawken. Based on what I've played from the beta this week, there's definitely a lot to look forward to.
One of the best parts of the mech FPS subgenre has always been the level of customization playing with giant robots affords the player. Setting up your mech exactly as you want was always one of my favorite parts of the Armored Core series, with parts being assembled in any way you can make work like a set of gigantic legos. Hawken doesn't quite let you build a mech from scratch like that, but there's still a good amount to keep players busy on the customisation front. Once you purchase a new mech (of which you can keep several in your garage) there are several different modifiers and extra functions you can buy for each individual mech such as radar cancelers or automatic turrets. Playing matches also earns you experience which increases the level of your weapons, giving them minor bonuses like -5% heat generation or tech points which are used in skill tree-esque optimization in offense, defense, or movement. Levels you earn and improvements you buy only pertain to individual mechs, so there's quite a lot to max out if you end up liking the gameplay.
The beta gives you access to four different modes, all of which are online competitive multiplayer. There's standard Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch which are self explanatory, as well as Missile Assault and Siege, which are more objective-based with a focus on gathering resources or holding territories. Unfortunately I was never able to find a game for either of these two later modes, so all my experience came from the two different forms of Deathmatch. Even with that said, there's something to Hawken's core gameplay that I find wholly enjoyable.
There are no ammo or total fuel considerations, but overheating your weapons and running temporarily out of boost means that you have to manage both carefully and act in bursts. The old adage “he who lives to run away.....” also comes into play, since you can automatically regenerate your armor if you can make it to a safe spot, although usually that's difficult unless you killed the person who was damaging you in the first place. Closer dogfights are dominated by quick sideways bursts which can't be sustained for long but are great at temporarily getting you out of your foe's sights. My only real complaints so far are that I noticed some lag when zoomed-in with sniper rifles across the map, and different mech types can be somewhat tough to differentiate.
While I enjoyed the gameplay I'm not totally sold on the title's free to play design. Experience comes easily enough for damaging enemies and helping out allies, but money seems to depend only on your overall rank in the match, whether or not your team won a match, and (mostly) how long you stayed in the match. It seems as though getting the money you need for items is more about putting in your time than excelling each match. That said, the largest purchases are new mechs and improving a mech you already have isn't nearly as expensive, so if you find a mech design you like and stick with it the slow money generation shouldn't be too much of a problem, and your actions do dictate the experience you get for each mech so there's reason to try your best beyond just the feeling of superiority we all get from winning.
Hawken's announcement as a free to play game was pretty shocking, but I think for the most part it has been designed well around that premise. Anyone with a love of mechs really has every reason to at least give it a shot, and since it's free to try even if you're just a bit interested you might as well join in. It doesn't have all the customization that I love in the genre, but it certainly has the combat down, and should be fun for aspiring giant robot pilots for quite a while. Check it out when if officially releases December 12th.