Warhawk hands-on Playstation 3 preview

The butt of many Sony E3 Press Conference jokes last month came at the expense of an Incognito game producer who gyrated helplessly while trying to demonstrate the new Playstation 3’s gyro controller feature with “Warhawk.” The enthusiastic sap bobbed and jounced to the glazed stares of press members, then capped off an erroneous performance with a near-fatal landing leaving his mighty craft dangling off the edge of a cliff.

The only way to erase the sour taste left by this ill-fated demonstration was to go hands-on with “Warhawk” at E3, and that’s precisely what we did with the guidance of an Incognito developer. Before taking flight, he explained the game was originally being developed as a Playstation 2 predecessor to the cult hit Playstation One title. Once Playstation 3 was formally announced a little bit over a year ago, the team at Incognito immediately targeted the new platform and began reworking many aspects of the game from scratch. A mere 10 days before E3, they got wind of the new gyro controller and had to whip up this playable version. One thing they were unwilling to compromise in all this was a nod to fans of the original, so he confirmed some familiar characters will indeed play a prominent role in this sequel.

Unlike the majority of Playstation 3 games running out on the convention center floor ” including other “Warhawks” ” this demo was running on a final Playstation 3 unit with a wireless controller in an enclosed room. Our demonstrator was proud to validate the console by pointing it out and then clicking a few buttons on the controller that fired missles on-screen. It made perfect sense to go wireless with “Warhawk” given its draw of controlling the plane with controller movements as opposed to analog stick movements. A controller wire would only entangle spastic gamers and possibly lead to unpleasant bodily harm.

The press conference lead me to believe the controller had to be whipped around to get movement from it, so I took hold and found my plane out of control and any big movement I made to correct the situation only worsened it. Too bad this developer wasn’t on stage during that press conference presentation because he could have pointed out, as he did for me, that delicate movements are required to keep control of the craft. So delicate that your hands only need to move a few inches in each direction to access any degree turn the craft is capable of.

After adjusting to the feel of the controller’s movements in correlation with the craft on-screen, it took another good minute or two to really get control of the plane and pilot it nearly as well as using analog sticks. Once I was flying comfortably, it was suggested I should try it one handed since nearly all the necessary buttons are on the right side of the controller. Sure enough, it was possible to play one-handed, though it was noticeably harder to keep the craft steady. Our guide pointed out another press member received a phone call on his cell and answered it in his left hand while continuing to play in his right. Imagine the increase in beer and chip intake while gaming with that nifty feature.

Beyond the obvious gyro controller functionality, “Warhawk” offers a couple other neat air combat features that help keep it fresh. A quick press of the Triangle button toggles the craft between flight and hover mode, making it possible to camp out behind an obstacle and wait for an enemy to fly by and expose their rear end for a missle. R1 initates a quick barrel roll ala “Crimson Skies” while R2 serves as a thrust ” double clicked for an increased boost ” and L2 is an airbrake. The D-Pad is used to switch between weapons, of which only a couple options were available in this demo. The favorite by far was a cluster of 8 heat-seeking missles that when fired split up to take out all their targets in a grand display of explosions and fire.

“Warhawk’s” visuals are far beyond anything Playstation2 can effectively render, but there’s still a noticeable gap between where they’re at and what’s expected from Playstation3 games. At this point in the development cycle, a lot of emphasis has been placed on lighting so every object, including missiles, properly emit and reflect light. A great example occurred as a missile came up under its target and the fire exhaust from the missile lit up the plane’s underside right before impact.

Incognito has also been experimenting with the mighty Cell processor, using it to single-handedly run the volumetric clouds that can completely obscure vision when entered. We’ve seen clouds and smoke like this before, most recently in “Call of Duty 2,” so the verdict on the Cell processor’s effectiveness is still out.

Our guide ended the hands-on demo by letting us know their “first goal is to make flying fun.” After getting used to the controller’s movements, there is much fun to be had. With the prospect of 32 player online play, the gyro controller functionality that was pieced together in less than 10 days yet works great, and alcohol all mixed together, “Warhawk” is poised to sneak under the radar when Playstation 3 launches this November and be the must-have “raw entertainment” title for the lucky few able to score a console.

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