When terrorism was invented nine years ago, few would have been able to grasp the effect it was going to have on our video games. You only need take a peek at Tom Clancy's wide net of venerable franchises for proof, with our boy Tom happy to party with terrorism in Vegas, attack it from the shadows and even defeat it with the power of voice commands. With H.A.W.X. 2, however, terrorism returns to where it started: the skies. Again.
But H.A.W.X. 2's main failing, which will sound like déjà vu for anyone familiar with the maligned original, is that there's just not a whole lot you can do once you're actually up in the air. The potentially liberating feeling of flight is quickly eroded when you realise that you're just whooshing around a 360 degree box complete with nice sky and ground textures. Aerial bogeys can be shot down, and ground targets can be bombed, but that's about it.
Furthering the annoyance, the game has a peculiar habit of repeating the same mission structure over and over. The life of each H.A.W.X. is mostly spent protecting clumps of tanks as they march toward an enemy encampment, perpetually alternating between attacking a wave of aeroplanes and then a pack of ground units - in that order. Rinse and repeat. From the lofty view of 1500 feet, they look like ants. You will treat them as such, too. No wonder pilots are jerks.
Still, Ubisoft Romania has to tread a fine line between adhering to staple routines of the flight sim genre and attempting to further their formula. Intermission sequences have you piloting a UAV or AC-130, switching the view to birds-eye and allowing you to track high value targets before shelling them to oblivion. You occasionally get to take off, land and refuel in mid-air, but these feel a bit like tacked-on mini-games - the latter, especially, has you wildly jangling around two pipes to the point you'll gain a newfound respect for the fallopian tube.
The campaign takes you across 20 missions of espionage, betrayal and the patriotic waving of American flags. Certain landmarks, such as the Kamchatka peninsula, Nevskaya dam and Caucasus peaks, are undeniably gorgeous – especially when viewed from high altitudes. The illusion is somewhat shattered when drifting too close to the ground, though Ubisoft Romania has done its best to make the ground seem a little less flat than in the original.
In terms of plot, the villain is now Russia (Mexico having retired after being evil in every other Clancy game lately) and the virtuous American H.A.W.X. squadron is doing their brilliant best to stop a cartload of nukes going off and destroying everybody. With H.A.W.X. 1's original protagonist stuck in a comedic sling, you're stopping the Bad Thing as Major Alex 'Liberty' Freedom for the majority of the game. Occasionally, though, the perspective will shift to Lt. Colin Geezer of the British Royal Navy, or Dmitri Russia of Russia – but these sequences are few and far between.
You also get to play through the same campaign affecting Tom Clancy's Future Soldier, but I'm only aware of this because it's written on the back of the box. Which says it all, really.