Sony’s known for its single player, story games these days – but at the start of the PlayStation 3 era, that wasn’t necessarily the case. With the likes of Halo running amok on the Xbox and the PlayStation Network needing to establish itself, the platform holder pushed new multiplayer series like Resistance: Fall of Man hard. But there was one game in particular that stood tall above them all: Warhawk, a Battlefield-inspired competitive combat experience, loosely related to a forgotten PSone dogfighting title with the same name. With the release’s servers set to be shut down 11 years after its original launch, we look back what is arguably PlayStation’s greatest ever multiplayer game.
Sammy Barker, Editor
The first time I heard about Warhawk, I think I’d literally just left school, so that just goes to show how long Incognito’s shooter has been kicking around. I had a friend who absolutely adored it (Hi Jason!), but I didn’t really know what it was or why he was so obsessed with it – I was a full-on Halo fanboy in those days, and this sure as hell didn’t have Master Chief.
I wouldn’t be until around 2008 until I got my first taste of the exclusive’s 32-player battles, and I didn’t really understand it at first. The game pre-dated Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and so a lot of the conveniences that we come to expect from modern multiplayer titles simply weren’t there. There were server lists and very few tutorials or training lessons to get you up to speed.
The game felt like it had stepped straight out of the PlayStation 2 era, too. The controls were loose and a bit unwieldy; I remember rushing into conflicts on foot and spamming the grenade button, hoping to get a kill. Once you got the hang of it, though, it was wonderful: you could transport teammates in jeeps, fly the titular Warhawks, and snipe unsuspecting players from afar.
The maps were absolutely massive, and while they were largely quite empty, they made it feel like you were part of a war. I remember it eventually all clicking for me, and while my aforementioned friend was always the master with his 600 or so hour playtime, I distinctly recall feeling like his apprentice – and a decent one at that.
The thing I most appreciate about Warhawk looking back on it now is how confident it was being its own thing. It really did feel like a PS2 shooter, but it had the scale and scope of a next-gen production. The likes of Modern Warfare would go on to change online multiplayer forever, but Incognito’s game endured, and has retained its playerbase through much of the PlayStation 4 generation.
Much like SOCOM, there was probably a window for something like Warhawk on Sony’s current console – the title was, effectively, a service game a decade before it became vogue. The platform holder’s talked a lot about wanting to be more competitive in the multiplayer space; I think it should look at one of its greatest online games ever to find the right path to success.
Stephen Tailby, Senior Staff Writer
Early on in the PS3's life, I was discovering online multiplayer with the likes of MotorStorm and Resistance: Fall of Man, but it wasn't until Warhawk that I really fell in love with the concept. Reading about it in Official PlayStation Magazine and watching videos on YouTube, I was prepared to give it a shot, but I didn't expect it to hook me in the way that it did. No multiplayer game, before or since, has grabbed my full attention like Warhawk did back in 2007.
I think the key thing, at least for me, was its simplicity. Before Modern Warfare waded in and changed multiplayer games forever, Sony's online-only shooter dropped you into a match, left you to find weapons or vehicles with which to take down the opposition, and that was pretty much it. No levelling up, no loadouts, no killstreaks. It made for very fun, unpredictable battles that prioritised improvisation and skill. No two matches were quite the same, due to the huge maps and a variety of weapons and vehicles.
I clearly remember how satisfying the game was to play, including the eponymous Warhawks themselves, a genius combination of plane and helicopter that were an absolute joy to fly. The weapons were well balanced and were all useful for different scenarios. I even ended up a pretty good player because I was on it so much, a level of skill I've sadly yet to replicate elsewhere.
When I think back on Warhawk, it's hard to name precise things that stand out. The sound design was excellent, and the gameplay was perfectly pitched, but my memories of the game seem to blur together into one nostaglic highlight reel. It was effortlessly entertaining and, even though there were disconnects and a messy server select menu to trawl through, I can't think of an online game I've enjoyed more.
Would you like to see Warhawk resurrected for the PS4? Do you have fond memories of this PS3 era shooter? Bunny hop into the comments section below.