K.Hawk : Survival Instinct gives the design of over-the-shoulder action/adventure games a modest overhaul, moving the genre into an interesting direction. Falling away from traditional violence and gunplay, K.Hawk focuses more on subterfuge, clandestine operations, and overall stealth in order to complete the game's various objectives. Yet this latest release from Similis doesn't forget about it's roots, providing PC gamers with plenty of adventure scenarios that made this particular style of gaming popular in the past.
The latest title from the game development think tank Similis Software takes the popular yet aging Action/Adventure genre into a refreshing new direction that should surprise many PC gamers. Though similar in design to games such as Tomb Raider and Oni, K.Hawk: Survival Instinct strays away from overt combat for the most part, focusing more on the Adventure aspects of the genre. Instead of blatant gunplay, stealth and clandestine styled operations make up the majority of the titles' gameplay. However, fans of action gaming should still find plenty of opportunities to flex their trigger finger as unexpected twists and turns do pop up in K.Hawk, forcing even the most covert operative to turn to the cold metal of the gun when necessary.
As with most games within the genre, K.Hawk: Survival Instinct consists of a 3rd person/over-the-shoulder form of gameplay, with the entirety of the action following one central character. Players assume the role of Kitty Hawk, a special forces helicopter pilot who is gunned down while on a support mission for another field operative. Hawk now finds herself stranded on a remote tropical island surrounded by enemy forces and cut off from any support. Her only hope for rescue is to complete the mission that was intended for her passenger, which is to infiltrate the secret military installation on the island, learn their secrets, and then destroy it. Hawk will not only find herself face to face with a well trained paramilitary organization based on the island, she'll also discover the remnants of a ghastly experiment that has taken place deep within the bowels of a secret laboratory that threaten the security of her government.
K.Hawk: Survival Instinct was an interesting title to say the least, and had a completely different feel to its overall gameplay. Where earlier games within the genre focused on exploration, puzzle solving, or overt combat scenarios to entertain their gaming constituents, K.Hawk has opted to take their 3rd Person gaming into the realm of stealth and subterfuge. This change of pace gives the aging genre a slightly off-beat edge to its style of gameplay, forcing players to focus on their tactical prowess in order to complete a mission successfully. Instead of blasting every enemy that crosses your path, players must move silently through underbrush, by-pass security checkpoints and ground patrols, as well as sneak past sensitive security cameras and trip wires. Utilizing a device called an EPU that takes readings from an orbiting spy satellite, players can view a working 2-D map on the side of their screen that includes topographic information, compass directions, and enemy placements. Even more useful (though maybe not quite as realistic), a visual acuity sensor on the device allows player to gauge enemy detection distances and even the general 'alert status level' of a given enemy.
From the initial load up of a new game, players will find out quickly that not only is a more stealthily approach to their gaming more useful, it's almost a necessity. The enemies found throughout K.Hawk not only have better armaments and more ammunition to spare, players will find that the game's AI is a much better shot than they are. Almost every shot fired by an opponent was a critical hit, causing your health meter to drop rapidly. The reverse of the situation was hardly as forgiving, causing players to empty precious clips into the enemies ranks in order to take down just one or two. Thankfully, Hawk has the ability to run like a bat-out-of-hell, and finding good hiding places to lay low until the heat is off are plenty.
Though not always wanted, combat is a necessity of the game at times, and players will have to open up with their own brand of urban warfare during critical situations. Around 9 weapons become available during the course of the game, including shotguns, various automatic rifles, pistols, rocket launchers, grenades, and even grenade launchers. Most of the weapons could only be found sparingly (we never EVER found the grenade launcher) and again, ammunition was always in low quantities. Keeping with a more realistic theme, players could only carry one larger weapon (like a rifle or rocket launcher) and one pistol at a time. On more than once occasion, we found ourselves backtracking through a map in order to pick up another previously discovered weapon cache after running out of ammo with our currently held choice of firepower: realistic, yes, but also rather annoying. Also, after taking down an enemy unit, they never left anything any sort of power-up that could be utilized by the player, such as weapons or armor. Instead, K.Hawk forces players to search out rooms and other areas in order to obtain health bonuses, ammunition packs, and armor power-ups. It just seemed odd that the game would be overly realistic in one sense, then forsake it completely in order to force players to rely on non-combat tactics.
The maps found in the game were for the most part extremely detailed, large, and varied enough to make the game much more agreeable to those interested in the adventure/exploration aspects of the game. The 10 or so maps that were available in K.Hawk range from tropical jungles, to military styled compounds, and even a futuristic underground laboratory. Again, the maps were quite expansive, allowing players to explore the areas thoroughly, looking for secret areas, hidden stashes of armaments, and even better access points in order to complete a mission. The maps were so large that at times we'd get lost, forcing us to backtrack and reconnoiter from the current position. The background audio and other sounds were of high quality, adding that sense of realism especially to the jungle and beach settings. Most of the game's graphics also added dimension to the game, giving a life-like element to the gameplay with its superb texturing and modeling with both the backdrops and the in-game characters. The control aspects of the game were pretty much similar to previous 3rd Person games, giving players the ability to control the games functions with a mouse and keyboard setup. However, we had some difficulty getting the initial mouse sensitivity set up properly at the start of the game, which make precise targeting difficult. We also noted a problem with the game's weapon switch feature, which actually forced the character to stop completely in order to bring up a menu on-screen in order to change weapons. Thankfully, the game made up for this feature by providing an at-will save feature, enabling us to continuously protect ourselves during critical times in the game.
Although not an entirely original game, K.Hawk: Survival Instinct proved itself to be an interesting diversion for those fans of the 3rd Person Action/Adventure genre looking for more of a challenge in their gaming. Though we thought the stealth aspect of the game would become monotonous after awhile, the continuing change in the game's overall theme, mission objectives, and overall scenery surprisingly kept us glued to K.Hawk from beginning to end. The difficulty of the game is high, however, and those gamers used to Tomb Raider styled gameplay might find this particular title a little tedious from time to time. Still, the game has a lot to offer for those looking a fresh prospective in an old-school gaming genre.