: K. Hawk: Survival Instinct
: JoWooD Productions
: Q4 2002
: PC CD-ROM
K. Hawk is a third person stealth action game for the PC. It was developed by Similis, a relatively small German development studio who were also responsible for Beam Breakers. It was promoted during the early stages of development under the name C.O.N.S.E.A.L., the name presumably being changed for copyright reasons. The game can be summed up (lazily, but in a form that gives the reader some frame of reference) as Tomb Raider meets Metal Gear Solid. It is single player only.
The player takes the role of Lt. Kitty Hawk, an improbably-named U.S. Navy helicopter pilot with S.E.A.L. training but no combat experience. Kitty is in her late 20's, blonde, and (in a surprise break from videogame tradition) fairly realistically proportioned and for the most part sensibly dressed. In the opening in-engine cutscene, Kitty and her partner Major Max Jeffreys are travelling by helicopter to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean that Naval intelligence have sent Jeffreys to investigate. The island is the fortress home of a sadistic, white-haired rogue army Colonel, who has set up a sinister laboratory to realise his obsession with creating a 'secret blend of herbs and spices'. I'm sorry, I mean a 'super soldier'.
On approaching the island, an undetected anti-aircraft defence system shoots down Kitty's chopper. Kitty swims ashore but Jeffreys is missing, presumed dead. The game begins proper on the beach, where Kitty, equipped only with a two-way radio and a personal radar unit, must evade detection and capture by a small troop of guards that have been sent out to look for survivors. When this immediate danger is out of the way, she must infiltrate the secret military base on the island, find out exactly what the Colonel is planning, and put a stop to it.
The personal radar can only be used when Kitty does not have a weapon drawn. Its operation should be somewhat familiar to anyone who has played Metal Gear Solid. It displays (in a readout in one corner of the screen) a bird's-eye view of Kitty's nearby surroundings, with obstacles and cover shown as outlines. Moving enemies are shown as circles, with the radius denoting their hearing range. These markers also have a vision cone (wedge?) protruding from them, showing the player the direction that they are facing. Enemies' view angles grow wider if they are alerted (by seeing or hearing you, seeing fallen comrades, or hearing alarms or cries for help from their colleagues). The bad guys' level of alertness is also indicated by their colour on the radar display, from green through yellow to red for fully aggressive. Security cameras are also shown by their view cones (in blue). If Kitty steps into a guard's line of sight they will chase her and attack. Line of sight is calculated accurately in the game, so if the player hides themself completely behind sufficiently large objects (trees, bushes, tables) they can escape detection. For the first few areas of the game, the radar console is damaged, and occasionally the display is obscured by static for a few seconds.
The object of most sections of the game is to guide Kitty safely from one place to another while avoiding detection. Kitty generates noise while moving (again shown as a circle on the radar, with the largest radius for running, a smaller one for walking, a tiny one for moving while crouching, and none at all when standing still) which can be detected by guards. If the player makes a false move and is detected by guards, they have the option of fighting or running. Kitty has no melee combat abilities at all, so must find a gun to fight back. There are a range of rifles and pistols as well as grenades and a rocket launcher that can be acquired during the game. Only two weapons can be carried at a time.
Because Kitty is supposed to be fairly inexperienced in combat, shootouts are made very difficult indeed- it is usually possible to dispatch one guard if they're away from their comrades, but with more than one attacker the result is nearly always fatal. You can prevent other guards from discovering corpses by removing their dogtags (causing them to disappear- unrealistic, but very convenient). With combat being so dicey, the option of running away is always a good standby. In outdoor areas this is not too difficult as Kitty can outrun most guards, but indoors it is not always so easy. If Kitty finds a good hiding place, the guards will eventually come down from high alert status and return to their patrols.
The game is made up of ten or so large levels, traversed in a linear sequence. Kitty's health is restored to 100% at the end of each level. There are a mixture of indoor and outdoor levels. A nice touch is that in pretty much every level there is a unique objective that must be completed. These include blowing up a generator to distract a group of guards, using wirecutters to get through fences, and fighting a sniper in a forest clearing. The game culminates in a showdown with the Colonel in a secret submarine pen, followed by a 'twist' ending.
K. Hawk's strongest point is probably its stealth implementation, which is highly deterministic (skill is always rewarded fairly, and enemies don't randomly detect you if you're properly hidden). Unfortunately the game has a number of flaws which hinder this central game mechanic. The enemy A.I. is extremely poor, with their marksmanship being pretty much random (sometimes they cannot hit Kitty at all at close range!). Getting into combat is frequently suicidal due to enemies taking many shots (even headshots) to kill. Kitty is unable to jump (well, jumping isn't usually equated with stealth...) and is sometimes unable to climb over the shallowest of steps and slopes.
Losing health causes the view to sway around, which is a nice idea but makes aiming pretty much impossible if Kitty takes a couple of hits. The game's presentation is somewhat below par, with character models and voice acting having a very amateurish feel to them. Some of the scenery is quite nice (especially the jungle and the cliffs) but for the most part the game looks like a refugee from the Nintendo 64. The game is also quite easy (and short), a problem which is not helped by the inclusion of the fastest quicksave feature ever seen.
All in all K.Hawk is a fairly entertaining game while it lasts, requiring just enough skill and concentration to let the player ignore its shortcomings. Unfortunately it is easily outclassed by most other stealth titles, and as such can only really be recommended to the most committed of stealth game fanatics. The Thief series, Deus Ex, Splinter Cell and the Metal Gear Solid games should be higher priorities.