The giant fighting mech genre of games has never been known for its simplicity. Although franchises like MechWarrior and Armored Core have garnered millions of loyal fans over the years, many gamers have remained fairly intimidated by the complicated control schemes. After some time with Hawken, it is clear that Adhesive Games hopes to change that for the better.

Hawken is a free-to-play first-person shooter in which players take control of a giant mech, pilot it around a variety of expansive, interactive maps, and blow up anything that moves. There will be several game modes, many of which will be familiar to FPS gamers – team deathmatch, free-for-all, siege, and a cooperative mode similar to Gears of War‘s Horde mode or Halo‘s Firefight.

What stood out most about the game during our hands-on time was how heavy and purposeful the movement of the mechs felt, while also giving the giant robots a full range of motion to traverse the environment. Beyond simply stomping around the desolate streets, the mechs were also able to sprint for short bursts to close the distance on their targets. If speed isn’t enough, taking flight is another viable option.

Hawken Preview 1

Decking these enormous machines out with flight and sprinting capabilities, along with the welcome addition of a button press for a 180 degree turn and a side dash to dodge incoming attacks, could have created problems when it came to balancing matches, but between the vast scope of the maps and the tangible difference in maneuvering different classes, every kill felt earned and every death could have avoided.

The class structure in Hawken is fairly basic, which turns out to be to the game’s benefit rather than its detriment. There are light, medium, and heavy classes of mechs to choose from, with further specifications within each class. The choices don’t stop there – customization is key to besting your opponents. Each class had two weapons, one for the left arm and one for the right. Typically, a heavy weapon would be mounted on one arm (missiles), and a slightly less heavy weapon would rest on the other (machine gun).

Hawken Preview 2

At first, choosing which weapons to go into battle with was just a necessity to get the round the started. After cycling through several unsuccessful layouts, I began to hone in on which weapons I was performing well with, and which I wasn’t. This is not to say some weapons are more useful than others, but Hawken offers enough variety in its customization to give every gamer a chance to create a unique layout that works for them.

Artillery might be the primary form of destruction in Hawken, but special abilities can be just as deadly when used appropriately. At one point, a teammate was running circles around an enemy, blasting the opposing mech with all the firepower at his disposal, only to fall in flames seconds later without having caused any damage to the other mech. As the hologram faded away, I heard a few unrepeatable phrases from my fallen comrade. Holograms, deployable turrets, gunships, and more will be at the disposal of players during matches.

Hawken Preview 3

The healing mechanic in Hawken might not be unique, but the intensity it added to the deathmatch was palpable. At any time, players can temporarily shut down the mech, releasing a drone that hovers around, patching up any bullet wounds or misplaced metal. Entering and exiting this mode requires several seconds of waiting, beyond the several more seconds to actually heal the mech, leaving players completely vulnerable, so do not expect to be able to replenish health without finding a solitary corner first. There is nothing more terrifying than hearing another mech slowly stomping around the corner only to catch your mech with its metaphorical pants down. Trust us.

Hawken is an independently developed title made by a team of nine. For such a small team, and presumably a similarly small budget, the game looks fantastic. The world might be a desolate wasteland in Hawken‘s version of the future, but as Wall-E proved years ago, a broken world can be just as beautiful as a vibrant one.  Hawken is nice to look at, a blast to play, and deserves everyone’s attention when the open beta rolls around this winter.

Be sure to check out the rest of our previews and news bits from E3 2012.

Hawken will enter open beta on December 12, 2012 for PC.

Follow me on Twitter @JacobSiegal.