Starhawk, the timeless story of a lone cowboy, trying to stake his claim in the “gold rush.” A story of exploration, family, and love. A story filled with adventure, gunfights – oh, and mutants, space ships, mechs, and buildings that drop from the sky. Alright, maybe it’s not quite the story some of us grew up with as kids, but it has its similarities! Starhawk is the spiritual successor to one of the PS3’s first titles, Warhawk. Aiming for the stars and introducing a new system known as “build and battle,” this game brings an ambitious new way to play third-person shooters from the creative minds at LightBox Interactive.
Starhawk is based in a distant future where a new gold rush of sorts has taken place, in space. Colonies of humans have been scattered across new planets in what is known as the “Frontier” in an attempt to obtain a rare and dangerous energy resource known as “Rift Energy.” This Rift Energy is central to the conflicts going on in Starhawk as it has mutated several of the Rifters (those who are trying to mine the rift) into a ruthless group known as Outcasts who are trying to keep the Rift away from these colonies. So the war over the Rift Energy rages on between the Rifters and the Outcasts. This is the setting for both the campaign and the online multiplayer sides of the game.
In the campaign mode, you take on the role of Emmett Graves, an ex-Rifter turned hired gunslinger, who finds himself walking the line between the Rifters and Outcasts. Emmett was exposed to the Rift Energy and thus has been partially mutated. However, thanks to a contraption that his partner, Cutter, had implanted into Emmett, he is able to keep his humanity. Emmett has been hired to keep the Outcasts off of the mining operations of the Rifters. This is all just another job until it turns personal. Emmett soon finds out that the leader of the Outcasts, known as the Outlaw, is none other than his brother Logan.
While it’s obviously not the main focus of the title, the campaign mode for Starhawk is a welcomed addition to the game. Unlike Warhawk, instead of diving right into an online battle after a basic tutorial, the campaign gives us time to get used to the controls and the new build and battle system that the game uses. Build and Battle is a system that Starhawk uses similar to structures in an RTS game. Using a menu similar to that of the weapon wheel – with the build and battle system, you can create weaponized structures, bunkers, vehicles, and more on the fly – before, during, and after battles. At the same time, you do need to have a strategy while dropping these items because they cost rift which you have a limited amount of. In addition, depending on the circumstance of the battle, you will want to take all elements into consideration so that you know what to lay down.
I thought I would challenge myself a bit by playing the game on the hardest difficulty in the campaign. If you really want a challenge to get prepared for the multiplayer section of the game, then the mercenary difficulty is probably a mode you want to try out. The AI is pretty accurate when it comes to fighting you and you must really think carefully about how you play out each battle. While retaining some elements from other gaming genres, Starhawk is still a third-person shooter and plays very well as one. The combat controls are fluid and fairly easy when playing on the ground, driving in the many vehicles on land, or even flying the hawks in the air – or uh, space. The only part that might take a little bit of getting used to is flying the hawk but thankfully, you do a bit of that throughout the campaign enough for you to get a firm grasp on it.
The campaign’s story is alright. It’s really nothing too special. Most of the story was essentially played out in motion-comic cut scenes that filled in the gaps between battles. I do think that it could have been a bit more focused and structured, the characters could have had a bit more development, and maybe it could have been a little bit longer as well. Even with the story being a weak element in the campaign, the campaign still proved to be an enjoyable and exciting experience of high-octane and even epic proportions at times. I could feel myself really getting into the battles and the accompanying soundtrack with western/sci-fi elements really helped to set the stage for the battles you take part in.
When it’s all said and done however, the multiplayer is the shining star in this space-bound epic, and makes up more than enough for where the campaign lacked.
Multiplayer is where all the meat of the game is really. The war between the Rifters and Outcasts still rages on and you are on either side of the line. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun in an online shooter. In an industry where the military shooter is rampant, Starhawk proved to be a breath of fresh air.
Multiplayer has four different modes, five if you include the co-op. You can play Capture the Flag, Zones (like a king of the hill mode), Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch with up to 32 players (you can customize the size of battles), and the Co-Op mode Prospector (survival mode for up to four friends). No game is ever the same. The dynamics of the build and battle system, the various maps, and the high level of customization in Starhawk make just about every round feel like a brand new experience. One thing is for sure, Starhawk can keep you playing online for a very, very, long time. There so so much replay value in the game.
You can create public or private matches of any game type, you can even create clans and visit the MP Homeworld, or “explore” modes in the game so you can get used to maps and create strategies if you please. You can choose what weapons and structures are available in each game and even how they function. For example, there are anti-aircraft turrets you can build on the ground. If you would like it so that the game restricts the ability to upgrade those turrets, you can do that. Or if you’re playing a game of Capture the Flag, you can set whether or not a flag can be carried back in a vehicle. There are so many game mode customization options and even character customization options for this game so that you are constantly on your toes when entering a match.
There is never a dull moment in Starhawk online. From the moment you enter onto the map from the intense drop pod impact, to the Hawks dogfighting in the air while a ground battle is going on, Starhawk will constantly have you thinking strategy and planning new actions. There is a massive array of weapons, a good number of vehicles, and a handful of different structures you can build that will give you a lot of different options. I found in one match that I wasn’t exactly the best at using the Hawks in an air fight, or even while they transform into mechs on the ground (by the way, that part is pretty cool). With that said, I thought I would try out tanks. I wasn’t that great at tanks either, so I stuck to ground forces. But every now and then, it’s nice to change it up, and depending on the match, you might very well be great at something you weren’t in another match. The dynamics of the game are endless.
Honestly, there are very few negatives that I can think about the multiplayer side of the game. LightBox did an amazing job of introducing a fresh new experience for third-person shooters.
Starhawk achieves something that I personally have never experienced in any other game. An intense, ever-changing, playing field where you, the gamers essentially take control of how the game will play out each and every time with varying outcomes. I can see Starhawk having a strong community for years to come, just like Warhawk still has down to this day.
While Starhawk does not have the best campaign mode, it deserves loads of praise for this innovative gameplay, pure fun, and high-flying, non-stop action and build and battle system that surprisingly doesn’t bring the game down, yet enhances the experience. Starhawk borrows elements from varying gaming genres and owns them in a spectacular way.
While strategic games may not be for everyone, I think Starhawk will have a very wide appeal for those craving a little online action. Starhawk will stay in my gaming collection for a long, long, time and it should join yours too.
(A free copy of Starhawk was provided for this GamerXChange review by SCEA)