- Fantastic competitive multiplayer
- ‘Build and Battle’ system is unique
- Soundtrack is outstanding
- Campaign is boring
- Looks a bit shoddy in places
Back in 2007, Sony and Incognito released Warhawk – a brilliant multiplayer-only online shooter for the PlayStation 3. Warhawk wasn’t an entirely original game though; it was actually a reboot of a PlayStation 1 title of the very same name. Now, five years later, the franchise has been reinvented once again with Starhawk. With a full-fledged campaign and a sprawling multiplayer mode with competitive and co-op game types on offer, Starhawk promises to be the biggest and best ‘Hawk game to date and on the whole, it delivers.
In the game’s single player campaign players are put in the shoes of Emmett Graves, a gun-for-hire that traverses the galaxy working odd jobs that involve protecting prospectors and their claims to a fictional power source called Rift Energy from the Outcasts; a group of humans who’ve become mutated due to overexposure to the Rift Energy. The plot, which is frankly a bit weak and never surprises, is told through cutscenes in the style of comic book drawings, which are fine in themselves, but the game’s characters are all extremely shallow and just aren’t interesting, so you end up finding yourself wanting to skip them to carry on with shooting stuff.
Most of the game’s ten campaign missions simply involve wiping out hordes of Outcast, either on foot or in your Hawk, most of the time whilst simultaneously defending something, Tower Defense-style, like a Rift Energy Extractor/Bomb/Town or whatever, there really isn’t much more to the single-player mode than that. Also, the very first mission aside, most of the environments are shockingly small and there’s little variety in terms of level design. Whereas most games base their multiplayer maps on areas from the campaign, the reverse seems to be true here, as most of the environments are basically just the game’s multiplayer maps populated with AI instead of other players. At the end of the day, the campaign feels very much an after-thought, serving as little more than a lengthy tutorial for the multiplayer.
But, let’s face it, if you’re considering buying Starhawk (which presumably you are if you’re reading this), you’re probably not looking for a great single-player game, you’ll more than likely be wanting to know how the multiplayer portion of the game fares. Well I’ve got good news, because it’s absolutely fantastic. It supports up to 32 players online (sixteen on each team), and there’s four game modes (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag and Zones) and ten maps included on the disc, with more of both on the way in free and premium DLC in the near future. There’s also a co-op mode featured in Starhawk too called Prospector, which pits you and a buddy (either online or through local split-screen) against seven waves of AI enemies that get tougher as the rounds go on. It works similar to Uncharted 3’s Co-op Arena mode and is a nice temporary diversion, but the competitive multiplayer is where it’s at here.
If you’ve played Warhawk, you’ll feel right at home here because not only are the controls and general feel of the game virtually the same, it plays out similarly as well with combat mostly being of the vehicular kind, with the Hawk being used mostly for aerial combat and the Ox Heavy Tank dominating ground combat. The new version of the Hawk in Starhawk differs quite a bit from its Warhawk counterpart due to one main reason in particular: hitting the circle button whilst in the air now transforms it into a bipedal mech, Transformers-style, so that you can wreak havoc on the ground as well as in the air, which is great for taking out other Hawks and foot soldiers. You don’t always have to be in a Hawk or Tank all of the time to stand a chance against opponents though, on-foot combat does have its place too, but you do need to make sure you use your common sense, storming the open battlefield with just your pistol and a couple of grenades to defend yourself with will, nine times out of ten, result in you being blown to kingdom come.
Perhaps Starhawks’ biggest selling point, and the main way in which it differs from its spiritual predecessor, is in the new ‘Build and Battle’ system. Basically, ‘Build and Battle’ allows you to place structures in real time anywhere onto the battlefield from a menu that is accessed simply by holding down the triangle button. Once you’ve highlighted what you want to build, whether that be a Supply Bunker that provides cover and heavy weapons, an automated turret that will blast away at any trespassing enemies, or a Depot that spawns Tanks, you can then move use the left and right analog sticks to adjust where you want to place that structure. Tapping ‘X’ will then cause that structure to fall from space and land exactly where you positioned it, taking out any enemies (or even yourself, as I found out the hard way, literally) in its way.
Rift Energy, which is earned gradually when stood within range of a Rift Extractor (Extractors serve as bases in multiplayer so both teams have one each), is needed for building, with all of the structure types requiring differing amounts of energy depending on what they’re used for. So for instance, a simple wall requires the least amount of energy, whereas a Shield Generator by far requires the most. Essentially then, Starhawk is both a real-time strategy and a third-person shooter, fusing together the best elements from both genres to create a unique multiplayer experience that differs from anything else on the market. It also means that the multiplayer is incredibly balanced, mainly because maps always begin totally bare bones at the start and both sides have the exact same tools at their disposal to use as they see fit, leaving the players to decide when, where and what to build to ensure their victory.
Christopher Lennertz, who arranged the soundtrack for Warhawk, returns for composing duties on Starhawk and it has to be said, he has done an oustanding job. Starhawk’s soundtrack is honestly one of the best video game soundtracks I’ve heard this generation, and it doesn’t ever seem to falter, fitting in perfectly with the space western vibe that Starhawk has going on. Just hit up YouTube and listen to ‘Homeworld’, ‘Rifter Pride’ or ‘Come and Get it’ and you’ll be convinced. In the graphics department, Starhawk certainly is an improvement on Warhawk (as it should be, considering that game is half a decade old now) but to be honest I wasn’t all that impressed. Level environments can be quite dull and colourless in places, and scenery is even fairly blocky in some areas. It certainly isn’t an ugly game by any means, but for a PS3 title in 2012 I did expect more.
Starhawk is very much a game of two halves. On the one hand, you’ve got the passable, forgettable campaign, but on the other, you’ve got a brilliant multiplayer that has the potential of keeping you entertained for years to come. I just can’t help but feel that LightBox tacked on a campaign mode simply to justify Starhawk being a full £40 retail release, as opposed to making it multiplayer-only and releasing it for half the price of a regular game like Incognito did with Warhawk. But in the end, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the multiplayer is truly good fun, and personally I believe it’s worth the entry price alone. If you’re looking for a new, unique take on the multiplayer third-person shooter genre, and as long as you go into it not expecting much from the game’s campaign, then you really can’t go wrong with Starhawk.