Starhawk comes into the mix with an uphill challenge ahead of it. The field of current-generation games is littered with quality shooters waiting to fill up our gaming timecards. With games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and others providing the definitive multiplayer experiences, a new kid on the block needs to be special in order to steal some thunder. Refreshingly, Starhawk’s multiplayer experience does more than enough to warrant some play-time.
If you had a chance to play LightBox Interactive’s digital multiplayer experience from 2007, labeled Warhawk, then you had a head-start on style and online experience. Now, years later, they are trying to push that formula to a new level, in a slightly different setting – a sort-of-space-age, sort-of-new-territory, sort-of-wasteland arena that certainly borrows from several of its PS3 counterparts, but manages to feel fresh enough at the same time.
Upon booting up the game, you’ll most likely jump right into the campaign mode. Now, we should get this out of the way right off the bat: the campaign mode is nothing special. It’s a bit repetitive, the story is weak, and really is only there to progress the missions; and it seems to serve as a training mode for multiplayer as much as anything. That said, it’s a heck of a training mode. As you progress through the campaign mode, the game will gradually teach you new aspects of combat, new features, and most importantly, new design and build elements that will prepare you for the main course – multiplayer.
As soon as you finish up the campaign, you’ll be eager to hop into some online gameplay. A fair warning to all: the multiplayer gameplay is intimidating at first. There is a TON you can do, and everyone else in the game will already know how to do it all. Don’t let it discourage you. Once you get a few rounds under your belt, the nuances and most effective methods of building, maneuvering, and fighting will begin to makes themselves clear.
It should be noted that the battles play out on massive maps. And they need to be massive due to vehicle options, and the fact that each side will include up to 16 players. The vehicles in the game are top-notch. On the ground, you’ll commandeer tank-type monsters, ATVs, and buggies for quick travel, and in the air you’ll take command of Starhawks. Starhawks are simply awesome, Transformer-style vehicles in which you can run along the ground, and then rise up and take flight at will. It’s one of the most satisfying means of transportation in recent video game history, in my humble opinion. You can run around on foot if you like, but the best outcome will be achieved by using teamwork, and orchestrating coordinated strikes via Starhawks, land vehicles, sniping, and machinery.
On the surface, this may sound a lot like Warhawk, but where Starhawk really sets itself apart is in the new build and design system. When you kill enemies, and when you otherwise come across it, you’ll collect orb-type “Rift” energy. Rift can be used as a sort of currency to build structures and strategic placements across the map. There is a vast array of things you can build, including supply bunkers, fortified walls, vehicle stations, sniper towers, and more. You can even choose which weapons you would like to outfit the supply areas with. This uber-strategic system is difficult to learn, yet extremely rewarding once you understand it, and when you get on a team that knows how to use it to its advantage.
The system also means that, with 16 players on each team creating fortresses, bunkers, and sniper towers, any attack MUST be coordinated, or it means certain death. If you have a player or two with great flying skills in a Starhawk, it plays heavily to your advantage, and you’ll do well to become a Starhawk master if you want to succeed. It really is the one vehicle that can take down an opponent’s defenses on its own – if executed correctly.
In terms of weapons, there are a number of choices in the arsenal. You have automatic pistols and revolvers, assault rifles and shotguns, a special gun called a “grinder” that shoots sparks and flames at people, grenades, and sniper rifles. It’s a fairly standard load-out that accompanies a fairly standard third-person-shooter formula. These of course do not include mounted weapons and many of the vehicles. Controls and gameplay are very much what you’d expect out of a third-person shooter (think Lost Planet for a comparison). There is nothing new in terms of shooting mechanics, but then again, that’s not what sets this game apart.
Starhawk is not a game that will blow you out of the water visually with sheer power, but it certainly has its own style that will appeal to any hint of sci-fi in your body. Colors are bright, characters and machines move with a space-militaristic purpose, and explosions and kills look satisfying. The visuals certainly do the job, but again, are not what sets the game apart. The audio falls into this same category. The guns, environmental noises, and voice acting will not impress in any concrete way, but are sufficient enough not to detract from the experience.
In contrast with many of today’s modern shooters, Starhawk is not that complicated. There are fewer frills to worry about and consider here. This game is about teamwork, strategy, taking advantage of positions, and orchestrated defense building and attacks. And with 32 players running, driving, and flying around, things get crazy pretty quickly. It may not be up to snuff, technically speaking, with the CODs and Battlefields of the world, but in terms of multiplayer fun, it’s on par with the best of them.
Starhawk simply is a blast to play. The campaign is negligible, and serves as training for the multiplayer action, so it needs to be said that this is an experience you get for online play – period. The second disclaimer is that this is not a casual game. You will need to spend some time and commit to learning how to build and work within a team, as well as utilize the vehicles to your team’s advantage. All that said, if you’re all about a strategic yet fast-paced online shooter with innovative building mechanics, this game is a must-have.
This review is based on a retail copy of Starhawk for the PlayStation 3 provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.