Starhawk is the spiritual successor to the unrealized gem that was Warhawk on the PS3. Here’s a bit of background on Warhawk, which will make the concept of Starhawk much easier to understand.
Warhawk started off strong, it was overshadowed by man other AAA titles that were released in the release date vicinity, and therefore, it's potential wasn't realized by as many players as the multiplayer giants that populate the gaming industry today.
However, although the player base started out weak, it quickly expanded as more players realized the awesome fast-paced arcade action was more than what was offered at the time. It also helped that the title was multi-player on the Playstation Store, and one of the first "full" games on the PS Store, and the retail version included a mic to enhance teamwork, and generally the whole online experience. With a fully-fledged clan system, the community was more than happy as they engaged in frequent epic wars over respect and bragging rights. Forums and websites came alive with information and tactics, as clans became even more competitive.
But the true spirit of Warhawk was its gameplay. Similar to Halo, it threw played onto 5 different environments, which various map layouts, and gave them the tools they needed to annihilate their enemies strewn around the map. Players started off with a simple pistol, but could pick up better weapons, equipment, and above all use vehicles. Ground warfare was simple, with the usual tanks and jeeps to race across the map with, but the real fun for most was soaring up into the skies in a Warhawk.
The air warfare of Warhawk was deep and satisfying, with various flight modes for the Warhawks, and tons of weapon pickups. The air battles in the game were brutal and harsh, with many first-time flyers getting beat down to the Earth on battered wings.
Overall, Warhawk was an amazing online experience, brutal and fresh, like the old days, but with its own charm and exhilarating combat. Now we come to Starhawk, the spiritual successor to one of the most treasured games on the PS3,one which has a cult following and active online community to this day.
I'd like to start off by saying that Starhawk is a far more complicated game than Warhawk, but keeps the depth locked down by offering a quick, effective UI and allowing things to be as deep or as shallow as the player would like. It is a third person game with vehicular and shooting elements existing side by side. The game has great graphics, not the best we've seen on PS3, but they do more than enough to fulfill their job, with bright colors, deep blacks, and an interesting art style.
The single player world is of the “New Frontier”, a time where space travel has been perfects, and colonization has begun on new planets. The main source of power in this new frontier is “Rift” energy, a glowing blue substance. However, Rift energy has an unusual interaction with humans, pulling them in and transforming them completely into mutants known as Outcasts or “Scabs” as the citizens of the New Frontier call them.The story is told through cool, stylized, comic book style cut scenes.
Here’s where our protagonist Emmett Graves comes in. He is a “lone gunslinger for hire” with a background with the Outcasts. The most interesting thing about him is how he is a survivor of a Rift lash-out, and he survives only with the help of a energy capacitor infused into his back.
The game starts out with Emmett being hired by the mayor of White Sands, his hometown, to clear out a group of Outcast terrorizing the tow. Coincidentally, they are led by his brother, who was also affected by the Rift, but was fully transformed.
The single player gameplay starts off as a tutorial for the first few missions, then amps up a little. However, it feels a bit stale and not as fun as it could’ve been. The game’s trademark Build and Battle function, which allows you to drop buildings, turrets, and vehicle spawns from the sky, manages to make each single player mission feel a bit more like a sandbox, however a slightly cliché storyline, and sometimes repetitive gameplay bring it down. The vehicular Hawk combat missions are always fun, and increasing difficulties makes it a challenging and overall enjoyable experience.
Now, on to the main course, Multiplayer. Starhawk provides epic 32 player battles, with players having the option to take to the skies, fight on foot in gun on gun battles, or roam around large maps in tanks and jeeps. The Build and Battle feature is also present in the multiplayer which makes every battle feel different, and allows for unique opportunities. For example, a player can choose to build walls around the flag in capture the flag, and line them around with turrets to offer enhanced protection.
The Build and Battle system is balanced however, with the “Rift Economy”. Basically, every part costs a certain level of rift, which can be seen from the Rift Bar in the top right corner of the UI. More powerful vehicles cost more rift, while walls and turrets are relatively cheap. Rift can be gathered over time in your team’s main base, or through shooting rift barrels strewn around the map.
The game offers tons of modes including CTF, TDM, DM, Assault Mode, Zones, and Dogfight mode. There are also tons of customizable parts to characters, and paints for vehicles, some of which can be purchased as DLC.
Multiplayer is complemented with a robust clan support system, and leaderboards, along with a clan battle system which is great for settling rivalries.
Some balance issues do arise in multiplayer with teams of hawks reigning down pain over others, and completely demolishing their bases. Spawning then becomes a chore when you’re killed right after spawning. The developers have tried to combat this by introducing an innovative Drop Pod spawn system, which leads to extremely satisfying pod kills, a system similar to the one used in Section 8. Bad teammates can also kill the fun by randomly dropping structures, and hitting the structure cap wwhich takes away from the experience.
Multiplayer overall is a very enjoyable experience when the teams are balanced, although it does have its problems. It has a lot of replay value, and playing with friends leads to a great time.
The game also comes packed with a Co-op, horde style system, called “Prospector Mode” which charges up to 4 players with protection of a Rift Mining building, from oncoming enemies of Outcast is tanks, hawks, and jeeps. This mode is one of the highlights of how the Build and Battle system works, with players able to create intricate fortresses to defend the building.
Overall, Starhawk is a solid, unique, game, which offers great experiences. The single player is somewhat lacking, however Prospector and Multiplayer modes more than make up for it. Currently it is $40 for the complete game, or $20 on the PS Store for the multiplayer only package. The game's interesting DLC offers also make it so that the community is not split up and also has access to all maps/modes.
(Note: Reviewed with patch 1.04)