GAME NAME: Starhawk
DEVELOPER(S): LightBox Interactive
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment
PLATFORM(S): Playstation 3
GENRE(S): Third Person Shooter
RELEASE DATE(S): May 8, 2012
Starhawk is the spiritual successor to 2007′s fantastic online multiplayer game, Warhawk, albeit this time around it has a new setting, brand new mechanics and a full-fledged singleplayer campaign. With these new additions, developer LightBox Interactive is hoping to separate the series from its competitors and create something that will offer not only a fantastic online multiplayer experience, but also provide an intriguing singleplayer campaign. Of course the question is whether or not LightBox has managed to pull it off and unfortunately the short answer is no.
Starhawk’s story takes place in a sci-fi western universe where a resource, called Rift Energy, has become the defacto source of power for everything. It’s this very energy that becomes the central theme to the story and the driving force behind all that is good and bad in Starhawk’s universe. Colonies of humans, called Rifters, have been scouring the universe in an attempt to mine as much Rift energy as possible in order to make a living, but unfortunately things go south as they often do. Colonies of humans become mutated by too much exposure to the Rift Energy turning them into psychotic monsters known as the Outcast. These Outcast begin to make life in the Starhawk universe a living hell for every waking soul and caught in the middle of it all is Emmett Graves, a Rift Salvager and a mercenary of sorts who has his fair share of problems to boot.
You see Emmett was also exposed to the Rift Energy, but was able to retain his sanity and more importantly his humanity, thanks to a contraption on his back, which keeps the Rift energy in his body at an acceptable level. Emmett gets dragged into the battle when he returns home to White Sands on the Planet Dust and finds that the fight against the Outcast has a lot more to do with him and his past then he ever imagined. It’s a decent enough setup, but one that doesn’t really go anywhere. The story often lacks a sense of cohesion and characters feel more like one note characters and less like real people who you’d have any empathy for, which is a shame. In a story about a world being torn asunder by what are ostensibly other humans, you would think that high tension and emotion would run rampant, but this is simply not the case. Even the early revelation about the Outcast leader’s past and connection to Graves comes off as yet another bullet point in the story, rather than the deep, emotional reveal that it could have been.
Unfortunately, things don’t get much better for the singleplayer campaign, which often ends up feeling more like a glorified tutorial and less like a worthwhile campaign. Missions, while varied thanks to the air and land vehicles, often revolve around wiping out enemies in an area, taking control of said area and then protecting said area from a rush of enemies, either on land or in space. It’s a rinse and repeat process that is neither well put together nor fun to play. There are some other mission types, but nothing that actually stands out. It also doesn’t help that the actual combat just doesn’t feel right. Character movement is sluggish, aiming feels off and it simply takes way too many bullets to take down even the smallest of enemies. These control problems also apply to the games land vehicles, which either feel too sluggish, too floaty or too fast. That being said, flying a Hawk, which now has the ability to transform into a robot, is supremely fun to control and provides for some of the most exciting experiences in the campaign, especially while in space.
Luckily, the game’s new Build & Battle System, is a great new addition that truly adds some much-needed strategy to the mix, along with making you have to rely less on the not-so-stellar combat controls. As you progress through the singleplayer campaign, you gain the ability to call down equipment, vehicles and buildings from the sky. These orbital drops allow you to not only customize your play style, but also add a great deal of fun to the repetitive missions. You’ll be able to call down storage bunkers, sniper towers, defensive walls, tanks, Hawks and much more. Calling said items down is simple enough. First you need to gather Rift Energy, via killing enemies, and then with the simple press of the Triangle button, a radial menu appears and you select the item you want. The orbital drops are dictated by a Rift energy bar on the upper right hand corner of the screen, so you don’t have unlimited access to the items, which makes item selection all the more important. While seeing the items fall from the sky is entertaining, the most exciting part of the item drops is when you manage to get a building to drop on an enemy. It’s always satisfying no matter how many times it happens.
From a presentation standpoint, Starhawk does a good job of creating a colorful, sci-fi western themed world for Graves’ story to unfold. Dusty old towns littered with general stores, sheriff stations and saloons are interspersed with galactic space stations orbiting the worlds and rounded out with vast deserts, underground caverns and refineries. The locals often feel well realized and help to set the tone of the world. While the character models on the other hand, feel somewhat generic and lack any true standout points, minus Graves’ interesting looking arm and eyes. The locales are aided by the game’s western themed soundtrack, which features plenty of twangy tunes and orchestral high notes that attempt to provide an epic feeling to the game’s campaign. The soundtrack, much like the voice acting is serviceable and does a good enough job, but ultimately won’t leave you with anything memorable. It is worth noting that from a technical perspective the game runs fairly smooth, minus the occasional texture loading issues, which appear frequently during the in-game cutscenes. The more prevalent issue with the game’s presentation lies in the menu, which is currently plagued with a bug that wipes out the menu options and makes it impossible to access game modes. It’s a sporadic issue that proved to be quite the annoyance.
Of course, the main appeal of Starhawk is the online multiplayer mode, which allows up to 32 plays to take the battle online via land and air. There are a total of four modes, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Zones. Of the four, Capture the Flag and Zones provide the most intense, and entertaining multiplayer experiences, mainly because of the multitude of ways you can get around the battlefields and complete your objective. Like many multiplayer games nowadays, Starhawk features an experience and level-up system, which allows you to customize your character with a new look, and unlockable skills, albeit with a caveat. In order to unlock skills you must do two things; you must gain experience and you must complete in-game feats. Gaining experience is easy enough and comes over time, but completing in-game feats, such as obtaining X amount of kills with a vehicle in a single round, isn’t as easy and may potentially lead to players having an unfair advantage over the less skilled individuals.
All the tools you gain in single-player, including the Build and Battle System are present in the multiplayer mode and offer up some unique scenarios for those who utilize teamwork. You see, during multiplayer the Build and Battle System is limited to a total of 35 structures for your entire team. This means that those who end up playing on a random team of people might end up without having enough space to call down a much need bunker. This often leads to a very unbalanced game, where spawn camping becomes rampant and losing unavoidable. It’s this outcome that really hurts the online multiplayer, because in like say a game of Battlefield 3, where you always have a chance to mount a comeback, in Starhawk, when you are losing there is no coming back. It also doesn’t help that the poorly controlling ground combat from the singleplayer is ever-present online and leads to ground battle that are more luck than skill. Add to the fact that the supremely fun Hawk’s become mere bugs in the sky, since their damage in-take has been tweaked for online play, leaving them more like fragile hunks of metal, instead of formidable foes in the sky.
The multiplayer isn’t all bad, especially if you do manage to find a team or join up with a clan that know how to play. It’s at these points where Starhawk multiplayer soars and makes you want to stay glued to the scene to experience the action-packed battlefields and all they have to offer. Unfortunately, finding said team or joining a reliable clan isn’t as easy as it seems, especially considering there is no matchmaking in the game, which leaves you relegated to scouring server lists for the best ping, old school style. Not necessarily a bad thing, but given how important skill is in multiplayer games, it’s sort of surprising that it wasn’t included. Those looking for a non-competitive approach to Starhawk multiplayer will be happy to know that co-op is included in the game, but not the type you think. The co-op mode in the game is more like the now standard horde mode, made popular in Gears of War. You and three friends will face off against waves of enemies with all the abilities, including the Build and Battle System, at your disposal. It’s a nice addition, but not necessarily one that will keep you occupied for long. Rounding out the features are leaderboards, event calendars, stat tracking and of course clan support.
Starhawk has it’s fair share of issues, including flawed ground combat, a tedious campaign and somewhat unbalanced multiplayer, but if you’re willing to devote some time into learning the game’s more intricate gameplay mechanics and you’ve got a group of friends willing to join you for some online battles, then it’s definitely worth a look. I mean it’s not everyday that you get to soar through space in a hawk, blow up some jet-packing enemies and then transform into a massive robot and wreak havoc on the ground. Right?
A copy of the game was provided to us by Sony for reviewing purposes.
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