Developer: LightBox Interactive & SantaMonica Studios
Publisher: Sony Entertainment
Release Date: May 10, 2012
The Short: Starhawk has a forgettable campaign, but includes a robust Build-and-Battle mechanic which makes the multiplayer truly shine, and will keep you coming back for more.
Starhawk is a new Sci-fi Western third-person shooter PlayStation 3 exclusive, with a unique build-and-battle system.
Starhawk is set in the future, in the far reaches of space known as the New Frontier, where factions of humanity battle over the most valuable, yet very dangerous, resource known as Rift Energy. Colonies of Rift miners, called Rifters, have been harvesting the Rift Energy for profit. Threatening the Rifters are the Outcast, humans who have been mutated from excessive exposure to the Rift Energy. The Outcast now believe the Rift Energy is sacred and are devoted to protecting it at all costs.
As you acquire this energy, you can summon structures from space, including supply bunkers, sniper towers, land and vehicles, repair arms and much more, creating a dynamic battleground. This build-and-battle system is what sets Starhawk apart from its competitors.
The campaign, expectantly acts like a tutorial for the mechanics, slowly introducing new structures to summon and different strategies. However, don’t assume these mechanics make the game is horribly complicated, it is actually fairly simple, and relies on good action just as much as strategy.
The story in Starhawk, while having a concrete premise, is the game’s biggest let-down and never really takes off. The game’s story is told in between missions and switch between past and present slowly revealing more about the main protagonist. The cut-scenes are shown in a cartoon like style and are good enough for what they are trying to achieve.
Emmett Graves, a former rifter, is infected from the Rift Energy, but not to the point where it has fully taken over him, it gives him super-human strength to take on the jobs that no one else would be able to. He has been ostracized from society and therefore has returned to the world of Rift Energy as a hired gunslinger. The game quickly reveals that his brother is the leader of an Outcast group, devoted to stopping the humans from mining the Rift Energy. Due to the whole premise, I feel the game could have created an interesting dynamic between all the characters and factions, but instead it falls flat and portrays Emmett as the typical angry guy who doesn’t care about anyone.
There are ten missions to play over the 5-6 hour campaign, these missions aren’t that long, and require you to play through the whole mission at once, as leaving the game halfway through will result in losing all your progress for that mission- which can be annoying having to restart the whole mission, but due to the length of them, it’s forgivable.
Over the course of these missions you are taken to various places in the universe, focusing on various aspects of the game, allowing you to get to grips with everything. At the start it certainly does feel like a tutorial showing off the games mechanics, but the campaign truly shines as it progresses and you are given more structures to call down, and freedom to tackle the situation. This makes for some interesting fights, as you can’t just run into battle shooting everywhere, you need some sort of strategy, and more often than not you’ll have to change that strategy on the fly to see what works best against your enemies.
The down-side to this Build-and-Battle system, is that it makes all the environments very bare, don’t get me wrong, the environments are good-looking and detailed, it’s just there aren’t many structures, you have to place them, it makes it all feel quite bare. In fact when you are placing near structures, most of the time it’s obvious whether you’ll be able to place a structure, as there simply isn’t enough space, but other times it isn’t quite as obvious as to why you can’t place something somewhere. This problem isn’t a game breaker, but can still lead to losing precious time in a battle against your enemies.
Undoubtedly, Starhawk truly shines when you are playing online. Unfortunately the transition between campaign, multiplayer and co-op can be a little bit jarring. The campaign focuses a lot on the basic structures, and this gets the job done pretty easily in the campaign, but in the multiplayer it’s another story. Of course you need to tweak things to balance out the multiplayer and of course the multiplayer’s action is going to be faster, and the enemies are going to be tougher. Starhawk’s real disjoint is that common structures, like walls, turrets aren’t anywhere near as effective in multiplayer as they are in the campaign.
But once you get to grips with the differences between modes, Starhawk’s multiplayer can be a very fun, rewarding experience, especially when playing as a team. When 32 players all have the ability to call down structures, it creates an awesome organised sort of chaos, where each team is constantly changing their strategy.
Depending on the Rift Energy you have, you can tackle the battle in any way you see fit, want to drive a jeep and grab the flag? Want to bomb the enemies’ defences from the sky? You can do all this in the click of a button, it’s all very accessible.
Starhawk offers the standard multiplayer modes, but the fact that you can change the battlefield on the go adds an incredibly unique flair to how you play all these modes. Especially Capture the Flag, which becomes an intense tug-of-war with little pockets of people getting through you defences, and back and forth.
The multiplayer is an absolute thrill, and you feel a strong sense of triumph when your strategy works. Whether it’s implementing a deep strategy, or driving in to capture the flag and win the match, capturing a zone all by yourself, or smashing your pod into an enemy on your way down, it all feels incredibly rewarding.
And while Starhawk isn’t as customizable compared to other games, you can still unlock new paint jobs for vehicles, new clothes for your online character, and other singular in game multiplayer perks, like a decreased respawn time for example. However this isn’t a bad thing, Starhawk doesn’t require any fancy perks, its depth relies on the Build-and-Battle system and how you use it.
Besides the multiplayer Starhawk also boasts a co-op horde-esque mode. This is especially fun, because it truly turns into a defence game as your changing your strategy to cope against the waves of relentless enemies.
While Starhawk has a forgettable campaign, which basically feels like little more than an extended tutorial for the games mechanics. However, the underlying strategy of the game will keep you coming back to the multiplayer and co-op time and time again.