Starhawk: review

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  • Format: PS3
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developer: LightBox Interactive, Santa Monica Studio
  • Players: 1-2 (offline), 2-32 (online)
  • Site: http://starhawkthegame.com/

PS3 exclusive Warhawk was something akin to a third person Battlefield, with the destructible scenery swapped for a sprinkle of sci-fi tech. Starhawk – more reinvention than sequel – adds heavy elements of Star Wars and even Transformers into the mix. With online battles involving a maximum of 32 players, this is a title bursting with potential from every angle. Have LightBox Interactive delivered? Yes – for the most part.

Unlike Warhawk, Starhawk features a dedicated singleplayer campaign mode. We won’t give this much attention, as it’s basically a four hour-plus tutorial with a clichéd, distinctly unremarkable story attached. Nonetheless we strongly recommend tackling this before any other mode; it does an excellent job of showing off the huge maps (though there are smaller versions of each available online), explaining the ‘build ‘n battle’ system, and subtly introducing you to tactical considerations that will come in handy when going up against other players. The first ‘mission’ also gives you a double whammy of Star Wars influence via surroundings suspiciously similar to the desert world of Tatooine, and the thinly veiled (but very cool) Starhawk version of a speeder bike – the Sidewinder.

The aforementioned BNB mechanic is integral to the experience, and building structures fits very smoothly (perhaps surprisingly so) into the experience. This is because unlike action games with a strong RTS influence, the emphasis is still very much on players’ individual skill, and success clearly relies on player choices and actions rather than behind the scenes dice rolling.

Our mistake; that's nothing like a speeder bike. Nope.

It works like this: while you’re in or near your team’s base, you slowly add to your ‘Rift energy’. You can also boost your energy count by destroying containers or killing opponents and, thankfully, your energy count persists through death. By holding the triangle button, you bring up a weapon wheel-style display where you select what you want to build. While you’ll only need a few blocks of energy for, say, a Sidewinder station or a wall section, you’ll need to save much more for something like a tank depot or a shield generator. Would your base benefit from a shield, or does it need anti-infantry turrets? Or maybe an anti-vehicle turret? Maybe it would be best to build a strategically-placed wall to slow attackers down? In a match with well balanced teams, decisions like this can make all the difference between a riotous victory and a crushing defeat.

There are several different BNB loadouts, so it’s important to be aware of what’s available in each match. Something few players take advantage of, for example, is the Outpost – basically a buildable spawn point for your team. Potentially very useful in games of Zones (think Conquest or Domination) or Capture the Flag. Other structures carry weapons. The sniper tower, unsurprisingly, supplies the game’s sniper rifle. The Supply Bunker, as well as being a good place to hide in and/or snipe from (enemies must climb a ladder to jump in from the top) also provides grenades, shotguns and rocket launchers.

Starhawk’s vehicles are, well… they’re brilliant. As well as the Sidewinder you have the Razorback, a vanilla three-man jeep with mounted gun. There’s also the aforementioned tank which, while very slow, has a powerful cannon as well as a devastating mortar fire mode. There’s even a jetpack. Then of course there are the eponymous Starhawks. Bad news, the hover mode has been dropped for these jets. Good news… it’s been replaced with the ability to transform into a mech! Jump into a robot at base, switch to jet mode, drop into enemy territory as a robot again, stomping puny humans underfoot and gunning down turrets, before transforming into a jet again making good your escape. What’s not to love?

Story protagonist Emmet poses awkwardly in a game of musical statues.

Balancing has been handled very well. While it may sound like the first side to build powerful vehicle spawn points (which can be used by the whole team) is guaranteed to win, that’s not the case at all. Even tanks and Starhawks can be finished off with a few explosives. All structures can be destroyed, and the perkesque Skill system also helps. Many Skills are difficult to unlock though some, such as invisibility to unmanned turrets and the ability to damage buildings and vehicles with your knife, are well worth pursuing. Equally, only one Skill may be equipped per spawn, meaning one player cannot dominate the match through Skills alone. As if that weren’t enough, landing on a player or vehicle when you crash down in your spawn pod (which you can ‘aim’) results in an instant kill. That never gets old.

There are problems. The default rifle is woefully underpowered, and giving hosts (we saw no rage kicking) the option of switching off team balancing is a bizarre decision. The objective based CTF and Zones modes work best and, while Team Deathmatch works well by utilising team bases, Deathmatch (jets only, no mech mode) is a mess where scoring kills and avoiding death is often more down to luck than skill. The ‘quick match’ option makes no attempt to distinguish between almost-full games and almost-empty games, and menu presentation overall is dull and initially a little confusing. And why the heck can’t you browse the Skill list unless you’re in the middle of a match?

Also, Warhawk’s four player splitscreen is missing; though there is two player splitscreen, and you can even play online together. Co-op is also present in Prospector, the 1-4 player mode where players are tasked with protecting a ‘Rift Generator’ from waves of enemies. Great fun with a friend or three, which is just as well – there are no public matches.

Though we started off comparing this to Battlefield, it is in truth largely unlike any other game out there. Despite the design hiccups it’s still a great game, made more desirable still by the announcement that all map packs will be free. Remember it’s meant to be played online (as hinted at by the admirable clan support) and you won’t regret picking this up.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

One comment

  1. steven /

    This is a great game. Sony need to market it!

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