Let’s start by setting the scene. You’re behind the wheel of Starhawk, a Playstation 3 exclusive multiplayer title. Queue up some western theme music, kick up your spurs and saddle up. You are riding into the future.
In Starhawk’s sci-fi setting, space is the new, wild frontier. This frontier’s new gold rush is a mined energy source called “Rift” energy. This valuable, glowing blue substance can be found on planets and asteroids. Rift energy caused the development of many outposts and mining settlements around the galaxy. Outposts are populated by “Rifters,” the men who mine the energy source. Of course, these new found riches are spoiled by a group of outsiders called “Scabs”. A violent, almost feral clan of scavengers hell-bent on claiming the Rift energy for themselves. They call it their “source” and they glow with same blue hue as the Rift energy itself. The law is nowhere to be found in the far reaches of space. Local businesses and shipping convoys depend on mercenaries for protection. As you may suspect, this is where you come in.
Starhawk is a big game, literally, 2.5 gigabytes to install. It also requires an online pass. Don’t let those specs dissuade you. There is a lot of bang for your buck here. The layered gameplay combines a third person shooter (3PS) with real-time strategy (RTS) topped off with a flight simulator. Starhawk’s combined game mechanics truly distinguish it from all the other cookie-cutter shooters available today.
There are two sides to Starhawk: a fierce multiplayer and single player campaign. The multiplayer is a 32 player frag-fest with great maps that are scenic and detailed. Each map has lots of nooks to hide and a wide open sky. I see a lot of trash talk online about the single player experience and I agree that it is a training of sorts to get you ready for multiplayer. However, it is also pretty damned fun! It is mostly dismissed for its short length (I read it’s 5 hours or less). Having played it I can tell you I’m 9 hours in and couldn’t even imagine anyone finishing in 5 hours. I still have the final few levels to go and I’m pretty revved up to finish it. Each level, in both campaigns, is basically an open world map where you either reclaim a Rift site or defend an established claim. These maps include the Freight Way, a shipping route for cargo containers, and The Pipeline, where massive pipes funnel the Rift energy to nearby outposts. There is a total of ten multiplayer maps included in the game. Both online and offline co-op levels are supported.
The real special feature about Starhawk is building structures. Using stored up Rift energy, players can build any number of structures from protective walls to turret guns. Players can “call down” these structures and they drop in from orbit. Deciding when and where to build your structures requires strategy and smart decisions. Other structures include launchers for vehicles and Hawks. Rift energy accumulates through killing Scabs in single player campaign or more slowly by guarding the home base in multiplayer. During lulls in the single player campaign, it really pays off to take your time to build up your Rift energy and defensive structures. The game cuts you off after building a certain number of structures but the amount should be more than adequate.
On foot or take to the skies
Let’s hear a huge round of applause for the return of the weapon wheel! As a hardened, deep space mercenary you have quite the arsenal at your disposal. On load out you are armed with your handgun and assault rifle. Call down a bunker to load out with your missile launcher, shotgun and sniper rifle. The weapons perform well and within a few minutes you’ll be popping off head shots. Foot soldiers can also wear jetpacks to traverse to high ground.
There are times when you will want to traverse terrain a lot faster than run just will not do. Starhawk has “a full garage” with jet bikes (Sidewinders), humvees (Razorbacks) and tanks (Ox Heavy Tanks) to suit your purpose. Sidewinders are great for getting somewhere fast. Razorbacks and Ox Tanks equip some real firepower. Multiple players can ride in them and work together to both drive and control the weapons. Look out! A few well placed grenades or rockets will destroy your transport and kill you in the process!
The most exciting vehicles are the mechs. They are the “Hawks” in Starhawk. While in walker mode they tower over your competition and pack full machine guns and missiles. Switch into flight mode and it’s a whole new game featuring intense aerial combat. When all hell breaks loose, find some heat-seeking missiles fast! Watch out in multiplayer. There are quite a few ace pilots that will kick your ass quick if you aren’t careful.
No game is perfect
The graphics for Starhawk are on par with today’s best shooter titles. The futuristic space setting really enhances the dark ambiance of deep space and unique glows of high tech gear. Surprisingly, the single player campaign cutscenes are a different animation. The cutscenes themselves are flat, painterly graphics with the animation of a motion comic. The drawings themselves are suitable but I’m not a fan of when games switch art styles like this. I would rather they animate the cutscenes with the in-game engine. This simplistic silhouette-style art makes the game feel cheap.
I’m a fan of the “future western”. It’s not altogether new ground. A little show called Firefly did it very well. The fusion of super high tech with the handmade polished details of the old west look good. Unfortunately, the storytelling itself is a little hokey. From the “train robbery” level to the “defend the pipeline” level, the story really hits you over the head with cliché western themes. A little “less is more” is preferable.
I really can’t be happier about the weapon wheel design. Having equal access to your entire arsenal is much more efficient than cycling through weapons one by one, especially when you start to accumulate them.I also feel the need to mention how much I like the assault rifle. It isn’t necessarily a strong weapon to use against the Scabs but it is there in the clutch-easy to aim and deadly accurate if you shoot in short spurts.
Is Starhawk for you?
Starhawk (released on May 8th) is tailor made for the multiplayer gamer. The original PS2 game Warhawk, for which this game is the “spiritual successor”, is known for both its’ tough gameplay and difficulty level earning trophies. I recommend Starhawk for meticulous trophy hunters. It was tested and refined. It is just waiting for the masses to collect! Team up with friends to work together in co-op or dust it up with each other in multiplayer. With all the different types of gameplay Starhawk really delivers the payload. While multiplayer games do get old after a while, I believe the different types of gameplay involved and the unique build-and-battle gameplay leave a lasting impression.
About the Author
Jay “Anotherdae” Bowen lives in New York City and is a full time Art Director. Gaming is a passion mostly enjoyed at night for hours on end after spending time with his new wife, Megan, and three-year-old chocolate brown cocker spaniel, Sylar. He started writing game reviews in 2010 to keep a record his gaming experience. Jay’s preferred console is the PS3 but his love for gaming started with his first Atari. He’s looking forward to the company of fellow adult gamers and bringing reviews to a like-minded community. Check out more from Jay at Gamedae.blogspot.com.