I have always been a fan of the ’Hawk’ games, whether we are discussing the original classic on the PSOne featuring swarm missiles or the more recent download-focused multiplayer shooter. These games have a ’cult classic’ type of mentality, and most importantly, they are always fun. Starhawk continues in that tradition by once again offering up a unique take on several genres, mashing them all into one and limiting its appeal to likely only a handful of players. This is truly sad, seeing as in a gaming world where people are always clamoring for something fresh and different, Starhawk delivers that, and it will likely go unnoticed in the fray of “me-too” shooters.
What sets Starhawk apart from the competition is its ability to blend the traditional third-person shooter with flying segments, and more importantly light RTS elements. Now, all of that may sound confusing at first, but developer Lightbox Interactive has done a fantastic job of melding all the ideas together. With a simple tap of the triangle button, you can open up a radial menu that allows you to orbital drop in new buildings and devices to aid you on the battlefield. This really opens up the combat, especially online. Your resource of choice is known as rift energy and there are plenty of ways to collect it, but before we get too deep into that, let’s break down the setting.
Starhawk embodies the space western motif; something not a lot of games bother tackling. You play as Emmett Graves, a gun-for-hire that left his past behind and is now deformed by the rift energy. The ten mission campaign will give you a nice backstory as to what happened to Emmett, why he is working for these guys and of course, why he is out to save the day. I actually really enjoyed the narrative. The voice acting is top-notch, and while short, the story is cohesive, interesting and most importantly, unique.
The single player experience is roughly between 5-7 hours depending on the normal variables, and it teaches you everything you need to know about the online portion of the game. I always find it humorous that we downplay length of a campaign when talking about a multiplayer focused title, considering a lot of single-player focused experiences also range in that same area, but I digress. The campaign here is clearly a tutorial for the online part of the game, which is definitely the heart of the Starhawk experience.
Once you get your bearings and hop online, Starhawk shines. First off, there is a co-op mode that resembles a horde type of layout. It’s typical for shooters, and while I usually love these, it really feels out of place, as if it were tacked on at the last minute. Again, that doesn’t really matter, seeing as the real draw here are the 32-player battles that take place across the four standard modes. You have deathmatch and team deathmatch of course, which are rounded out by capture the flag and zone (think territories in Halo). None of them is unique alone, but when combined with Starhawk’s core mechanics, they take on a whole new meaning.
At its core, Starhawk may be a third-person shooter, but once you dig into the actual mechanics you see that it is much more. You can call in units and buildings once you build up enough energy. These work as defenses much like in a tower defense game. As you can imagine, this changes up standard deathmatch modes quite drastically, but even more so in a capture type of game. You can also spawn vehicles, most importantly the Hawks. These mammoth ships can be used like Transformers, so to speak, either taking to the air, or laying waste as mechs on the ground. This dynamic is not only game-changing, but a hell of a lot of fun.
There is never a lack of things to do when playing online. Every mode is dynamically changed by the Build and Battle system, making even the most mundane games much more exciting. Of course, this is all if you can manage to find a game with solid players. In my online experiences, when I got into a game it was incredibly fun. Anywhere from 10-32 players was a really awesome experience. More than I care to admit, though, I found myself in games of 2-3 that simply would not start because of lack of players. This is a make or break situtation for Starhawk. The game was certainly not marketed well, and most people didn’t even know it came out. This makes online a ghost town at times, or so it seems. Hopefully, word of mouth spreads and players start joining in the fun online, because when you get a good game going, this is definitely one of the more unique online experiences I have had in a long time.
Visually the game is solid, quite beautiful at times. I love the primary light blue color for the rift energy, and some of the locales are gorgeous. The space-western theme is handled perfectly, and the frame rate remains pretty consistent throughout the game. As I mentioned earlier, the voice acting is top-notch, featuring some familiar names. The soundtrack is fantastic at times. Once again, the PS3 exclusives are really great at showcasing how powerful that console can be.
Starhawk’s chance for success has a lot going against it. The marketing could have definitely been more aggressive, and players also need to break out of their comfort zone if they want more diverse online experiences. Starhawk is different than most of what’s out therer and is immensely fun when you get a game going. I can see this easily becoming a cult-hit, but how long can games like that last? Warhawk was a solid experience that fizzled out, and I would hate to see Starhawk suffer the same fate. If you love online shooters, need something refreshing and are willing to think outside the box; don’t hesitate to pick up Starhawk. It is definitely not your standard third-person affair.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.