Starhawk is a space-western third-person shooter, and the spiritual successor to one of the PS3′s first games, Warhawk. Now with a fully fleshed out single player campaign, co-op missions, an even more robust online game, and one of the most impressive new gameplay mechanics on the market right now, this sequel has certainly earned it’s place among the stars.
Let’s start with the aesthetics of the game. The developer, Lightbox Interactive, wanted to make a space-western and I found that they came through in every department. The game looks gorgeous whether you are standing around a bleak, dusty planet cleverly named Dust, or soaring through space online while other players are trying to blow your ass out of the sky. For all that goes on in this game I never experienced any lag or slow down, save for the intentional slow-mo when you take out a big number of enemies or pull off an impressive shot.
What I really loved most was the corollaries between space tech and old western themes. In almost every aspect of the game you could tell the developers were trying to meld the two into something believable, fun, and seamless. The Hawks that can be used as jet-fighters, or transform into mechs, easily turn into a cowboy’s noble steed. The Rift energy that people live and die and mine for, ends up being the same as mining for gold. Tugger’s are trains, and the list goes on and on. You can’t play this game and not recognize the western themes in the futuristic setting. The funny thing is that in general, I hate space and I hate westerns, but for some reason when they’re put together it puts a big cheesy smile on my face.
The music is also spot on. You get the twang of the old west in a lot of the tracks and it works so well when you hop on a Sidewinder (an air-bike) and race your way to face an enemy. When you mix that with some bigger orchestral pieces, you get something that really sets the mood and fits perfectly with what’s going on on-screen. The Skywalker Symphony Orchestra even did work on this game, so yeah, great soundtrack? Check and mate.
All the looks and sounds can be perfect but if the game doesn’t play right, it’s space-dust. Luckily, Starhawk has managed to maintain tight controls and put them together with plenty of fun gameplay elements. In Warhawk, I couldn’t take to the sky without getting blown to smithereens seconds after liftoff due to the crazy amount of skill it took to dodge and fly a Hawk. In Starhawk they seemed to have lightened up on skill it takes to fly and dodge and now I can actually last a minute before I end up in the smithereens-state. The initial learning curve is a lot less steep than it was for Warhawk, but still retains the “practice-makes-perfect” motif.
Shooting is tight and every weapon is distinctly different with it’s own strengths and weaknesses. My biggest gripe is the sniper rifle that I love to use only has one zoom, making it almost utterly useless for mid-range combat. However, just like I said, everything has strengths AND weaknesses. Finding out the perfect weapon to use is key to survival and victory. Those weapons could be guns, vehicles, or just figuring out where you should be on the map. Strategy has never been mixed with combat this simplistically before.
This brings me to the real meat and potatoes of the game, the “Build and Battle” system. Starhawk is almost entirely centered around this mechanic so luckily it’s (in scientific terms) fucking awesome! When it was originally announced it was quickly being described as taking RTS component’s and placing them into a shooter. I wasn’t sold on this until I first played the beta for Starhawk. Saying Starhawk is an RTS shooter wouldn’t be far from the truth, but if you have any doubts, throw them in the trash right now, because it’s easily the most exciting and fresh addition to the genre I’ve seen this generation.
It works like this. You collect Rift energy by either killing enemies, destroying barrels, or being in the vicinity of a Rift core. This fills up bars and different pieces of equipment cost different amounts of energy. Once you have your energy pick an item and you get to place it anywhere (within reason) on the map. From walls, to turrents, to beam cannons, to Hawk stations, to supply bunkers, it’s really up to you (and your team, online) to create your own base. For games like Capture the Flag, and Zones, where you have to hold different points on the map, this system works wonders. For Team Deathmatch, it’s still incredibly fun, but just doesn’t feel as necessary as the other modes. Every map evolves and becomes something it wasn’t in a previous fight. The mechanic also works well in single player, but becomes more guided than in online, making it fun, but less exciting than in multiplayer.
And easily, the multiplayer is where it’s at. I’m not even a huge fan of competitive online multiplayer but I just can’t get enough of Starhawk. Because every player can use Build and Battle, every match just feels so much more strategic than just who can rack up the most kills. It makes every match unique and interesting. As in the single player, I’ve yet to notice any lag, or problems connecting to a game which seems to always be a big problem for PS3 games on release.
I do however have two problems with the online that will hopefully be addressed in later updates. For one, players take way to long to die. You can pump an enemy with almost a full clip from your assault rifle and they will still land a clean headshot on you that will take you out. I’m all for having enough health to give players a chance to fight back, or escape, but it’s a little absurd in Starhawk. And secondly, while matchmaking is pretty good, I have had matches were I enter and it’s just me against five guys. In short, frustration happens and there’s no way to raise a white flag and start a new match without backing all the way out and finding a new game. Hopefully this gets addressed quickly.
Finally, Starhawk did something else that Warhawk didn’t; have a single-player campaign. Like I mentioned early on, the story is a perfect blend between futuristic space trekking and old western themes. Emmett Graves and Cutter are Rift salvagers. They take a job that returns Emmett to a place he’d like to forget. When Outcasts (people infected by Rift energy) start popping up and making their job difficult, Emmett has no choice but to start fighting back. But he soon finds out that the Outcasts and his past are connected and where most jobs are just about the money,this one gets personal when his brother becomes involved.
Emmett Graves isn’t a character that will really stand out in the long-run of memorable characters but he, along with the cast of supporting characters create an enjoyable story from beginning to end. There are plenty of cowboy moments, a couple of smirk-inducing one-liners, and cool comic-stylized cutscenes to pull the game along. It’s perfect as a giant training course for online because you will literally use every mechanic the game has to offer in the single player. While it’s probably only 6-7 hours long, it felt as long as it should be. I don’t think the campaign will win any awards, but it’s fun and enjoyable and a nice addition to what was already a huge online game.
Starhawk is awesome. It’s got a ton of features and does things that no other shooter has done before. It’s got a solid campaign and even with a couple minor hiccups, I think the multiplayer is really the best online experience you can get on the PS3. Lightbox was aiming for the stars with this game and without a doubt, they hit their mark.
Starhawk – Austin’s Review,