Starhawk Review

Starhawk stands a chance of being the new cornerstone of Sony’s PlayStation 3 online clout. It’s not hard to imagine Sony executives talking about how their console has the strongest online community thanks to games like Starhawk. But whether that’s true will ultimately boil down to the game’s longevity, how quickly those new to the game will fit in with veterans, and what LightBox Interactive can add to keep game modes fresh in the months and years to come. The studio doesn’t need to do much as Starhawk is one of the most successful multiplayer third-person shooters we’ve ever played. There’s nothing overly unique about the shooter elements; however, the real delight comes from the RTS, vehicle combat, and cooperative play elements.

As the spiritual successor to 2007’s Warhawk, a game that sent newcomers crying to their moms, it shouldn’t be a stretch to hear that Starhawk is a beast when it comes to multiplayer. This is not a generic shooter. Don’t expect to hear many 12-year-olds questioning your sexuality as they snipe you from the same damn spawn point. Instead, expect an evil band of 12-year-olds to plot together to absolutely destroy your team’s defense as you struggle to get your companions to voice chat. In Starhawk, cooperation wins. Unlike many other online shooters, it’s extremely difficult to dominate a team just by having faster trigger fingers, or by knowing the maps, or by luck. You can, of course, truck it alone, but the game rewards you for working as a team.

Chances are that band of evil 12-year-olds learned how to play by spending some time in the single-player mode. This is something highly publicized, but unfortunately isn’t anything more than loose story-based tutorials. The brief campaign—five to six hours if you blow throw it—shows you the basics of the building system, vehicles, and combat. It interweaves a story about a family torn apart by rift energy. This space version of the Wild West is pretty much a wasteland, minus rifts, which is the game’s energy and used by some to make piles of cash. This energy is dangerous and creates Scabs, the game’s primary baddies. As the dashing, yet emotionless protagonist, Emmett’s primary job is helping to kill Scabs and establishing wells to collect the energy. The story has some very mild twists and turns, which you can experience for yourselves, but it’s hard not to feel this mode fell short of its potential. At times we see some well-thought levels that really play off the space cowboy vibe, but we can’t help but feel there could have been real potential to get some crazy heavy mutant-inspired Wild West atmosphere. Again, single-player is relatively satisfying, but if you are here just for the solo experience, it’s probably not worth your investment.

That rift energy is used to build stuff, and essential to nearly everything you do in Starhawk. This Build & Battle system is the legs of both single and multiplayer. Once you get enough of that blue energy, press the triangle button to pull up a radial menu full of building options. Low on ammo? There’s a building for that. Need some defensive walls? There’s a building for that. Need a jetbike? There’s a building for that. Need a bucket of chicken wings and a case of beer? Nope, no building for that.

Starhawk has some of the best multiplayer on PlayStation 3. Our experience was quite smooth. In 32-player multiplayer, you’ll get capture the flag, deathmatch and team deathmatch, and a capture mode called Zones. You’ll fall into battle in pods, and you can control them in free fall in the hopes of destroying an enemy. The third-person shooter mechanics work extremely well, and if you’ve played one in the recent history, you’ll feel right at home. The guns feel futuristic, grenades do plenty of damage, and you aren’t completely frail. The RTS elements of the Starhawk make the game something worth obsessing over.

All players have the ability to build important structures, including walls, turrets, vehicle spawn points, ammo barracks, and more. You’ll need to grow your rift energy throughout the match to actually build things. This allows even the worst shot in the game to play an important role. If you simply have no skill at shooting enemies, you can at least take part in the collective defense for your team by erecting walls and turrets. There’s also a co-op mode that sees you team up to defend a rift well from attacking scabs.

Remember those 12-year-old chumps that humiliated you? Well, if your team of misfits can communicate and come up with an active battle strategy, they stand a chance against those prepubescent terrors. That’s because it’s really easy for your team to quickly react in the same manner—say, everyone building walls, instead of splitting the duties between a couple teammates. It really is a joy to play with a well organized team, and clans will likely love owning newbies. There are plenty of ways LightBox encourages clans, including calendars, tournaments, leaderboards, and more.

Vehicle combat is extremely rewarding, easy to access, but also not godlike. Jumping in a tank can provide some massive assault power, but they are not so overpowered that a well placed grenade or two can’t immobilize it.

The main vehicle, Hawks—you know, like the game’s name—are a bit of a different story. While it’s fun to fly around, the in-air combat is a bit of a letdown. That’s just our personal taste, and that’s not necessarily a fault of the actual game. Perhaps it’s simply because the action on the ground is fast and intense. Air battles, on the other hand, can truly be exhilarating, if not overly lengthy affairs—especially during the single-player campaign. Your Hawks can transform into mechs when they land, giving these vehicles a bit of a Swiss Army Knife complex. They are effective both in the air and on the ground, and it never got tiring watching them transform between their two structures.

The presentation is pretty good, but like the story it’s a bit short. The graphics are fine, but the overall space Wild West atmosphere could be stronger and at times the screen feels almost washed or faded. Again, we’re not talking PlayStation 2 graphics, but if you were looking for a really beautiful and flowery affair, lower your expectations. The audio is pretty strong and the music fits the western atmosphere. Maps are fairly varied, but they are sometimes too big for their own good. It’s easy to feel like nothing is happening and you’re simply trudging along looking for someone to kill.

It’s fair to say that most people aren’t going to play Starhawk for the single-player campaign, but it’s also a shame we didn’t get a real explosive adventure. Instead, we are left with a mode we’ll likely never revisit. There’s also some occasional A.I. issues surrounding the single-player campaign, but also easily remedied by playing online instead. The multiplayer is extremely satisfying and something that feels unique and refreshing. We hope PS3 owners embrace the experience because Starhawk has the goods to backup a long, long online shelf life.



The Final Word

Starhawk gives new life to the very generic online shooter genre by requiring careful teamwork in this Build & Battle combat system. Don't expect much from the single-player adventure, but get ready to enjoy a truly exhilarating online experience.