When Starhawk was first announced and the details starting coming out, it immediately grabbed my attention in part because it was a space-western but also because it seemed like an ambitious and unique concept. As the spiritual-successor to a popular online only game, Starhawk has some pretty big shoes to fill. Now I’m not familiar with Warhawk to try and compare the two, but then there really isn’t that much to compare.
Starhawk took the combination of third person shooter and vehicular combat (including aerial dogfights) and expanded it into something fresh and unique that is a tremendous amount of fun to play and doesn’t suffer from repetitiveness that often plagues other games. The Build & Battle system is truly a great idea that was implemented perfectly.
Originally, the idea of this system mixed with 32-player online multiplayer seemed like a recipe for disaster. Something had to be overpowered and it was going to be too chaotic and frustrating to work with with so many people altering the battlefield by calling down buildings and vehicles. That didn’t happen; instead we’ve gotten a fantastic multiplayer experience that is quite balanced and the Build & Battle system insures that no two games are the same.
Unlike Warhawk, Starhawk does have a single player campaign that should take most gamers between five and six hours to complete on normal difficulty. The campaign may feel tacked on since this is a multiplayer-focused game, but its inclusion is a very good thing.
The story here isn’t any good; you play as Emmett Graves, a mercenary gunslinger who has been partially mutated by exposure to Rift Energy. You’re hired to return to your former home, White Sands on the planet Dust, to protect some miners (called Rifters) from the Outcast warriors and their leader “the Outlaw.” The Outcast are humans who have been completely mutated by the Rift Energy into basically transformed into monsters.
You’ll eventually discover that “the Outlaw” is Logan Graves, your brother. The story is actually something that could have been quite good, but its completely tacked on. You’re given no reason to care about any of the characters introduced. Heck, you probably won’t even remember any of their names even when playing. The story is told through graphic-novel style 2D cutscenes, which sucks for this game. Odds are though that you simply won’t care for the cutscenes and will simply be mashing buttons trying to get to the next playable mission.
The gameplay for the single player is basically wave after wave of varying enemy attacks. It’s simple, but it’s fun. There’s really very little story being told through the gameplay missions, but that’s fine. You should view the single player for what it really is: an extended tutorial. Every bit of the single player campaign screams that it was designed solely to introduce players to the concept of Build & Battle and the different uses for each item. Basically, the single player campaign is teaching you how to properly use the Build & Battle system to accomplish objectives and set up strategic defenses. After beating the single player campaign, you’ll have enough knowledge to be able to play multiplayer without running around wondering what the heck’s going on.
There’s a good amount of strategy to be implemented in the single player and the multiplayer, even though this isn’t a strategy game and you don’t have to go that route. You can run and gun; you can pilot Hawks, you can man turrets (either stationary or on the back of ATVs), you’re free to play however you want (for the most part). The game is pretty well balanced in this regard, but using strategy and working as a team will always prove to be the most beneficial thing to do. In the single player you’re told where the wave of enemies are going to be dropping into. You can call down backup in the form of an Outpost and stand there waiting to get into a gun fight with them, or you can simply surround the area with auto-turrets and watch the slaughter. Do your own thing and have fun with it.
Online can get hectic; there’s a lot going on. With that said, the maps are large (although some are smaller) and you can go a little while without seeing anyone in a full 32-player match (on the ground that is, you’ll probably see or hear someone fly over). You can build vulture stations which allow players to equip jetpacks. These jetpacks allow you to get virtually anywhere on a map so you never know where someone is going to be at. Yes, jetpacks are my favorite thing in this game. The first thing I do is find me a jetpack.
There are four game modes to the competitive multiplayer: Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Zones (a type of King of the Hill). These are your standard multiplayer modes for any type of shooter. Capture the Flag is by far the most played, although I prefer Team Deathmatch. When I play CTF I prefer to play defense by guarding my teams flag; this can be boring a lot of the time. All the modes are enjoyable though.
Speaking of enjoyable… Earlier I said the game has great balance, and it does. The developers have taken good care to make sure everything is even. With that said, I have encountered some games that simply were not fun. One game of TDM in particular saw me join late and the team I got put on was losing 215 to 80. The opposing team had gotten Hawks and tanks all up in our territory destroying everything that had been built and not allowing guys to get anywhere. When you respawn, you come down in a pod that you can steer some. If you tried to hit one of these Hawks with your pod, and missed (which is the most likely outcome), you were dead. You can stay in your pod for 10 seconds and then you’re forced out, and if you’re right there in front of a tank or a Hawk you simply aren’t getting away. I died three times and I left that game; it wasn’t fun and I don’t see how it could have been fun for the opposing team either unless you think spawn raping and XP farming is fun.
Thankfully though, that type of experience has been the exception rather than the norm and it is the kind of thing that can and eventually will happen with any shooter online if one team is communicating and working together and the other is full of guys trying to do their own thing. Coordination and communication can be a deadly combination.
There is one real problem I have with this game and that’s the co-op. The co-op can be played online or offline with one to four players. I love co-op and generally prefer it over competitive, however its rather pointless in this game given how they have it setup. Co-op is basically a tower defense type thing where you have to protect a Rift rig from multiple waves of enemies across multiple rounds, and it could be very fun. However, the problem stems from the fact that there is no joining a co-op game or searching for one. You have to either create a co-op game or be invited to a co-op game; you can’t just join or start a game with random people.
Usually, yes you’d want to play with people on your friends list, but my problem is no one on my friends list has the game yet. I was able to complete four rounds on the Bollards Crossing co-op map, but after that it was simply too much for one person because Rift Energy (what you need to build stuff) was too hard to come by. I gave up, but I wanted the XP for the rounds that I had completed, so I left the game going for almost 10 minutes before the rig was finally destroyed and the game ended.
I cannot see one good reason to not allow random co-op games. I mean it blows my mind that it’s 2012 and a multiplayer focused game like this has a co-op mode where you can’t just join a game with random people. Even Uncharted 3’s story based co-op mode allowed for drop-in, drop-out by random players. I’m not even upset that you can’t drop into a co-op game already in session (you can drop-in to competitive at any time, such as with 10 seconds left in the game), but I’ll never understand the decision to not allow random co-op games. I have to friend people or send invites? What is this, the Wii?
Aside from that ridiculous problem, I really don’t have anything negative to say about this game. The gameplay is great; shooting is fluid and feels good, and operating any of the vehicles is quite easy. I’m even getting the hang of flying, and I’ve never been a good pilot in ANY game. It sounds good and the gameplay itself looks great. Great maps and environments and a really fun play-style with the Build & Battle system (I love this feature) are just the icing on the cake.
The single player campaign did have stuck audio tracks during some cutscenes. Guys would repeat a word quite a few times before it’d finally move on. If you’re not a fan of multiplayer, then this game isn’t for you. The single player campaign is super short and not worth paying $60 for. However, if you like multiplayer even the slightest bit, then this game is definitely something you’ll want to play and is easily worth the $60. Just view the campaign has a tacked on single player mode that is essentially your tutorial and not a main component.
Is it the best multiplayer experience on the Playstation 3? Well that depends on what you like. Me, I love the co-op of Uncharted 3 and the co-op/free roam of Red Dead Redemption more than anything this generation. Outside of those two titles though, its easily the most fun competitive multiplayer that I’ve played since MAG (which I loved) and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood & Revelations (which is the polar opposite of this). If you try it, you’ll definitely want to keep playing it. The competitive multiplayer is a tremendous amount of fun and things always feel new and fresh thanks to the Build & Battle system (and of course great gameplay helps a ton). I give this one four stars; it’s a great game that all Playstation 3 owners who like multiplayer games should own. Highly recommended.
Starhawk gets a four out of five: GREAT.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.