|Dev: LightBox Interactive|
|Release: May 8, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Language, Violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
It's been an interesting year, watching Starhawk grow from a spiritual successor to not one but two games named Warhawk (the second of which was a downloadable, multiplayer-only ordeal) into a standalone, boxed, triple-A title. Yes, when I first got my hands on an early build at E3 almost a year ago, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the final product. But that's not saying the early demo I got my hands on back then didn't show promise. In fact, I walked away from that demo expecting another Warhawk—something that would build a cult following online but probably wouldn't break into the mainstream. I certainly didn't expect a boxed release.
Starhawk, though, is quite a bit more ambitious than its immediate predecessor, the addictive yet tragically underplayed online Warhawk (as opposed to the PSOne Warhawk that went hand-in-hand with a crazy looking dual-flight-stick peripheral). For one, it adds an innovative gameplay element called Build and Battle (more on that later.) Additionally, it outdoes Warhawk by adding a single-player campaign. Yes, Starhawk is a full package.
That campaign tells the story of Emmett Graves, a man whose body was mutilated by Rift Energy and now lives his life as a sort of gun-for-hire. Rift Energy is a glowy power source that is extremely valuable (and, in fact, has become the lifeblood of the people on a planet called Dust), yet it has the side effect of warping humans into mutants called Outcast. For whatever reason, Emmet is immune to these negative effects, even though his body has been tainted. His brother Logan, however, isn't as fortunate, and is now leading the Outcast in an all-out war against the remaining humans of Dust. Of course, this puts Emmet in a precarious position, having to decide whether to pledge his loyalty to the people of Dust or to his own brother and the Outcast.
It's a brief, ten-mission campaign that should take maybe five hours or so, but its story is somewhat intriguing and the "Space Western" backdrop sets a nice tone. However, it's certainly not one of the better campaigns we've seen this year so far, and at times it feels like merely a primer for the multiplayer, easing players into the various game systems at a manageable pace.
And that's actually okay, because the competitive multiplayer is definitely the main event here. (There's co-op, too, but like the campaign, it's not the meat and potatoes of Starhawk.) The game mode offerings are your standard fare: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Zone (think Call of Duty's Domination). Some might even complain that the selection of modes seems a bit sparse, or that there aren't any new innovative modes that separate this one from the rest of the multiplayer shooter pack. But that's sort of missing the point, as Starhawk's gameplay is so unique that even these longstanding staples of online multiplayer feel fresh. I mean, Capture the Flag in Starhawk doesn't really feel like Capture the Flag in most other games.
Prepare to hop into 32-player battles set in massive stretches of barren land that you get to mold and shape with the Build and Battle system. It's a third-person shooter, but it's not just about the shooting. You can "build" structures—or, rather, call them down form a drop ship that hovers above in space—in an almost tower defense style. You'll summon supply depots, which grant access to other weapons like rocket launchers and shotguns. You'll build garages that give you access to Razorback jeeps (which are basically Halo's Warthogs.) You can even call down a Vulture jetpack or Sidewinder hoverbike dispenser. Coolest of all is the launchpad, which gives you access to the Hawk, a mech that transforms into a fighter jet.
Now, I can't overstate the importance of the Hawks in Starhawk. Not only will you spend approximately half the single-player campaign dogfighting in a Hawk, but knowing how to properly utilize this mech/jet combo is the key to being successful in multiplayer. Use it to get an early advantage and wreak havoc on your opponents by demolishing their buildings as fast as they can build them. Or save it for later, when you take to the sky to dogfight with the enemy's Hawks, protecting your own outpost. But even without the strategic implications, Hawks are just plain fun to pilot.
But just because they're fun to pilot doesn't necessarily mean they are easy to pilot. As much as I tweaked the controls, I couldn't find a setup that felt one hundred percent comfortable. In fact, you could make this complaint about every vehicle in the game; they just feel almost perfect, but not quite, and it's the kind of "not quite" that nags at the back of your mind.