Starhawk Review

In 2007, developed by Incognito Entertainment and SCE Santa Monica Warhawk was released onto the Playstation 3. As a launch-window title, and one of the best multiplayer offerings during that time. Warhawk took Playstation by storm, quickly becoming one of the most popular multiplayer offerings available on the platform.

Now developed by Lightbox (with much of the same staff that were with Incognito), Warhawk’s spiritual successor Starhawk looks to re-captivate its predecessors success whilst looking to innovate with it’s own, new mechanics.

The first major renovation to Warhawk’s established formula Starhawk’s ‘build and battle’ system. It’s fast, visceral, and doesn’t detract from the action. Build and battle lets you place down the resources you want, when you want them. If you want a bunker, hawk station, auto turret, you just hit triangle and the structure plummets down from the sky. Your welcome to invest as little, or as much time as you like into this strategic side of the game, whilst some players may spawn on an already built-hawk station, then simply fly around the entire game leaving their team mates to manage the structures on the ground. Others can be more defensive, focusing on fortifying or expanding your teams base.

Those familiar with Warhawk will remember it for it’s fast paced, arcade flight gameplay. Smooth controls and a variety of weapon pickups make Starhawk’s Hawk gameplay fun and versatile. As does the hawks secondary form, press circle and you’ll transform into a walking, mechanized killing machine. What’s perhaps unfortunate is that the same care and attention hasn’t been given to anything else in the game. The tank is just a tank, it doesn’t transform, it doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before, neither does anything, really. A number of generic rifles and explosives comprise the infantry arsenal, it’s really quite uninspired.

There are other ways to play the games too of course. Flight in the Hawk’s aside there are tanks, jeeps with mouted guns, jetbikes, jetpacks and turrets the player can control. In a large scale game all of these items have their own role and as a result the game has an incredibly diverse set of playstyles. Unfortunately the game does have some balancing issues. The way things work, not all of the build and battle item are available in the same match. There’s a loadout called ‘ground pounder’ for instance which removes hawks, but keeps bubble shields and tanks. This causes horrible balancing issues as hawks have the only tool for convenient dispatch of both the tanks and shields. Some other aspects need a little refinement too, hawk gameplay can be a little stale as missiles are dodged relatively easily by the better pilots, leaving only the flak and machine guns to do damage. However as a multiplayer focused game Lightbox are committed to supporting it with balance updates long-term, so you can be sure some of these relatively minor issues will be ironed out.

Rather unsurprisingly, and a little disappointingly, the games singleplayer component merely serves as a primer for the games multiplayer component. Clocking in at a paltry 3hours in duration it’s certainly nothing to write home about. With that said it does have a story, and the content in the games singleplayer component is uniquely crafted. It’s just not that polished or refined.

You play as Emmet Grave’s, a rift salvager and a rather depressing guy. Emmet has nothing particularly interesting to say, and his supposed emotional investment in the games plot doesn’t come through. It’s awkward when you begin to relate more with a games enemies than you do its protagonist. I didn’t fully understand why we were killing who were were, and that side of the game isn’t fully explored. The rifters, humans transformed by rift energy fight to protect the energy that quite clearly keeps them alive yet the game and it’s story seems to justify slaughtering them. I couldn’t relate to it, a cast almost entirely devoid of character really didn’t help matters.

At least it puts you through a wide variety of gameplay scenarios. Most missions feature a mixture of defense and attack. Usually destroy everything in the area then defend something with the help of reinforcements and build and battle items. The AI is pretty solid but can be buggy. I’ve seen some of them simply running into walls! When they’re doing what they’re supposed to though they’re usually pretty competent, although I wouldn’t trust one to drive my razorback into a battle.

There’s co-op too which takes the best of singleplayer gameplay (build and battle) defense segments, and let’s you play with up to 3 other players in either online or split screen. What’s unfortunate though is how short these co-op games are, whilst they’re extremely challenging, each match is only 6 waves long. You don’t have much time to get invested into a building defense strategy, particularly as the waves start challenging and simply get harder. It’s enjoyable though, the tight controls and variety of tools you can use make it fun to kill outcast with your buddies.

Visually the game is a surprise. It’s amazing how visually spectacular a game can look sometimes, without doing very much in the technical department to earn it. Starhawk’s textures aren’t that high of a resolution and Starhawk’s models don’t have an absurd number of polygons, yet the game can be visually breathtaking. It’s amazing seeing multiple hawks in the sky, laser shots flying around all over your screen, and it’s incredibly rare that there’s any notable drop in performance.

The same can be said for the games audio direction. Everything sounds spot on and subtle touches like the ‘dynamic audio’ feature which plays certain music during multiplayer in sync with your performance and actions. Grab the flag for instance and you get a dramatic, action-chase scene type of track playing in the background, it amps up the feeling of suspense and generally works well.

Overall Starhawk is decent title for the Playstation 3. The existing balancing and technical issues need to be resolved for the game to be entertaining long term, and the disappointingly short and shallow campaign  does reduce it’s value. The games multiplayer is enjoyable now and has a lot of promise to get better long-term. Perhaps best of all almost entirely ‘fresh’, sick of Call of Duty or Ghost Recon? Starhawk’s probably a step outside your comfort zone but it’s definitely worthy of your attention.

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Categories: Reviews

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