Build turrets on your opponent’s heads.
Starhawk is the PS3 exclusive sequel to 2007’s Warhawk. It is also a third-person, sci-fi shooter, or an online mech combat game, or a tower defence game. Or perhaps it is a combination of all of these things. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure – the emphasis is firmly on the multiplayer.
Some games are obviously single-player based with a last-minute multiplayer mode added. Others manage to excel at multiplayer, leaving the single-player game woefully under-developed.Then there are the very few games that actually get the balance right and manage to please those who want a deep and meaningful single-player campaign, whilst pleasing those looking for the awesome multiplayer experience. I would love to say that Starhawk has got the balance right, but sadly the very short single-player campaign serves only as a rather elongated tutorial, teaching the player the basics, and more advanced techniques, required to successfully compete in the multiplayer game. I love a good campaign, so was somewhat disappointed at this – however, the lessons learnt proved to be invaluable as there is a hell of a lot going on.
Starhawk has a sci-fi Western setting and is based in a far, distant future where mining for Rift Energy, a powerful yet dangerous resource, is a way of life for many. This gives rise to the Western style mining towns,with a futuristic twist. In the campaign, for what it’s worth, players will take on the role of “gun for hire” Emmett, who takes on jobs that involve defending against those who have succumbed to the Rift Energies mutating powers. For the sake of the story, Emmett has taken a job in White Sands, which is systematically being destroyed by a smarter than average mutant known as The Outlaw. The story itself is fairly generic and has a few twists that most will see coming. But as already mentioned, the campaign serves only to prepare the player for some epic online multiplayer modes, and it does this quite well.
The pacing of the campaign is set up well, ensuring that the player doesn’t get overwhelmed with the technicalities of what they need to know. The player is first introduced to the third-person shooter aspect, which anyone who has played a shooter will easily pick up. There is a decent variety of weapons available, all with a futuristic flavour, but they do seem to be lacking a certain punch that I expect from my shooters. Realistically, the shooter aspect is competent, but nothing to write home about.
However, with the introduction of the tower defence element, things get more interesting. The player is able to have different structures dropped from the sky, from an orbiting spacecraft. Things such as walls and defensive turrets can be placed to fend off the mutants, or opponents in multiplayer, but there are a number of more interesting buildings that really mix things up and give rise to yet another gameplay mechanic. Some structures will spawn much needed resources, like new weapons or ammunition. Others introduce vehicles to the game.
Speederbike-type vehicles and formidable tanks are all well and good, and indeed add to the game. But the most impressive vehicles are easily the Hawks. These transforming mech vehicles will have the player wandering the battlefield one second, then taking to the skies in the next. The arcade flight mechanic takes a bit of getting used to for someone who doesn’t usually play flight games, but like the other controls in the game, is fairly straight forward. All of the vehicles are enjoyable to play with and add yet another element to an already packed game.
Whilst the player is introduced to all of these aspects during the single-player campaign/tutorial, it doesn’t necessarily explain how important teamwork is for the multiplayer game. There is a good variety of different modes available, such as the standard capture the flag and team deathmatch modes, but to get the most from this game, a good team is required. A team of lone wolves will quickly reduce any match to absolute chaos, but when players work together the strategic side of the game is really impressive. The building of structures is limited for each team, which is another reason why co-operation is essential as wasted resources give the opposing team the advantage.
There is also a co-op Horde-style mode available which may actually be the highlight of the game. Four players are responsible for defending a Rift well from wave after wave of mutants. Given the nature of this co-op mode, it is far easier to get players to work together for the greater good and results in a much more cohesive experience.
Starhawk is an unusual combination of different genres. Whilst the single-player campaign is largely forgettable, the multiplayer competitive modes are great fun, as long as you and the other members of your team enjoy teamwork. Otherwise the game, although still fun, becomes too chaotic. The real star is the survival mode which manages to bring all of the various gameplay aspects together into a massively enjoyable experience. Single players and lone wolves need not apply.