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Starhawk review

Reviews
13 May 2012

Review: Starhawk builds upon the strengthes of PlayStation 3′s Warhawk to inject new life into the online shooter.

 

There’s a common misconception surrounding multiplayer shooters. To many, if you’re not doing Call Of Duty or Battlefield numbers, your game is dead in the water. While that’s probably the case for the online modes in middle-of-the-road shooters, there’s easily a big enough audience for a solid, balanced and well-supported shooter to live a long and happy life.

 

Just ask Warhawk, 2007’s often-forgotten multiplayer treasure. While rough around the edges, it gave PS3 owners large-scale, dramatic online warfare long before Battlefield got comfy in the console space, and maintained a loyal community for years. And now, some five years later, Lightbox is hoping to repeat that trick with the splendid Starhawk, a space-western reimagination that offers that same grandiose spectacle as Warhawk, but crams it with a host of new systems that you’d expect to find in a Real Time Strategy game.

 

The setting comes straight out of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, but gives the world a much-needed dose of colour and life in comparison to Warhawk’s cookie-cutter hills and cement bases. You’re introduced to its charming, whimsical world through the game’s campaign mode, which tells the story of Emmett Graves and his life as a mercenary in the battle for Rift- the glowing blue resource that’s fuelled an interstellar war.

Starhawk review

Starhawk has pretentions of telling a story both about personal conflict (Emmett eventually has to battle his estranged brother) and politics (battles for resources), but it’s all rather clumsily told through cheesy dialogue and animated comic-book scenes, and is best forgotten. The campaign itself, too, is flat and laborious, partly due to the story, but mainly because anyone and everyone knows it’s just an elongated tutorial for the multiplayer.

 

Elongated is the word, though. Each mission gradually introduces another one of Starhawk’s marvellous features into the mix, but there’s a clear argument to be made that a specific and focused tutorial could have done a much better job. If you’re coming to Starhawk for single-player, though, you’re coming for the wrong reasons, because when you fire up those multiplayer servers (after an update and install or two, naturally), Starhawk comes alive.

 

The best way to describe the action is through the game’s premier mode, capture the flag. It’s 16-on-16, fought across huge maps which can be tackled as infantry, ground vehicles or the titular Starhawks, all seamlessly integrating with one another and showing off some of the best scaling tricks since the original Katamari Damacy.

Starhawk review

So far, so Warhawk, then, but where Starhawk really distances itself from its spiritual predecessor is in the new Build And Battle system. As you collect Rift from nearby towers or by killing enemies, you can build huge battlements in real time by simply hoisting up a radial menu, selecting your contraption of choice and dumping it straight onto the field.

 

It’s a daunting system at first, especially when your inaugural creation crashes in front of you out of the sky and scares the living daylights out of you, but quickly it all starts to make sense. You can build supply bunkers filled with rocket launchers. Sniper towers. Jetbike stations. Tank garages. Even walls. It makes CTF a completely dynamic and unpredictable experience, as there are 32 base builders on the map creating the kind of defences you’ll never see twice.

 

While the resource management isn’t as intense as a traditional RTS, there’s a lot of tactical pondering nonetheless. Knowing that charging towards a well-barricaded enemy will only end in you dying and them collecting more Rift means you have to work well with your team and ensure that raids are carefully considered.

 

With this being an action game, though, the focus is still firmly on the killing and destruction of all and sundry. A well-trained ‘hawk pilot can undo even the tightest defensive system through accurate offense and clever use of flares, so the battlefield is constantly shifting and mutating. There’s little barrier to entry, too. Unlike Battlefield 3, flying in Starhawk is extremely simple – it’s the game’s high point and Lightbox clearly wants everyone to experience and enjoy it.

 

Of course, it helps that it’s a lovely game to look at, especially when 32 players are zipping across the turf. The bold colour palette and redneck-ramshackle architecture work beautifully together, like Rage through a Timesplitters lens, and there’s a glossy PS3 sheen coating the whole thing.

Starhawk review

Perhaps most importantly, though, Starhawk has rock solid fundamentals backing up its bold ideas. The shooting is tight and accurate, blending a COD-style snap aim to speedy movement and chunky weapons. Ground vehicles take minutes to understand and are universally entertaining to zip around in, and of course the flying is silky-smooth and extremely simple to understand. It might not quite hit the heady heights of Battlefield 3’s unscripted drama and unmitigated destruction, but when you’re hurtling back to base with the flag and two ‘hawks firing lasers past your ears, well it’s not far off.

 

Starhawk’s campaign is throwaway, really, and the kinetic, expansive combat would slot in perfectly next to the likes of Tribes Ascend and Firefall as a free-to-play online title. As a full-priced effort, though, it’s crucial to know what you’re getting yourself into. This is a true multiplayer experience, which despite its accessibility, demands commitment and communication to enjoy to its fullest. It’s also a game, though, that deserves to be loved.

VERDICT 8 /10
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  • sablicious

    Great concept.  So-so execution.  Online pass, restrictive building mechanic, lack of a co-operative campaign and the curious online reliant “offline” split-screen mode are dismaying design decisions.

    Verdict:
    Online gamers aren’t partial to team work enough for this game to shine.  6.5/10

  • Benjamin Eugene NElson

     So.. you’re drubbing the game because of the players?

    Sounds fair to me..

    (sarcasm)

  • sablicious

    A selective reader, huh?

    But, yeah.  When the game’s viability and longevity is wholly tied to online play, if this functionality sucks – be it due to the game itself or the community – then the game isn’t worth the disk it’s etched on.

  • Benjamin Eugene NElson

    Um.. no, I was just pointing out the stupid part of your review.  The rest is valid and thus I had no comment on.

    And in that case, do you ever play anything online ever?

  • sablicious

    There is no “stupid part” to what I stated.  It’s all factual.  If you don’t like the facts, live in ignorance.

    And, I have played myraid games online, FYI.  And, in fact, most suck.  Why?  Because many require the incorporation of team work–an anathema to the online video gaming community. (…most gamers are juveniles, after all)

    Online play in video games has, at best, stagnated – at worst, gone backwards – form the beginning of this console cycle.  Developers have not worked to make the online experience better, only to expand the suite of token online options; so they can festoon a few more features on the game box.

    As a result, online play is a scrub fiesta.  Be it because of lag, the rote application of the functionality, the community… whatever.  Online play in most video games is a novelty, at best.

    (Hence Starhawk – despite showing considerable potential – being dead in utero)

  • Benjamin Eugene NElson

     Your “review”  is 25% facts, 75% opinion. 

    And I gave you credit for mentioning the online pass as a fact.

    It’s also really obvious to me in your rant here, that you have an opinion and a platform and this is why you feel the way you do.  It’s not right to judge online behaviors as part of the review of a game.

    I”m sorry I called you out.  But only because you’re ranting even harder.

    Back up your opinion with FACTS and then perhaps I can start to take you seriously. Until then it’s just ranting.

    Also, might want to look at a different ISP if you’re having that much lag.  Just saying.

  • sablicious

    Proof?  You’re suggesting I survey everyone I’ve ever encountered online with to see if they were experiencing any lag?  Come on…  -_-

    You may not NOTICE lag when playing online; if the bulk of your gaming experience is from the online era of video gaming.  But from someone who has played video games for two decades and whose staple gaming is fighters, believe me, there is ALWAYS lag.  Even if sometimes it’s only negligibly perceivable, it’s still there.  Telemetry takes time to pass / process–this is a constant.  ”no lag” is merely good net-coding that HIDES lag.  It’s nothing to do with bandwidth.  50~100kb/s is more than enough for gaming to appear smooth (if the net-coding is robust).  I’ve seen this in practice.

    So, unless you’re pioneering some ‘Worm Hole broadband system’, you’re better served tucking the butt-hurt tween “your connection sucks” not-so-witty rejoinder back in… if you want to be taken seriously.  Or, at least, demonstrate self-respect.

    Starhawk hasn’t sold particularly well nor has it received the reception you’d expect from a reasonably original and innovative title.  The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  Don’t let Sorny fanboyism cloud your perception.

    The game needed a more comprehensive local multiplayer suite (i.e., full split-screen and system link for all game modes, sans that stupid ‘sign in’ crap).  Without thus, the game is slave to the fickle whims of online play.

  • Benjamin Eugene NElson

     May I suggest, if you want to be taken seriously, you never use the term “butthurt?”

    Also, you admit that you have no clue what the online play is like because you haven’t asked.

    And if you think lag has nothing to do with your connection speed Suggest finding a 56K modem and trying to play.. anything…

    Yes, there are ways to hide it.

    but that’s not the only factor.

    TL:DR

    You’re spending a hell of a time trying to refute me.. and failing.