A Warhawk in space. Ever since the first rumours of a spiritual successor to Warhawk surfaced we've been salivating at the though of it and with good reason. The multiplayer mayhem in Warhawk was some of the best early action we experienced online with Playstation 3, and as we start playing Lightbox Interactive's Starhawk - the same ingredients are all there, but also a number of additional features including a solo campaign, co-operative play, and real time strategy elements.
My journey with Starhawk starts out with the campaign. Even if this is not what the core concept of the game is all about, it is still a good way to get you prepare for the online warfare ahead. The campaign tells the story of Emmett Graves, and the highly sought after, yet dangerous Rift resource. This Tiberium-like substance holds a lot of value, but can also infect people who are overexposed to it - something that has brought about the Outcasts - your enemies in Starhawk. Emmett is himself partly infected, which has given his arm an slightly unnatural colouration.
Don't expect a narrative masterpiece with complex characters, but then again when it comes to a game like this that's not to be expected. Straight away from the first level, a cosy place that reminds us of Borderlands arid deserts, we're speeding away on a dirt bike. Shortly we're facing off against hordes of "scabs", the Outcast enemies, mowing them down with hot lead and carefully aimed grenades.
At first it seems like any other third person shooter, but soon enough I'm given the chance to raise military structures, walls, and defence towers to prepare for the attacks. This injection of base building gives the game an added real time strategy dimension.
The buildings are dropped down from space rather aggressively (don't get in their way). I place turrets that fire of rounds against waves of enemies, I build sniper towers where snipers (computer controlled or me) can take out enemies from afar, and I funnel enemies into killzones with walls. Once then buildings are in place I can approach them, press triangle and upgrade them. The structures are paid for with Rift, that you collect through killing enemies, shooting containers, or through special buildings.
After a few levels Starhawk delivers on its title and introduces space combat. I'm placed in a mech that transforms into a space craft faster than you can say "Optimus Prime". I find myself playing a mature take on Star Fox.
The game mechanics in space are accessible yet deep, and I find myself throughly entertained as I dodge missiles and engage in dogfights with enemy crafts. My hawk is equipped with a weak cannon with unlimited ammunition, cluster missiles that look on to enemies, and weapons that are more effective against scabs on the ground. The pacing, game controls, and sense of bringing death from above, create a cohessive and entertaining whole, and the space sections have definitely been my favourite part of Starhawk.
When I have made my way through the 5-6 hours of the singleplayer campaign I venture online to take part in the 32 player online battles. This is where you're going to spend most of your time with Starhawk, honing your skills, and curse repeatedly or celebrate wildly depending on your level of success. There are your standard death matches, a capture the flag mode, and Zones - a mode where you control specifics areas of the map.
Regardless of which mode you play the matches quickly turn into an enjoyable chaos, where you have lots of options as far as tactics and units go. You can play tactically and collect Rift resources for new buildings, play a lone wolf onboard a Hawk, or stomp enemies to death in a giant mech. As you respawn you can control your pod somewhat and hopefully make sure it lands on an enemy. Personally I find the life of a foot soldier in Starhawk rather boring as there are so many far more exciting options available, but I'm sure there are players who will find enjoyment out of sniping enemies from towers or taking down hawks with rocket launchers from the ground.
Playing Starhawk is not a walk in the park. I've spent a respectable number of hours online, and I'll likely play many more, but I have still to nail down the best strategy for winning. This has to do with the relatively quiet nature of PSN, the massive difference each match brings, and perhaps mostly it's down to the fact that Starhawk is incredibly deep. There is room for a lot of experimentation, and I'm looking forward to getting to know the ins and outs of Starhawk online over the next few months.
As you attain certain objectives your character gains levels, which in turn gives you access to skill points. These can then be distributed across various categories for your character, and one such ability is to be able to generate Rift automatically. I haven't noticed any imbalances as a result of these skills, and from my point of view this system has worked out well and provides players with immediate goals to strive towards.
Starhawk also offers up a co-op mode where you and three friends can defend a rig from waves of scabs. This is probably the most underwhelming mode of the game, as you can only play through ten waves, and the strategies you can use are very limited.
Overall I can strongly endorse Starhawk to those who enjoy online warfare. Your experience is going to vary wildly depending on those you're playing with, and how much time your willing to invest into this relatively advanced set up. But at its core there is enough quality and variation to keep us happy for a long time.