In a rare occurrence these days Starhawk manages to do something truly creative in the multiplayer genre which results in a fun and captivating experience. A few of the finer points of Starhawk may be riddled with some balancing issues or players that are inept as to battlefield tactics, but the build and battle mechanics results in constantly evolving matches that are unlike anything I’ve played before. The deep multiplayer mode combined with a well thought out single-player campaign and fun laden co-op missions results in a game that is basically the epitome of what games should be: pure fun.
+ Build and battle works tremendously well and creates a unique vibe in the game and every battle.
+ The art design may not be totally pleasing to the eyes but visually Starhawk gets the job done through crisp visuals and nice effects work.
+ Single-player campaign thankfully bucks the trend of being on training wheels as it provides unique scenarios and an enjoyable experience.
+ Sound design and music is superb as its Warhawk but taken to the next level i.e. film level goodness but in a video game.
- There aren’t game ruining balancing issues, but certain elements such as the tanks need to be tweaked ASAP.
- Ground battle doesn’t feel floaty or pointless, but it does lack a distinct impact and feeling.
- Art design has a few sore spots as it’s beautiful in some areas and not so great in others.
Back in the day as I like to call, roughly twenty years ago, multiplayer games used to be unique in a sense. The whole concept of doing some single-player action and then all of a sudden partaking in a CTF or Team Deathmatch mode with a buddy or a bunch of strangers was something that almost was as powerful and groundbreaking as playing a game rendered in full 3D for the first time – it was so damn unbelievable that our minds really couldn’t process it at first.
With each console generation and hot new game release we’ve seen multiplayer games grow but for the last few years now they’ve been stuck in an area where there’s hardly any innovation and it’s simply all about Perks i.e. trying to become the next hot thing. In a sense multiplayer games have lost some of their originality but that certainly isn’t the case with Starhawk – the spiritual successor to Warhawk which retains the core multiplayer action we all love but adds a simply staggering amount of combat depth and strategy to the mix.
Starhawk is a really interesting game for a few reasons, the chief of which is that it isn’t Warhawk 2.0. As much as I think some people would’ve liked to see a reskinned or visually upgraded Warhawk sequel with a bunch of new goodies in it Starhawk simply isn’t that game. There are definitely shades of Warhawk within Starhawk since the same core dev team did both games, but Starhawk is its own unique snowflake in a land filled with wishy-washy wannabe multiplayer games that simply suck the energy out of us while we play.
So by now you may be asking what exactly makes Starhawk such a special and enjoyable game. Does it have special 60 players+ matches or some sort of fancy real-time world stat tracking mechanic? No, Starhawk doesn’t feature fancy back-of-the box features that in some cases are pointless as it instead allows everyone to do something that rarely happens in multiplayer games anymore: have an immediate impact on the battle. Unlike other games, Starhawk enables players to essentially become their own battlefield general – not by calling the shots to other players (which no doubt would be annoying and lead to folks swearing at one another) but by being able to build structures on the battlefield and make calls that in some cases can lead to either victory or immense defeat.
By now you may now the basics of Starhawk by the countless stories I’ve posted on Shogun as the main mechanic is the build and battle feature. Basically the soul of Starhawk, the build and battle feature works as both forces in the match can build structures – both at their respective home bases and at any zones they capture or spawn points they opt to build. Yes, in Starhawk you can even build spawn points on the map at any location, pending a few minor things, so that in a way speaks as to the potential battlefield carnage that can be wrought in the game.
Build and battle may sound a bit gimmicky, but in Starhawk it simply works as it creates a vibe and tension that I’ve never experienced while playing a multiplayer game. Seeing dozens of structures fall from the sky and erected immediately in front of my eyes was a cool visual treat, but it was also amazing to see the home base of my team grow as a match continued to combat the tactics used by the other team. Unlike other multiplayer games, even Warhawk, a match in Starhawk is never really static in a sense that nothing changes and the match will simply run the course of me killing people in the skies or the same flag snatcher running into my base and securing an easy flag cap. Literally every match in Starhawk that I’ve played has had a different vibe to it – some of which had my team clicking like we were battlefield veterans while other matches had me feeling like a wary soldier due to the obviously green soldiers I was doing battle with. But even if I hopped in a match in which my team opted to build two jeep units in our home base, which is a big no-no, the match usually still flowed with a feeling that was entirely unique to its own – basically becoming a unique battle moment that I would either cherish or try to forget as quickly as possible.
Now there are a few “restrictions” or things I had to keep in mind while using the build and battle feature in Starhawk. First off the big deal is that a team is limited to 32 structures, no matter what they are. So outside of doing the basics like building a jeep at the home base or a supply bunker, it really does matter to think about things in a tactical way as opposed to building half a dozen beam turrets and smaller sentry turrets at the home base and calling it a day. The structure limit may sound like a potentially damning issue, but it really wasn’t in the matches I played unless I was on a team filled with idiots. I don’t want to sound mean or like I’m some sort of high and mighty person since I’m an “esteemed” video game journalist, but there are honestly some people playing Starhawk who have no idea what to do or were clearly still in CoD mode while playing; an issue that leads to the element of Starhawk which matters the most: teamwork is a must.
You would imagine that teamwork is a must in most multiplayer games, but if there’s one thing this generation has taught us it’s that players can channel their inner Rambo at any time to go on some absurd 20 kills+ streak to earn half a dozen special kill bonuses which of course are fueled by the six Perks they’re using. The current status of multiplayer gaming has in a way put players in a certain mindset but in Starhawk a team really can’t be successful when everyone is going at things lone wolf style. I’ll admit that back when I played Warhawk for the odd 150+ hours I sunk into the game I would do either two things: dominate in the sky or stay back and protect the flag if I was in a CTF match. I was certainly lone wolfing it up in a way, but I sadly couldn’t do such a thing in Starhawk since every minute of every battle counts and it does pay off to work together or at the very least have the goal of the team in mind rather than personal goals such as earning 8000+ XP
At times the heavy reliance on teamwork in Starhawk did lead me to have a few matches in which I felt like I was playing with a team of headless sheep as the battlefield tactics that were being employed likely made General Patton roll over in his grave. It was obvious in a few cases that those playing Starhawk were still learning the game and even I was still learning the ropes of the game and finding the key spots in a map to rain down thunder and death upon the opposing team. But even with the newbie mentality in mind, Starhawk is a game that I think moving forward will live or die upon two things: 1. the intelligence of those playing it/strength of clans and buddie sessions and 2. the always difficult task of balancing the weapons/vehicles of the game.
To me Warhawk was a basically flawless game when it came out since every gun, tool, and vehicle felt perfect and wasn’t too overpowered. Yeah, some folks didn’t like how the Warhawk felt when it was in hover mode since it was supreme death from the skies, but only those who had true flying talent could get the most out of a hawk. With Starhawk on the other hand there are clearly some early growing pains on the balancing side of things that are dampening the experience ever so slightly. The core ground weapons feel fine for what they are, but when it comes to the vehicles of Starhawk that’s an entirely different issue. The big balancing issue with the game as it stands now, keep in mind this is before any patches and fixes have been released, is that it’s way too easy for a team to overpower an opposing team with tanks. No, I haven’t gone in yet another diva mode nitpick moment as I’m not really overthinking or simply finding something to cry about. In Starhawk the tanks basically feel like iron behemoths that when tackled on alone or with one or two other people can’t be stopped; which of course makes matters worse when a squad of four tanks roll into a base.
I won’t go on too long about the tank situation in Starhawk, but it does present levels of base raping that were nearly unseen of in Warhawk, which Warhawk vets will admit was heavy on base attacks if a team had talented Hawk pilots. What makes the tank situation tricky is that at times I fought against a team that would roll in with tanks into my base and then subsequently build a repair ARM (a device that repairs vehicles endlessly) or a bubble shield and then just continue to endlessly kill everyone until everyone would rage quit or the match came to an almost merciful end. Whereas players in Warhawk could turn the tide of battle single-handily in some cases, the tank situation in Starhawk requires teamwork to turn things around but of course depending on the team I was playing with at the time we would either become victorious or walk away in shame once we finally lost.
Outside of the tank issue Starhawk is a pretty well rounded game. The ground troop combat doesn’t feel completely tight as there is a lack of feedback for hitting a target and being hit, but the controls do feel good – even if they adopted the zoom-in shooting layout that most 3rd person action games have these days. The only other slightly disappointing factor, or thing I hope is addressed, is that the Hawks are given more power. For a game called Starhawk it’s surprising that the Hawks aren’t more formidable during battle or are on the same level to what was featured in Warhawk. Developer LightBox Interactive has made great strides in how the Hawks feel since the game was first playable last year and in the beta, but some of the weapons such as the swarm missiles and the health of the Hawks in relation to things like beam turrets feel a bit odd and can limit the amount of intense battles that are to be had.
Starhawk may not be a 100% perfect multiplayer game, but it does seem incredibly thought out in the areas where it matters most: player control and the scope of the maps. The intergalactic battlefields in Starhawk are each unique in their design and what tactics they provide but a few of them honestly didn’t wow me that much. For their size the maps in Starhawk provide excellent battle opportunities as there’s room to breathe in the sense that players aren’t on top of one another and quick kills are happening all the time.
What disappointed me is that artistically some of the maps aren’t that breathtaking, at least compared to the constant variety found in Warhawk. There are a few maps in Starhawk which seem like odes or spiritual successors to maps in Warhawk such as Archipelago, but in a few cases the art design in Starhawk is dreary or simply feels like a retread to another map which makes it seem like an odd inclusion. The variety in the game is nice since one minute I was far above a planet doing battle on a space outpost and then the next I was in a desert locale flying between rock structures trying to drive my team to victory.
There are some really beautiful moments in Starhawk such as flying in an asteroid field or seeing the sun set while on the surface of planet, but the art design does seem a bit uneven especially when you factor in the design of Rifters and Outcasts, which are serviceable but don’t quite have as much detail or character to them as the Eucadian and Chernovan forces of Warhawk. Visually Starhawk isn’t a bad looking game by any means as it features a graphical sheen that’s polished and holds up well compared to other multiplayer games. Things may not be as pretty as something like Killzone 3, but the huge draw distance of the game and the buttery smooth performance does make for an experience that’s definitely one of the better technical multiplayer games released in the last few years.
Starhawk may still be a multiplayer game at heart, but there is a surprise addition in the form of a single-player campaign that isn’t yet another training mode. Complete with a story that’s thought out (you play as a rift salvager that has to take out his now evil brother); the single-player campaign of Starhawk is a welcomed surprise. Opting to present a completely original experience, Lightbox Interactive created maps specially made for the single-player campaign as opposed to going the lazy route by “enhancing” the multiplayer maps to fit the experience. All the core modes of Starhawk are in the single-player campaign, including build and battle, and they all work well even if the enemy A.I. may not exhibit the highest form of battlefield intelligence all the time.
Initially I was a bit turned off by how direct the single-player campaign of Starhawk was, especially when I have games like Uncharted lingering in the bad of my mind. But playing through the mode I was intrigued by the story, which is convincingly acted and told through graphic novel like cutscenes, and how old-school the experience is. Instead of holding my hand or wowing me with constant QTEs or specially tailored action moments, the Starhawk single-player campaign simply put me in a scenario and it was up to me to have fun and hopefully complete it. There is a certain slow ascension in the single-player campaign since the standard training mode missions are doled out, but eventually the campaign hit a peak and it descended on a near non-stop descent filled with fun and plenty of moments to make me think Lightbox has what it takes to do a full on single-player game at some point.
During my run with Starhawk so far it’s clear to me that the game is the perfect evolution of the multiplayer genre. Staying true to what made Warhawk so much fun (intense ground & aerial battles) and evolving the multiplayer genre as a whole through the build and battle mechanic, Starhawk is a game that is what we need more of – originality that’s thought out and isn’t trying to get in on a hot craze to make a quick buck. There are few things in Starhawk that need to be addressed before it can officially be given the “Greatest PS3 Multiplayer Game” moniker, but even at this early stage prior to DLC dropping and balancing adjustments being made Starhawk is simply an enjoyable game that perfect combines battlefield strategy with the action bravado one expects from venturing online.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.