Starhawk Review By: Andrew Bohnenberger
By: Andrew Bohnenberger
Starhawk is a third person action game developed by Lightbox Interactive and published by Sony Computer Entertainment exclusively for the PlayStation 3. Starhawk has a main mechanic that sets it apart from your typical third person shooter, which is its Build and Battle RTS system. Does the Build and Battle system for Starhawk make it a unique enough experience to compete with the likes of other third person shooters on the market like Uncharted 3 and Gears of War 3?
The Starhawk story follows lead protagonist Emmett Graves, a rift energy miner, who is contracted to mine a valuable energy source called Rift Energy on planets across the galaxy. This Rift Energy also causes rift miners to transform into savage like mutants named Outcasts. These Outcasts are created if humans are exposed to the Rift Energy for too long. The story revolves around the conflict between Emmett and his Crew of miners and the Outcasts leader Outlaw. Unfortunately, the story is the weakest part of Starhawk because Emmett, Outlaw, and the other characters in the game lack any depth or motivation for any of their actions throughout the game. Emmett seems to only be concerned with making his quota for each of his jobs and Outlaw only motivation seems to be taking that Rift Energy away from Emmett. It seems that Lightbox chopped the single player campaign together to only serve as a multiplayer tutorial for the game while sprinkling various cut scenes and story elements in between these segments.
The look and feel of Starhawk is definitely one of its strong points when you take a look at the game. The whole space western vibe is consistent throughout the whole experience. The character models, animations for the buildings that drop from the sky, and landscapes for each planet are all well realized and showcase the graphical advantages the PS3 has over the Xbox360. The cut scenes and blue color palette of the game has a unique comic book feel that I loved, which resembles another Sony first party exclusive Infamous. Overall, Starhawk provides a graphical presentation that is unrivaled compared to its console counterparts and would be a great fit if it was ever able to be ported to PCs.
The gameplay in Starhawk is a unique experience unmatched in any other third person shooter on the market. The main mechanic in Starhawk is its Build and Battle system which creates a hybrid of third person shooting, RTS base building, and vehicle combat. The third person shooting of Starhawk is similar to most shooters on the market with your standard assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers, and grenades. The shooting in Starhawk is adequate but you can tell that this was not the primary focus for Lightbox interactive. This part of the game lacks the polish in control and feel as other top tier shooters like Mass Effect 3 and Gears of War 3. Where I think the game excels is its implementation of RTS elements, a genre that has never been successfully integrated into shooters until now. In Starhawk you collect rift energy by killing enemies and shooting barrels filled with the rift energy around the game world. You use this rift energy to call down various structures that you can place around your base and the game world. The structures include turrets that shoot enemies, land, and air vehicles, jetpacks, sniper towers, a robotic arm that repairs your structures, supply depot bunkers with rocket launchers and shotguns, flying Mechs called Hawks, Wall Barriers and Gates, the Warthog like Razorbacks, Tanks, and hover bikes called the Sidewinders. This part of the game brings chess like strategic element similar to games like Starcraft where you create different build orders in order effectively counter or attack your enemies. I can definitely see the multiplayer section of the game having a community who is passionate about finding the most effective build order for each map in order to minimize the time required to build up their base to completion. The single player game consists mostly of tower defense sections where you must hold off waves of enemies trying to destroy the Rift energy source you are trying to mine. These sections are the strongest part of the single player campaign due to the fact that you must strategize what units to place before the oncoming horde. There is usually a countdown until the enemy arrives and the map marks what enemy types will arrive and from which direction on the map. The part of the single player campaign I disliked the most was the frequent amount of Hawk only sections which consisted of drawn out dogfights that required a lot of patience to circle around the enemy hawks who seemed to take unprecedented amounts of damage before finally blowing up. The fact that these enemy Hawks take so much damage in single player was clearly a design flaw as the multiplayer games I experienced Hawks are blown up frequently the minute you take off in the air or land in an enemy base. Overall, where Starhawk shines is in its ability to mix RTS elements into a third person shooter and make the gameplay experience uniquely its own.
Starhawk is a fully featured package including a single player campaign, horde based co-op mode, and 32 player online multiplayer. The single player campaign lasts for around 5 hours and generally has no replay value due the lack of the story and the mode serving purely as tutorial for the multiplayer section of the game. The co–op horde mode which is my favorite mode in the game features two player online and two player split screen. I enjoyed this mode the most because you and your buddy can face off against six waves of enemies in tower defense sections similar to the single player campaign. The same strategies carry over as you must collect rift energy and place the correct buildings down in order to protect your base and survive the oncoming wave. My only issue with the co-op mode was the limit of six waves. I would have rather seen unlimited amounts of waves until you die. The multiplayer sections features four distinct modes capture the flag, zones, deathmatch , and team deathmatch. Deathmatch and Team deathmatch are no different to other modes found in other third person games only that it includes Starhawks’ Unique gameplay. Starhawk really shines in its capture the flag and zones modes. Capture the Flag mode shines as you try to capture the enemies’ flag and bring it back to you base. The ability to build your base with turrets and walls really added a strategic element that is lacking in similar third person shooters on the market. I also enjoyed that you could spawn structures in your enemies base especially turrets and that ammo was never in an issue as it was always re-spawning due to the fact it is tied to buildings. This created an environment where players where never camping where these weapons would spawn like in other third person shooters. Zones are a mode where you must capture and hold different territories on the map. The great part of Zones is that is requires strategic placing of structures on the map in order effectively expand you base throughout the map. This reminded me of early sections in games like Civilization where you must quickly build up and expand your cities in order to conquer other countries on the map. Overall, the multiplayer and co-op modes make this a game worth picking up in my opinion.
Starhawk is one of those games that is definitely going to fly under the radar. I do not know whether its bad marketing on Sony’s part or the barrier to entry due to the addition of RTS elements. But keeping all that mind, I think Starhawk is a game that is worth playing if you want a unique multiplayer experience or a strategic co–op tower defense game. I think if you are a Playstation3 owner this is a definite must buy and a game that proves that Sony is always on the cutting edge of new experiences even if they do not put the right amount of resources to back them.
Buy: This game is a must buy if you want a unique third person action game with strategic multiplayer and co-op based tower defense that blends third person shooting, RTS base building, and vehicle combat.