Starhawk Review: Wild Space West
Starhawk, developed by LightBox as the spiritual successor of Warhawk, is a PS3 exclusive that does a lot of interesting things. I never played Warhawk and did stick to close to news or development of Starhawk so I did not now what exactly to expect from it beyond the beta gameplay. I was incredibly surprised to find that Starhawk is not only a solid game, but that it is an exceptional one thanks to the fundamental changes it makes to what has become the bog standard third person shooter. This makes it an extremely interesting game to play, despite not quite living up to the standard of some other major exclusive titles on the PS3.
The story of Starhawk revolves around a space wild west, where many factions and prospectors seek the much wanted "blue gold" or rift energy. You play as Emmett Graves, a prospector who lost his brother some years before the game begins. The story tries to draw itself against the idea of a broken family and a man seeking redemption for his failures in his past, but the characters are poorly explored, never develop and overall the entire storyline falls very limp. Emmett is a shallow, angry guy who is completely unlikeable and no other character amounts to anything of significance. The setting of the story is easily the most interesting aspect of the games narrative, with the western aesthetic blending wonderfully with the sci-fi trappings of the game. The whole concept of clinging to survival and your claim on a wild frontier is excellent in any setting, and Starhawk does provide a neat twist on just such a story. The biggest failure of the story is that it provides no immersion or explanation for this world, and gives you no reason to care about the characters or events of the game.
Starhawk is a beautiful game visually. The fidelity of the graphics and their crisp clear look is extremely attractive, and it helps that the game is full of colour, avoiding being another brown gritty shooter. The wide open gorgeous skies really add to the feel of being on the frontier of civilisation, and the space battles reminded me of the one in Halo Reach, which was one of my favourite parts of that entire game. The character models are not wholly based in realism, having a cartoonish and slightly cell shaded look to them that enhances the appearance of the game. The level of detail is not up to the standards of the biggest games on the market, but the look and feel of the characters is strong. The animations are exaggerated and not unlike World of Warcraft to an extent. Starhawk manages to change its environments greatly as you progress through the campaign, with great variation between the rustic areas and the more industrial aesthetics. The differences between day and night is lovely, with a huge draw distance across huge levels being extremely impressive. The explosions and blasts from the weapons and combat of Starhawk are also exceptionally satisfying to see, with huge scale and lovely play with the games lighting effects, especially during the space sequences. The comic book like cutscenes are also really stylish in their presentation, and are far too good for the shallow and flimsy story on display.
The soundtrack of Starhawk is akin to a mix of Starcraft and Battlestar Galactica, with plenty of fast sharp tracks contrasting with the slow western and rustic theme of other areas. The sound is as broken up as the aesthetic unity of the game, but it is effective and fun to listen to and enhances the experience of the game. The voice acting is largely solid, though the script is relatively poor and weak, and the ambient sound of the game is perfectly able to meet its requirements by keeping a sense of pace throughout the game.
The gameplay of Starhawk is easily the strongest aspect of the title. The flawed story is easily remedied by the impressive, frantic and fast third person combat. There are a surprising selection of weapons with their own roles in combat, and has a unique flavour on most of its weapons, preventing them being generic entries that are the same as their counterparts in all other shooters. You can sprint when on foot, and the game has a heavy focus on vehicles, including the razorback which has been heavily influenced by Halo's warthog, an artillery totting tank and the titular hawk, which is a space fighter that can transform into a mech walker. Starhawk also has a drop in build mechanic that allows the player to use the resources gained from killing enemies to build buildings that will aid them in battle and adds a lot of RTS elements to the title. The multiplayer focuses on this, with strategic decisions being what decides who wins rather than just the act of shooting. This adds an entire new layer to the game that only helps to strengthen the appeal of the game for me, and makes Starhawk perfect as a shooter for people who are jaded with shooters. It also helps that you can drop a building onto an enemy, crushing them with it. The lack of a cover mechanic is unusual but comes as a relief in a weird way as it just feels fresh compared to the crowed of other third person shooters.
Starhawk is an excellently designed game, managing to include so many gameplay mechanics and elements without them getting into the way of each other and actually being harmonious. The menus are slick and the game integrates the multiplayer server rooms with the singleplayer pause menu in an extremely friendly and accessible way for users. The tutorials are simplistic and easily explain how to play the game and the singleplayer prepares the player for the true focus of the game, the multiplayer. Unfortunately Starhawk has an online pass, and as I rented it I was unable to properly experience what is vaunted as the meat of the title. Despite this the beta had a lot of great ideas and mechanics and I got some playtime online at a friends house. The singleplayer is about 6 hours long, though it has very limited replay value. The true excellence of the design in Starhawk is how easy and simple the transition from ground combat to aerial combat can be. Its astonishing considering the scale of the maps and amount of activity going on in Starhawk, and the RTS elements are integrated into this maelstrom in a way that Brutal Legend could only have dreamed of achieving.
Starhawk is a fun and polished game, successfully combining third person shooting with RTS elements in a fantastic and easy to use way. The story is poor but the core gameplay more than makes up for this. The load times are short and the graphics are lovely, with simple menus and a strong presentation. Starhawk lacks the trappings of a triple A title, but it comes damn close considering what it is. The game is definitely a multiplayer first title, and if you buy it you should buy it for this. The online pass stopped me fully enjoying this aspect of the game but I think that Starhawk could be one of the finest multiplayer titles on the platform. A flawed game, but one that is immense fun with flashes of true brilliance and made all the more impressive by the fact that this is LightBox Interactive's first game.
- Crisp colourful visuals and atmospheric soundtrack
- Great use of vehicles with a strong variety and great menu design
- Harmonious integration of third person shooting with RTS elements
- Weak and shallow story that goes nowhere
- Short campaign with some poor mission design and pacing
- Online pass
- Why not attack the ship that is dropping all those buildings down
- 6/10 - Decent