You break free from a drop pod after a fresh respawn, and immediately a Hawk swoops within your team's shield generator and launches an array of cluster bombs, disabling that precious bubble of protection the generator had been providing while enabling the enemy tanks perched on nearby precipices to fire in on the structures at your base. The Hawk recovers from its dive bomb, circles back around and transforms into a mech, pounding the ground with a thunderous stomp and ragdolling a dead teammate over your shoulder. With a couple well-placed grenades, you destroy the Hawk, but not before the driver escapes the vehicle and grabs your flag. He jumps on a jetbike one of your more incompetent partners left lying about and you are forced to use the in-game Build & Battle system to drop in a Sidewinder terminal, wasting valuable seconds. You hop on the bike and pursue the invader as he races to his end of the map, learning from the enemy's driving errors in order to make up time wherever possible. Finally, as your prey steps off his stolen jetbike and is mere feet from scoring the game's winning point, you hurdle an automated turret and paint the front of your vehicle red with the opposing team's blood, saving the contest for your company and prolonging the game for at least a couple more minutes.
This is a typical occurrence in Starhawk, Lightbox Interactive's foray into multiplayer gaming on the PS3, and it's moments like these that will have you returning for months, maybe even years to come.
But unlike its spiritual predecessor, Warhawk, Starhawk does offer players a brief single-player campaign as well that acts as a mild distraction from the beef that is the multiplayer experience, and a good training tool to get to know the workings of the control scheme and Build & Battle system before making the leap online to compete with others.
The game's protagonist is Emmett Graves, a hired gunfighter employed by Rifters to aid in the obtaining of Rift Energy, a treasured yet dangerous resource that has the potential to mutate anyone caught in too much of the energy's exposure, turning them into Outcasts. The tale is delivered in a motion-comic style of animation, and while it's presented well enough, it's a bit of a generic story that's not likely to be remembered by most.
If you're looking for the next Infamous or Uncharted when it comes to a great campaign, you certainly won't find it here. Build & Battle is an RTS-type of mechanic that allows you to create structures such as launch pads, supply bunkers, and watchtowers using Rift Energy. It's been designed with multiplayer in mind, and so its implementation into single player is more of a gimmicky attraction than anything, reminiscent of titles such as Fracture or Timeshift. That's not to say there isn't some charm to be found here; however I would warn anybody planning on picking up Starhawk solely for single player to give it a rent instead. It only clocks in at around six hours, and you may find no reason to return once complete.
Starhawk has a very sleek in-game menu that is accessible from anywhere, allowing you to jump from multiplayer, to single player, to character customization, to many other destinations all from the push of the start button. It's an innovative interface that had me seamlessly navigating from where I'd left off in the story to play a couple quick matches online, and then back again. It's a great and simple system that all developers need to emulate; it should set a standard for the way gamers can access anything on the disc with ease and a reduction of loading screens.
And now for the meat and potatoes: the multiplayer. Gameplay here is limited to a handful of modes: capture the flag, deathmatch, team deathmatch, and zones. While it may seem deficient in options, I can assure you that once you become efficient in each game type, your want of more multiplayer choices will fade. After a few matches of learning the more strategic places to build tank depots, mastering Hawk controls, and just adapting to each mode in general, you'll be too busy worrying about capturing the next flag or getting that next kill to stress over further gameplay assortments that have no business being in the Starhawk universe.
As you may have gathered from the first paragraph in this review, the online battles in Starhawk can be truly epic. Full 32-man matches of capture the flag can often exceed the time limit and rounds of team deathmatch frequently conclude with the losing team just outside of victory's grasp. This helps to provide a sense of urgency, racing for the final few frags or manning a Hawk in an attempt to jet across the map and prevent the flag-bearer in the Razorback buggy from reaching his destination. Yes, it's as cool as it sounds.
There are perks to be earned; though instead of unlocking different abilities as you level, they are achieved by carrying out certain objectives on the battlefield. It's an interesting way of dispensing abilities to different players, and when you eventually acquire that perk you've long sought, the sense of pride you feel while taking advantage of the benefit it grants is quite gratifying.
Starhawk comes as an easy recommendation to anybody searching for a more in-depth multiplayer experience outside of your average run-and-gun shooters. Tackle the small learning curve, develop your strategy, and join me in the assault.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.