Field Report: Starhawk
by Andrew Yoon, shacknews.com, May 7, 2012 6:00AM PDT
Warhawk managed to garner a dedicated fan base with its unique blend of on-foot, vehicular, and air combat. Five years later, LightBox Interactive has prepared a spiritual successor with Starhawk. Retaining many of the gameplay elements of Warhawk, LightBox expanded upon the formula, adding not only space combat, but a RTS-inspired "Build and Battle" mechanic that allows players to dynamically drop gameplay-changing cargo from the sky.
It's clear that Starhawk will live and die by its multiplayer. However, unlike its predecessor, Starhawk also offers a single-player campaign--one that players will not want to miss.
While it's tempting to simply jump into the multiplayer offerings immediately, it's helpful to give the single-player campaign a try, if only to better come to terms with the game's varied mechanics. With many players already familiarized with the game through the online beta, getting a tutorial will probably be the only way players can be competitive.
The single-player narrative tells the story of Emmett, and it unfolds through a series of comic book-inspired cinematic sequences. Mixing sci-fi and western elements, the story plays out not unlike that of Joss Whedon's Firefly--but with a more heavy-handed approach. I found it difficult to get truly absorbed into the world, with the comic book style more befitting of a game like InFamous.
In many ways, the campaign's real purpose seems to be to "train" players for the online offering. The story didn't immediately grab me, and the stiff in-engine animations make the single-player experience feel phoned in. Regardless, the story mode does do a great job of walking the player through the various mechanics. In the first level, you learn simply how to run around, jump into a vehicle, and ultimately, build walls and turrets to fend off enemies.
Clear objectives are marked on the in-game HUD, and the slow progression of abilities makes what would otherwise be an overwhelming game into an accessible one. Later levels will introduce other vehicles, like the titular Hawks.
I didn't have a chance to play much with the game's online offerings, but those modes are probably best tested after the game has a chance to be populated with the masses. However, if the single player is any indication, the blueprints for truly fun online battles are definitely there. The controls feel spot-on, no matter what mode of transportation you choose. And while you certainly feel powerful in many of the game's more impressive vehicles, you never feel impotent when on foot. For example, a player on the ground equipped with a rocket launcher is a formidable foe against a Hawk.
The "Build and Battle" mechanic--which allows you to call upon new resources dynamically--also shows a lot of promise, adding RTS and tower-defense mechanics to an otherwise "standard" affair. The flashy entrances these platforms make--literally dropping out of the sky--do not get old. Having a turret kill an enemy by landing on it is incredibly satisfying.
It will take a lot more time and community involvement to see how Starhawk ultimately fares. However, our pre-release impressions of it are quite favorable. Starhawk will be available on PS3 tomorrow.
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review.