Mechs, Rifts & Waiting Twelve Months: Hands On With Starhawk

Sequels, as we know all too well, are the lifeblood of publishers across the globe: take the basic idea of a hit game and polish, refine it and throw it back out there. Dead Space 2 was fantastic, but it’s essentially a shiny Dead Space 1; Uncharted 2 had improvements over Drake’s first adventure, but in terms of gameplay it wasn’t a big step up. So, with this slightly jaded view of the gaming world and follow-up titles, I wasn’t all that excited when Sony asked us to go and play Starhawk at an exclusive unveiling.

But after seeing it, I was wrong: I haven’t been this excited about a game in years – Lightbox have found the holy grail and brought something entirely new to the shooter genre, massively exceeding their sterling work on the original Warhawk, taking it to levels none of the rumours even hinted at.

[advert]Set in a completely new universe to Warhawk, the action unfolds on a series of moons and colonies on the frontier of space. Two factions, the Miners and the Outcasts, are fighting over Rifts – dangerous geysers of energy that can melt the flesh from your body and push your bones inside out – literally. The

Outcasts were originally human but were mutated by exposure to the Rifts and are now seem to worship them.

You might have heard rumours about a single player campaign here on TSA, but it goes above and beyond what we thought: it’s story based, and will follow the exploits of one Emmett Graves, a human who has been exposed to Rift energy, but has not yet entirely mutated. His left arm and eyes now glow bright blue and to control the mutation he has a Rift regulator strapped to his back – it doesn’t stop the mutation, just limit it, but it does mean our hero can take a few bullets. Get hit too much, though, and the regulator starts to overload, tubes springing from Graves’ back as a warning to find some cover.

Joining Emmett is the fabulously moustachioed Cutter, a character who proves support during the missions as Emmett attacks and defends Rift mines from the outcast attacks.

[drop]So, with the scene set by Dylan Jobe and the team, it was time to grab a Dualshock and check it out for myself – and after quickly dispatching an Outcast sniper I used his own weapon to take out some of his pals – a massive fire fight erupted, showing off Starhawk’s impressive AI to the fullest.

The Outcast did not run blindly at me, they sought cover and tried to flank. In many other games if an enemy does take cover they usually crouch down then pop their head above the wall now and then take a shot, it’s child’s play to line up your gun and just wait for them to show their face which you can then quickly splatter over the nearest wall. In Starhawk the Outcast ran from cover to cover, using strafing moves to attack.

After massacring the first wave of Outcast my faithful companion Cutter tells me a second wave is on the way and at this point another new idea in Starhawk makes its presence known. Dylan explained that most shooters follow a very linear pattern of enemy attacks – no matter how many times you play the game there will always be a sniper in a certain window, an enemy hiding round a particular corner. In most shooters the level design consists of a series of fire fights connected by passages. Dylan explained that the levels in Starhawk are most like arenas so rather than scripting them to appear at a certain location the enemies now have a drop zone area and can appear anywhere within the specified parameters, thus making every game you play slightly different.

I continued to play and removed the rest of the Outcast, successfully reaching the top of a structure which held a switch my character needed to activate to turn on a giant satellite dish in the play area. As I did so Cutter reveals yet more Outcast are on the way and I had better get prepared. At this point Starhawk reveals its killer feature and in my opinion, it’s utter genius.

Lightbox have essentially taken the basics of Warhawk and mashed it up with Command & Conquer. It sounds terrible on paper but it works beautifully in game. As you kill the Outcast they spill glowing orbs of Rift energy, and the same energy can also be harvested from your Rift mine. Cutter’s ship which is hovering above the planet is packed full of buildings, defences and vehicles and with quick press of triangle you can use your Rift energy reserves to power a building. When selected a glowing green outline of the building appears and you can move it around until you are satisfied with its position. Another quick button press and moments later a pod drops from the ship in orbit and unfolds in to your requested building.

There were only a small number of buildings in the version available to play but many more will be available in the full game. In the sequence I played I could purchase automatic defence turrets, an armoured barracks packed full of weapons and a support tower. The support tower will supply a stream of AI controlled characters who fight on your behalf. Two other buildings were available, beam towers and a Hawk pad.

Ah yes, the Hawks – no longer Warhawks, not even Starhawks, just Hawks. The design has been streamlined and they are much easier to control but Lightbox have added one other totally unexpected feature…

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  1. This game is all kinds of awesome. The transformers (Starhawks), being able to build vehicles and buildings but also a single player campaign :O Dylan Jobe and the rest are Lightbox Interactive are dream workers :P. Very interested to see more news trickle out at E3 as he posted on Twitter that the game will be playable there.

  2. Can not wait, seriously I’m bursting with anticipation.

    Quite a departure from the original which is to be expected after 4 years, hopefully everything is just as balanced as warhawk, where all the strengths & weaknesses of everything are perfectly matched & the RTS slots in well, which I have confidence it will.

    Of course I’d have been more than happy with a map-pack for warhawk, but all this…. wow

    • Yes Wow, this sounds fantastic, roll on E3 for more, and it’s probably the first time ever that I can detect happiness in your words cc_star !!

      • I really don’t like the look of this game. The art style isn’t great imo, preferred the cartoony look of Warhawk. This game bears no resemblance to warhawk so why have ‘hawk’ in it at all? I loved Warhawk because of the flying mechanics and [email protected] completely trashed those core ideas. There’s no variation of planes and they’ve just copied transformers with those stupid mechs. all the innovations like the drop-ships made warhawk special. Starhawk looks so generic and all the quirkyness has been lost. Afraid i’ll be giving Starhawk a pass, might even go buy warhawk back.

      • I expect dropships along with every other vehicle will return.

      • A dropship is mentioned on the trailer.

        What I liked about the Dropship… and the APC was that they added so much to the game when they launched as DLC with the new map, so hopefully something meaningful is kept back for DLC to keep things fresh, rather than laying all their cards on the table to start with

  3. “Sometime in 2012”.. at least give me a quarter to look forward to!
    This looks amazing, the transforming hawks sounds interesting too.

    • Ok. Just for you it’s last quarter 2012. If they happen to release it before then you’re allowed to wait.

  4. Other than Burnout, Warhawk is the only competitive multiplayer I’ve really enjoyed on the PS3. Like Chris I’d have been happy with new maps and a graphical update. 2012 has its first entry on my must-buy list.

    • They were also my most played PS3 games. I can feel a nostalgia trip coming on, once the PSN is back up that is.

  5. Sometime in 2012? What happened to Dylan not wanting to show the game until it was nearly ready?

    Nothing like what I was expecting (which to be honest was just Warhawk in space), and the transforming Hawks sound amazing!

    Is it 2012 yet?

  6. “Sounds like a game set in the Firefly universe – cool!” – that is all I could want and more! Those transforming hawks sound ridiculously awesome

    • Exactly what I thought!

      I started to read this and smiled. By the end of it I had a big fat grin on my face! I’m liking everything here.

      The character isn’t generic and looks pretty cool. Enemy AI is clever. It’s set in space! AND TRANSFORMING HAWKS!!! That’s AWESOME!

      Thanks TSA! :D

      • I third this, it sounds awesome. This might be the game that actually succeeds in getting me playing online more than sporadically.

  7. So, do you pick up weapons spread over the map like Warhawk or are there crappy loadouts?

    And can you select a server from a list, like Warhawk, or is it matchmaking or nothing?

    (Not sure if you can answer but figured i’d ask)

    • For me Warhawk was great because of the weapons spread out. It meant it was an even battle unlike COD etc where you get better weapons over time thus disadvantaging the newer players.

      • Yup, same. One of the best things about Warhawk and i’ll be incredibly disappointed if they CODified it :(

    • Weaopons can be picked up across the map and also from your barracks. There was only one server which auto selected so cant answer your second question.

      • Awesome, thanks mate

      • Thank goodness, not a fan of class-based picking your loadout, much prefer to adapt via pick-ups

  8. So it’s coming out just in time for the PSN going back online :)

  9. This is what I have been waiting for,
    “Sounds like a game set in the Firefly universe – cool” just makes me want it more.

    The only problem I can see is that everyone will be building whatever buildings give them the most points, and defence will be just a few people desperately trying to play the game whilst the rest of their team just run around trying to get their kills up.

    I so hope I am wrong….

    • Once people’s ability grows it means capturing the flag will surely take teamwork, imaging grabbing the flag and trying to get out of there only to find a defensive player has built a wall blocking your escape… you’re going to need some team mates with heavy artillery to help you out.

      • great, this sounds the nuts, teamwork wohoo

    • They could get help from a a mean a Hawk, I wonder what the mechs will be like since I play Armoured Core. Mech vs Mech battles would be so awesome

      • Private servers with agreed mech v mech deathmatch/team deathmatch between friends? Yes!

  10. And how we too play this if psn foot come back on?

    • PSN foot? Sounds like some kind of fetish

      • If the psn isn’t back by 2012 I’ll have much bigger worries than just playing starhawk

    • If PSN hasn’t come on by 2012 then I don’t imagine Sony would have many customers left to play Starhawk anyway!

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