I’ve always regretted not sticking with Warhawk. Back in 2007 it was my third major PS3 purchase, and one I was planning on sinking a lot of hours into, taking advantage of Sony’s free online gaming platform. Alas I was a far less patient man back then, and server issues coupled with rank resets quickly became a chore, and I left Warhawk to gather digital dust on my hard drive.
So, I was extremely stoked upon hearing the news that Starhawk, a spiritual successor to Warhawk, was to be released this year. This excitement increased with the news that it would have a proper single-player campaign.
Will it be more than just the multi-player mode with some cutscenes tacked on?
The game’s story revolves around Emmett Graves and Sydney Cutter, who are guns for hire. Rift energy is an extremely precious commodity, and extracting it from the ground is big business. It’s also dangerous, with the pleasantly named “Scabs” sabotaging the procedure every chance they get. The Scabs are humans who have been exposed to Rift energy, becoming corrupted and not wanting a single drop of it to leave any planet.[drop2]Graves and Cutter are usually called in as problem solvers when the Scabs get out of control. For a fee, the pair will make the Scabs go away – usually by shooting them in the face until they expire. However, now the Scabs have found themselves a leader; someone who has organised the dishevelled bunch into a formidable force, striking at key targets.
What’s more alarming is that this mysterious shadow seems to know Graves very well…
I’ll come right out and say it; the vibe behind the story is very much like Firefly. From the ‘western in space’ theme right down to the twang of guitar strings and the crazed mutated humans; if you like Joss Whedon’s epic TV series you’ll love Starhawk’s story. Rather than using CGI, or in-game graphics, the story is told through a number of fully animated comic strip style cutscenes that look absolutely gorgeous.
The voicework is also very well done, and although Graves has that ‘gruff voiced angry man’ thing going on, he’s actually quite likeable and doesn’t come across as an utter tool. So, the story’s good, but what about the gameplay mechanics?
Starhawk is part third-person shooter, part vehicular combat game, all stirred together with a healthy dose of resource management. When starting a level you’ll normally be given a heads-up along the lines of “Scabs will be coming in from the West, tanks from the canyon entrance and enemy Hawks attacking from above”. You then have a short period of time to transform the area you’re standing in into a defensive/offensive hub.
This is done using the ‘Build and Battle’ system. Pressing the triangle button brings up a menu showing all the items at your disposal. Selecting a unit brings up an outline of it on-screen, allowing you to place it where you want. Confirming your selection will see the unit dropped from orbit. A word of warning; a falling unit will crush anything it lands on, be it friend or foe.
Each unit costs a different amount to deploy, but it’s not money you need, it’s Rift energy. This can be topped up by destroying strategically placed barrels as well as killing enemies. Keeping an eye on how much Rift energy you have is crucial, as enemy units will actively seek to destroy what you’ve built, so having reserves to build replacements is a must.
It might sound overwhelming but the game eases you into things before the pace steps up a notch. Also, whilst the player has flexibility in what they can build, you’ll often find certain units are unable to be selected. I guess this is to stop people just deploying tanks and brute-forcing their way through levels.[drop]I love the Build and Battle system. Its ease of use means that even those who aren’t that strategically minded can quickly and efficiently create a base within a few seconds. Let’s go through the scenario I mentioned above (Scabs will be coming in from the West, tanks from the canyon entrance and enemy Hawks attacking from above). What you could do is place mobile turrets where the Scabs will be attacking from, lasers to confront the tanks and summon a Hawk so you can take control of it and meet the enemy Hawks head on.
However, another method would be to place a wall across the entrance where the Scabs will be attacking from so they can’t get in, build a watchtower so you can climb up and snipe the Scabs as they try and destroy the wall, then place lasers around to take on the tank and the Hawks and summon an outpost, which teleports reinforcements in to help. Of course, there are numerous other ways to do it, but hopefully that gives you a taste of what’s possible.
One of my main concerns when first hearing about the game was the control scheme not being up to scratch. With so many different types of vehicles, both ground and air based, as well as third-person shooting sections, could Light Box make each one handle responsively? Thankfully the answer is yes, they can.
The third-person mechanics feel responsive, although I feel the ability to snap to cover would have been beneficial. The weapons provided feel nice and meaty, and although there aren’t a huge amount, there’s enough there to not get bored. In mech form the Hawks control just as you would expect – big slow hunks of metal with the focus being on firepower (as well as a rather nasty stomp-based melee attack). When in flight mode the Hawks are a joy; zipping around at a good pace with plenty of weaponry to collect. The Vulture packs are basically big jetpacks with limited range due to fuel consumption. Good for hitting ground troops, but a Hawk will tear you up.
In terms of ground vehicles, the speeder is used to quickly traverse environments, although it is rarely used. The Razorback is similar to Halo’s Warthog; an armoured jeep with a cannon mounted on the back and space for passengers. The tank is a trundling mass of death with a huge gun. It might take a while to get to your target, but once you do you can blow the crap out of them.
Crucially, every single bit of it works. No vehicle feels like it was an afterthought. Everything seems to have been designed with simplicity in mind, allowing players of any skill to jump in and be effective.[videoyoutube]Visually the game manages to swing from looking stunning to totally average. When playing on levels set in the desert it all looks great and some of the backgrounds when dogfighting in space are breathtakingly good to look at. The more industrial levels, however, look flat and a little dull. Whilst the character models look good, the animations also appear wooden.
Some of the levels also feel padded out. To finish several long fights only to hear “more Hawks inbound” can feel tiresome, especially as you’ll be doing exactly the same thing all over again. In fact, it’s the feeling of repetition that is the biggest problem with the single-player campaign. In all fairness, Light Box deserve kudos for keeping things feeling fresh for as long as they do though.
Levels look nice and varied, and you’re always given objectives, but there are only so many ways you can kill the same group of enemies. The flexibility of the Build and Battle system does its best to alleviate the problem, and certain units don’t get introduced until later on, but even then you can’t shake the feeling you’ve done it all before.
- Stellar voice work
- Decent story
- Build and Battle systems is easy to use
- It all controls very well
- Multiple ways to approach things
- Looks fantastic in places
- It can also look extremely average in places
- Some levels go on for too long
- The feeling of repetition that sets in
Starhawk’s single-player campaign is by no means perfect, but it is definitely enjoyable. The Build and Battle system has been well designed, and there are some truly exhilarating moments such as the first time you take a Hawk out into space. Repetition does take the shine off of proceedings somewhat, however. As preparation for the multi-player side of things, the single-player campaign does its job well – you’ll find yourself more than capable of joining a team and kicking some ass.
The game is harder to recommend for those who will focus solely on playing alone, though. Whilst the campaign will last a good few hours, from the way the menus are labelled it’s clear that the focus of Starhawk is very much on the online multi-player side of things. More on that soon.
There are a number of reasons why this review is for the single-player portion of the game only. Firstly, it took a certain mail company five days to deliver the code, meaning there was an extremely limited time to play it.
Secondly, the online pass provided was invalid, locking out that entire section of the game.
So, whilst that’s being sorted we can at least bring you our views on what to expect when hitting the single-player campaign. We’ve asked that this score be left off Metacritic until we can review all parts of the game.