Starhawk Review for PlayStation 3 (PS3)

Starhawk Review for PlayStation 3 (PS3)

The Hawk Has Landed

It’s been an interesting year, watching Starhawk grow from a spiritual successor to not one but two games named Warhawk (the second of which was a downloadable, multiplayer-only ordeal) into a standalone, boxed, triple-A title. Yes, when I first got my hands on an early build at E3 almost a year ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the final product. But that’s not saying the early demo I got my hands on back then didn’t show promise. In fact, I walked away from that demo expecting another Warhawk—something that would build a cult following online but probably wouldn’t break into the mainstream. I certainly didn’t expect a boxed release.

Starhawk, though, is quite a bit more ambitious than its immediate predecessor, the addictive yet tragically underplayed online Warhawk (as opposed to the PSOne Warhawk that went hand-in-hand with a crazy looking dual-flight-stick peripheral). For one, it adds an innovative gameplay element called Build and Battle (more on that later.) Additionally, it outdoes Warhawk by adding a single-player campaign. Yes, Starhawk is a full package.

Starhawk Screenshot

That campaign tells the story of Emmett Graves, a man whose body was mutilated by Rift Energy and now lives his life as a sort of gun-for-hire. Rift Energy is a glowy power source that is extremely valuable (and, in fact, has become the lifeblood of the people on a planet called Dust), yet it has the side effect of warping humans into mutants called Outcast. For whatever reason, Emmet is immune to these negative effects, even though his body has been tainted. His brother Logan, however, isn’t as fortunate, and is now leading the Outcast in an all-out war against the remaining humans of Dust. Of course, this puts Emmet in a precarious position, having to decide whether to pledge his loyalty to the people of Dust or to his own brother and the Outcast.

It’s a brief, ten-mission campaign that should take maybe five hours or so, but its story is somewhat intriguing and the “Space Western” backdrop sets a nice tone. However, it’s certainly not one of the better campaigns we’ve seen this year so far, and at times it feels like merely a primer for the multiplayer, easing players into the various game systems at a manageable pace.

Starhawk Screenshot

And that’s actually okay, because the competitive multiplayer is definitely the main event here. (There’s co-op, too, but like the campaign, it’s not the meat and potatoes of Starhawk.) The game mode offerings are your standard fare: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Zone (think Call of Duty’s Domination). Some might even complain that the selection of modes seems a bit sparse, or that there aren’t any new innovative modes that separate this one from the rest of the multiplayer shooter pack. But that’s sort of missing the point, as Starhawk’s gameplay is so unique that even these longstanding staples of online multiplayer feel fresh. I mean, Capture the Flag in Starhawk doesn’t really feel like Capture the Flag in most other games.

Prepare to hop into 32-player battles set in massive stretches of barren land that you get to mold and shape with the Build and Battle system. It’s a third-person shooter, but it’s not just about the shooting. You can “build” structures—or, rather, call them down form a drop ship that hovers above in space—in an almost tower defense style. You’ll summon supply depots, which grant access to other weapons like rocket launchers and shotguns. You’ll build garages that give you access to Razorback jeeps (which are basically Halo’s Warthogs.) You can even call down a Vulture jetpack or Sidewinder hoverbike dispenser. Coolest of all is the launchpad, which gives you access to the Hawk, a mech that transforms into a fighter jet.

Starhawk Screenshot

Now, I can’t overstate the importance of the Hawks in Starhawk. Not only will you spend approximately half the single-player campaign dogfighting in a Hawk, but knowing how to properly utilize this mech/jet combo is the key to being successful in multiplayer. Use it to get an early advantage and wreak havoc on your opponents by demolishing their buildings as fast as they can build them. Or save it for later, when you take to the sky to dogfight with the enemy’s Hawks, protecting your own outpost. But even without the strategic implications, Hawks are just plain fun to pilot.

But just because they’re fun to pilot doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to pilot. As much as I tweaked the controls, I couldn’t find a setup that felt one hundred percent comfortable. In fact, you could make this complaint about every vehicle in the game; they just feel almost perfect, but not quite, and it’s the kind of “not quite” that nags at the back of your mind.

And that’s odd, because the controls while your character is on foot feel absolutely perfect. They’re responsive, intuitive, and just plain feel good. There’s just something about those vehicles, though… It’s a shame, because you’ll be spending a good deal of time in Starhawk’s various vehicles if you don’t want to be snuffed out quickly.

Starhawk Screenshot

As I mentioned earlier, Starhawk is a Western set in space, and that means its backdrop has this barren-desert-meets-future-tech vibe. It almost feels like Tribes, or like a more serious Borderlands. (And, undoubtedly, many players will draw parallels to Firefly .) Needless to say, the environments you’ll explore have a lot of personality.

And the audio has a lot of personality as well. The score does “Space Western” to a tee, and the voice acting is great for the most part. Even though there are a couple minor characters who feel a bit flat, Emmet rambles on in this voice that reminds me of a more gravely Morgan Freeman. And some of the vehicle sounds are just plain cool. Especially the Sidewinder sounds, though I think the sound team may have stolen a few cues from the podracers of Star Wars .

Starhawk is definitely worth checking out. The Build and Battle gameplay combines tower defense with third-person shooters in a way that brings out the best of both genres. And that makes for an incredibly addictive experience. I wouldn’t recommend a purchase based on the campaign alone, but you’ll definitely get your mileage out of the multiplayer. In fact, LightBox plans to keep supporting this multiplayer into the future, and they’ve even announced that the game’s eventual map packs will be free as to not divide the player base. Thanks, LightBox!

Starhawk looks great for the most part, and the sci-fi Western vibe gives it personality. 4.6 Control
The controls feel smooth most of the time, but vehicles can feel a little awkward. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voicework is top-notch besides a few minor characters, sci-fi sound fx are great, and the music seems to work well enough. 4.7 Play Value
The single-player campaign is short, but the multiplayer is stupid fun. You won’t want to stop playing this. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Intense Air, Ground, and Vehicular Combat – Access an arsenal of weapons for action-packed run-and-gun gameplay or pilot land or air vehicles for an incredible range of combat.
  • New Build & Battle System – Change the battlefield to your advantage and call down a variety of equipment, vehicles, and fortifications instantly from an orbiting drop ship.
  • Full Single-Player Campaign – Caught in-between a warband of merciless enemies and a planet he once called home, outcast gunslinger, Emmett Graves and his partner Cutter must count on an arsenal of weapons and a little luck to bring an outlaw to justice.
  • Epic 32-Player Battles – Engage online opponents in vast battlefields across unique worlds. Level up your to personalize your experience with player upgrades, skills, and customizable skins for characters and vehicles.
  • Offline and Online Co-op Modes – Team up with friends by yourself or on two-player split-screen to defend your claim against waves of enemies in 1-4 player Co-Op Mode.
  • Rich Online Community Features – Easy-to-use Tournament and Clan support with additional Quick Match and Friends List features. Keep up to date with the Community Events Calendar, Ticker Tape updates, or the Starhawk Android App.
  • Intense Air, Ground, and Vehicular Combat – Access an arsenal of weapons for action-packed run-and-gun gameplay or pilot land or air vehicles for an incredible range of combat.

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