Starhawk - Review - May 30th 2012

Incognito's 2007 PSN shooter Warhawk was exactly the kind of exclusive title Sony needed to establish their emerging online network as a true competitive force. It may have lacked system selling gravitas, but there was an undeniable charm to this game that bet big on delivering a solid multiplayer over and above any narrative ambitions. The Hawks themselves were a unique and identifiable selling point, whilst frequent updates and expansions ensured that the online community would thrive. A sequel seemed like a no brainer, but has a change in developer and the addition of a solo campaign led follow up Starhawk to veer too far away from what made its spiritual predecessor so enticing?


One can dismiss the addition of single player as a glorified tutorial, but LightBox have made a genuine effort here to create a fictional universe that makes sense, even if it lacks originality. There's a stereotypically gruff demeanour to characters and their interactions with one another often amount to very little, but stylish cutscenes help alleviate the sense that you've seen it all before. The story is actually quite interesting, and at least the campaign doesn't outstay its welcome.

And then of course you have those wonderful Hawks, tricked out here with fancier weaponry and new mech based gameplay. They control like an absolute dream, and provide instantly memorable moments as you dogfight between space platforms and errant asteroids. Back on solid ground, the Sidewinder (part Star Wars speeder bike, part Covenant ghost) offers equally satisfying vehicular action, but it's the build and battle system that provides the most intrigue.

This is definitely as fun as it looks.

Taking cues from the likes of Command and Conquer and Section 8, Starhawk spices things up with integrated dynamic base construction. Rift energy is your Tiberium here, and governs the number of structures you can deploy at any given time. Enemies spontaneously leave handy globules of this stuff behind whenever they're extinguished, which is preposterous but automatic, and therefore allows you to concentrate on planning over resource gathering. For the most part, it works as expected, despite innocuous terrain objects that sometimes prevent you from putting things where you want. And thankfully, you can't abuse the system in multiplayer as there are team centric limits in place to avoid a map full of automatic turrets.

Speaking of which, the online side of things remains consistent with what Warhawk had previously set out to achieve. The build and battle system works just as well here, and the maps are large enough to support vehicle and on foot encounters in equal measure. Split-screen options make a welcome return, and the new wave based co-op mode presents a healthy challenge. One significant problem is that with so much going on, it is not welcoming to newcomers. You are thrust into the action with little time to breathe, which is bound to put off first time players. Maps are also replete with choke points that are ripe for abuse, leaving a frustrating sense of inevitability to most encounters.

Flying a Warhawk is awesome.

If you're willing to invest time into learning the maps then co-ordinating your attacks becomes a lot easier, but Starhawk multiplayer still remains an unforgiving experience. However, there are some wonderful touches worth noting that help set this game apart. The deploy mechanic, which sees you and your team falling from orbit in a drop pod, is wonderfully cinematic, and the option to remain protected upon landing so that you're not at risk of being spawn killed is a lovely idea. The presentation is also consistent throughout all aspects of the game, right down to the cobbled together menu interface complete with occasional static. Stunning vistas and some cool space effects round out a visually impressive offering.


Jon Titmuss

 

Gameplay:

The build and battle system works extremely well, and, like Warhawk, the vehicles offer the most fun.

Audio:

Voice acting is so so, and this isn't helped by a fairly average script.

Graphics:

It is quite a step up from Warhawk in this regard, with a consistent sci-fi western style that never fails to impress.

Longevity:

Single player is short but punchy, whilst multiplayer demands investment in order to be fully enjoyed.

     

Final Score:



There are some excellent ideas here, but some are executed better than others, and the multiplayer is terribly unforgiving.

 

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