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Starhawk, LightBox Interactive’s first game, has launched more than five years after Warhawk (though many of the same developers have worked on both games), it’s spiritual predecessor. The shooter market has changed beyond all recognition since then when Modern Warfare was still an unknown quantity and this game hasn’t radically altered the spirit of Warhawk. Which is to say that it’s a third person shooter with a focus on vehicular combat.
What is different is the inclusion of a single player campaign. Located on the frontier of colonised space Starhawk is a Western in space, think of Joss Whedon’s criminally cancelled Firefly as a comparison.
A gold rush over a power source known as Rift Energy has erupted and if gold corrupts a person’s mental state then Rift Energy literally corrupts their flesh causing those exposed to transform into mutations known as Outcasts.
As seems to be standard in the majority of shooters these days the single player campaign is quite short (only about five hours), in fact it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to call it an extended tutorial. In this part of the game you fill the boots of Emmett Graves.
The story, though simple, is well told with stylishly crafted animated cutscenes and essentially revolves around a war between the Outcasts and the Rift Miners.
This is where the Build and Battle system comes into the game. Activated with the triangle button this is by far the biggest innovation over its predecessor. Starhawk combines the elements of a third person shooter and a strategy game.
Throughout both single and multiplayer you can call upon an orbiting space platform for support in much the same way as CCP’s forthcoming Dust 514 will allow you to call upon aid from EVE Online players. You can call down structures onto the battlefield whenever you like, even bringing an object down on an enemy. Naturally this costs you Rift Energy.
Supply drops generate shotgun and rocket launchers while turrets and walls allow you rapidly create defences and vehicle bays produce Razorbacks and, of course, Hawks. These can perform the dual roles of both mechs and jet fighters transforming at a press of the circle button. Colour coded pick-ups meanwhile unlock torpedoes and guided-missiles, among other weapons.
Despite the power of the Hawks there is no great imbalance to the game which is much to LightBox’s credit. Anti-aircraft guns, called beam turrets, prevent total aerial supremacy. In every level your loadout is tailored to the current map but even so it’s alarmingly easy to dominate the game as a well placed sniper. When playing mulitplayer you also find that there’s a marked difference between the difficulty of that mode compared to the single player.
Enemies are far more dangerous and the action is much more rapid. While elements of the Build and Battle system have significantly different properties. Hawks are either deadlier than you’d expect or more vulnerable and turrets aren’t nearly as capable. This sizeable difference that exists between the single and multiplayer modes which can be disconcerting when you’re starting off. Of course if you’re only interested in the multiplayer portion of the game then this isn’t a problem.
However even with extensive cooperative and competitive modes Starhawk is only a solid third person shooter that will need to be overhauled and improved upon significantly if it is to be turned into a successful franchise for Sony. With a reasonable foundation established by Lightbox there is certainly potential here.