The spiritual successor to one of the PSN’s first big hits, Warhawk, is almost with us. It’s not a direct sequel and isn’t set in the same universe, it only shares part of its name, but Starhawk does retain those same core gameplay values which made Warhawk such a great game to play. That’s not enough though; Starhawk builds on those with a number of improvements, firstly with its brand new universe known as the “new frontier” and yeah, you guessed it has that sci-fi western feel to it. Out in the corners of the galaxy, humans have set up various small colonies and the people who live in them are, for the most part, miners.
Rift energy is the new power source of choice but, of course, just like global warming there is a down side, and excessive exposure to rift energy will build up inside a person’s body and cause them to mutate by literally pushing their skeleton out through to the surface of their skin. Obviously nobody wants to kick around with the creepy mutant kid and the infected are quickly banished from your little space town to live life as outcasts. This obviously happens to your brother at the start of the game, and after being outcast he rises to power as the big bad and must be stopped, whatever the cost.
Another of Starhawk’s key features lies within its AI engine. How many times have you played a shooter that is the same, every single time? Sure, you can fiddle with the difficulty and settings, but you reach that point where you know what is coming all of the time and at what point they will trigger. Lightbox Interactive have done away with that linear approach and each mission takes place within a sandbox of sorts. What makes it different though is that you can play out a mission however you like. If you want you can build up a fortified base before heading out, or maybe just work around the edges of the map, building sniper towers as you go – it really is up to you as a player to make those decisions. In return the game will constantly adapt and evolve to how you are playing, keeping the gameplay fresh every time; we’re not just talking digital choices of going either left or right – you can play it a completely different way every single time. Something which adds to that dynamic AI system is the build in battle system; this is where Starhawk separates itself from other shooters and adds in some RTS elements.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking something like “Arghhh no, why are they trying to mix two game types?” but, I’ll be honest, it works and its bloody good fun. Building a structure is as easy as a… really easy thing with easy bits on; all you need to do is bring up your build wheel and select which building you would like to construct. There is everything here from turrets to launch pads for Hawks and, once you have made your choice, a laser wire -frame appears in front of you which will glow red when it can’t be placed and turn green when it can. A click of the button and a few seconds later, boom! Your chosen structure hits the ground from orbit, unpacks itself and also doubles up as an effective weapon. Just don’t do what I did first time around and plant a wall in front of your car while you are driving, it does not end well.
Multiplayer is really where it is at with Starhawk and the developers are keen to make sure the game is as balanced and fair as it can be before it launches. The lead designer on Starhawk takes this to the extreme with his play-testing, and offers the players on the winning team one hundred dollars each because he feels like within a playtest group the stakes aren’t high enough, and he wants people to play the game like they really want to win – they have to earn it.
Speaking from my own experience with Starhawk, Lightbox Interactive have totally nailed the multiplayer; it’s fair and leaves no room for players pulling cheap-arse tricks like spawn camping. To combat these online asshats, the developers have effectively given you a counter attack to them and most of the other niggles that we have all had with other players in these kind of games. Upon your death you’re presented with a map and the available sections you can spawn in; once you have picked one you are fired from orbit in a drop pod, which you can manoeuvre and, if need be, drop on the head of the guy who just killed you. Should you be unlucky enough to enter a match with one of those nob-heads who are usually hell-bent on ruining your fun, the good news is that they can’t really hurt you, even by dropping a building on your head. The only thing they can do to annoy you is to start building walls and buildings in dumb places but, thanks to the demerit system, if they do start acting the spanner you can just hit them with a demerit and once they have enough of them their building permits will be revoked and will need to be earned back.
Starhawk really is shaping up to be a brilliant title, with combat locations from the dusty plains of new frontier all the way up to orbit around a planet. It’s just one of those games that are fun to play; you could load it up for a few rounds on your own or spend all night on it with a group of friends. Lightbox Interactive really have nailed the gameplay and, for the first time in a long time, I’m actually really looking forward to a PlayStation 3 release.
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