Warhawk really pushed the limits of what we could expect from the PS3 generation, giving gamers aerial and ground based combat with 32 players across some pretty large environments; sadly more focused first person shooters took the shine from this genre, until now, five years on and Starhawk finally arrives.
Though almost everything has changed from the previous game, Starhawk still manages to hold a resemblance to Warhawk and what it stood for whilst making it a lot more open and easy to walk into. This is mainly down to the new single player campaign, acting as not only some exciting solo missions but also a tutorial into the Starhawk world of Build and Battle. In the campaign mode you control a prospector in the future where Rift Energy, a strange energy source has spread throughout the galaxy, causes thousands of humans to spread to the stars, staking claims on far away outposts trying to make a living. If surviving harsh new worlds wasn’t hard enough the settlers also have to deal with Scabs, a strange cultist group of beings desperate to stop the cultivation of the Rift at any cost. As the story progresses you are shown the history of your character, who was involved in an early raid by the Scabs, resulting in somehow being deformed by the Rift energies and is now a mercenary for hire, helping humanity against the rise of the Scabs. The story is well written and will keep you glued to the screen as it sets up each level and whilst you feel you are playing through a story over the six or so hours, the campaigns main aim is to guide you through the basics of a majority of the gameplay elements you will come across during your online experience.
The single player experience will keep you occupied for a decent time but it’s the online modes that will keep you truly hooked. There are a few game modes available across the 10 maps available, though nothing really ground-breaking in terms of originality with classic stalwarts like Capture the Flag, Team Death Match, Zone and Deathmatch. Though the modes do cover old ground the game options and load outs available to freely adjust really do make for different experiences with the ability to create Hawk only games that make for some great dog fights, ground only battles or of course, a mixture of the two.
Most of the games played will be the classic air and ground load out and to be honest, this is the most fun, with huge sprawling battlefields allowing for plenty of classic game moments like taking down Hawks with a sniper shot to the pilots head to running the gauntlet with the other teams flag on the back of your Sidewinder Jet Bike.
Once the game has been selected you are literally launched into battle by way of a drop pod that blasts you onto the battlefield and explodes, your character emerging somehow intact and straight away there are vital choices to be made, run straight into battle or stay back and hold the fort. Charging off into battle is just like any other third person shooter, with trigger buttons for attacks and the d-pad switching you through the many available weapons at your disposal, though you do only start with a limited ammo rifle. Those hanging back can create support, defensive and offensive structures, as long as you have enough Rift juice which slowly generates or is given a boost by killing enemies.
Holding the triangle button will bring up an easy to use radial menu, allowing you to choose and then place a selection of buildings quick and easily, with walls that will help keep enemies at bay, automated turrets, watchtowers to give you a high point to view the battle from and a sniper gun to boot, a supply bunker full of rockets and ammo and of course launch pads for your Hawk. All you have to bear in mind is that each level has a set building limit, reach that and its down to you to either remove a structure from the game or make do with what’s on the map already.
Even though you are perfectly capable of taking down the majority of what is thrown at you as a ground trooper thanks to homing missiles and a great zoom function on the Rail Gun, you are still human, soft and squishy and easily killed, so most of the time you will be negotiating the maps in one of the many vehicles on offer, be it a Vulture Jet Pack that lets you get to those more awkward heights, the ultra-fast Sidewinder Jet Bike, two manned Razorback buggy with mounted machine gun, the slow but brutal six wheeled Ox Heavy Tank or the stars of the show, the Hawks. These machines have a real Starscream from Transformers feel to them, with the ability to instantly switch from winged death from the skies to a huge ground stomping mech, with the transformation so seamless and visually impressive it takes a while to just stop transforming and getting on with the battle. Once in the air the Hawks are very easy to control, with acrobatic moves and chaff to avoid incoming missiles and a brutal array of weapons to pick up from the game map for you to use against other airborne foes and ground troops. If it’s getting too hot in the air you can always transform and strike fear into the troops below, towering above them in mech form, ground stomping and generally chewing up the environment with your mounted machinegun. Once in one of these beasts you really do feel invincible, however this is not long lived as there are already plenty of skilled pilots looking to clip your wings.
With all of the battles you participate in you will gradually earn experience points which rank up your character, which unlocks new customisation tools for your character and vehicles plus if you are good enough on the field you will earn medals which will then grant the ability to purchase additional skills like XP boosts or faster Rift regeneration.
Where building is a very exciting concept that splits the Starhawk between full on action and a real time strategy game, playing with unknown online allies can at times case more headaches than necessary, with players running off lone wolf style to building inappropriate or even destroying well positioned structures due to the levels build limit. On a plus side this is where clans should make the game even better, with you being able to create and join your own group of similar minded gamers; but it is early days at the moment and only time will tell how this is picked up but the additional options like a news ticker (nothing to report yet) and a calendar for those big clans meetings, if this takes off and becomes THE PS3 online experience, you will have everything you need.
With the campaign and online mode already taking up most of your time, Starhawk also has a few other surprises tucked away, including a Co-op mode that offers a more original take on the well-trod horde mode; this time two of you need to build and prepare for incoming attacks from Scab forces, collecting Rift energy and creating whatever you need to stop rocket launchers, buggies and enemy Hawks from destroying your Rift Extractors.
A point of contention with many a gamer is the addition of online passes and Starhawk is no different, with an online pass via the game box to download before you start, fine for retail purchases but an issue for the pre-owned; however at a cost of £7.99 if you don’t have a pass this also includes PSone copy of Warhawk to sweeten the deal, so it’s not so bad. When the only thing that annoys me is having to accept the term and conditions every time log in I really can’t fault the game at all, this is a corker of a title that will entertain for a long time to come.
Rating: ExcellentReview Policy(version tested: PS3)
You can order your copy and Starhawk from ShopTo here.