Still, were it simply a single-player game StarHawk would be a classic seven-out-of-tenner. With its cel-shaded, comic-book style graphics it looks decent enough, but hardly amazing, the art and design feels a bit generic, and once you get the hang of the general mission structure the action can grow a tad repetitive.
Enemy AI is reasonable but hardly that intelligent, and once you’ve seen one dusty planet or industrial orbiting station, you’ve pretty much seen them all. It’s an entertaining shooter with a great tactical twist, but not the sort of thing you’d excitedly point to friends and demand that they play.
Building on the Battlefield
However, just like WarHawk, StarHawk is fundamentally a multiplayer game, albeit one with one of the most engaging single-player modes in any multiplayer-focused game. The campaign is really a tutorial, and it’s once you take the action online that StarHawk starts to look like something a little more special.
With up to sixteen players on each side and large maps to explore, plus all the jetbikes, tanks, transforming mech jets and armed jeeps of the single player game, StarHawk is the closest thing we have to a sci-fi Battlefield.
Encompassing Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch and an objective-seizing mode called Zones, it doesn’t really push the boundaries in terms of game styles, but the simple addition of base building makes it a different experience. When it at its best, StarHawk can be a real spectacle, as screaming Hawks dive in amidst beam-turret fire to take down defences so that fast-moving guys on jetbikes or jeeps can race through to capture the flag.
It’s also surprisingly well-balanced. Just when you think Hawks and tanks threaten to dominate, you realise that one guy with a rocket launcher can take these down with a little luck and skill, while deploying sensible defences can also turn the tide.
It’s a game that encourages multiple play styles. Lone-wolf players will take to the Hawks or find sniping positions, but the addition of base building makes a defensive role just as interesting and valuable. In practice, though everyone can build providing there is rift energy in the central pool, not everyone does. Guys on jetbikes have limited offensive capabilities, but can make quick raids on enemy positions, and the maps encourage a range of different approaches. StarHawk is tight where it needs to be, but flexible enough to fit your preferences.
Of course, even Battlefield isn’t great every game, and the same goes for StarHawk. Camping snipers can be a nuisance, though they’re easy pickings for a talented Hawk jockey, and you’ll occasionally find your team-mates wasting resources unnecessarily, or doing the classic request-a-tank-then-drive-off-without-any-passengers thing.
There are Capture the Flag matches where everyone gets so enmeshed in assault and defence that they actually forget about the flags, and tanks and Hawks camping on the spawn ground can also be a menace. For every problem, though, there’s nearly always a solution. For a start, players respawn in a pod hurtling towards the planet surface, and if you’re smart about it you can actually steer the pod so that it hits the camping tank and takes out all inside it – revenge can be a wonderful thing.
If you tire of the competitive action, there are also co-op modes available, one being a co-op take on the campaign, the other being a Horde-style mode where players work together to defeat waves of Outcasts. The base building mechanics are perfect for this kind of thing, so it’s no surprise that it works extremely well.
StarHawk even makes it very, very easy to get into games, or even switch from one game to another with a control panel and browser that are never more than a couple of button presses away. It might all seem very simple, but a lot of thought has clearly gone into nearly every aspect of the game.
This doesn’t make StarHawk an essential PS3 shooter. There will be plenty of players who might give it a go, dislike the new dynamics, and return to Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Killzone 3 or whatever else floats their boat. But if it works for you, then you’ll love it. It might only develop a niche fanbase, but StarHawk is the kind of game that gets a loyal one. If you’re looking for a mostly online shooter with a difference, then that fanbase might just include you.
While StarHawk isn’t a AAA shooter in the class of Resistance 3 or Killzone 3, it’s a brave and interesting effort that makes a better job of integrating RTS mechanics than similar games have in the past. The single-player campaign is short and slightly repetitive and the art style uninspired, but when it comes to delivering great multiplayer action on a sci-fi battlefield, StarHawk comes into its own.