Available on PS3
Tired of over-hyped, underwhelming shooters that don’t have two ideas to rub together? StarHawk might just be the antidote. On the one hand, nobody could accuse it of being over-hyped. Few of us would have put it on our 2012 gaming wish list, and it’s the sequel to a game – WarHawk – that could best be described as a cult online hit in the early days of PS3.
On the other hand, StarHawk is a game that exceeds expectations. It’s not the most visually dazzling, richly atmospheric or thrilling shooter around, but it has a fresh take on old genres and a clutch of good ideas, and it’s all been executed with a high degree of polish. We doubt this quote will make the box, but StarHawk is surprisingly good.
A mish-mash of ideas
It’s not that the ideas or concepts are particularly new. StarHawk is a hybrid of shooter and RTS genres, with elements of Gears of War, Starsiege: Tribes, MechWarrior, Red Faction and Battlefield, but with streamlined aspects of Command and Conquer, Dark Reign and StarCraft. This isn’t revolutionary – Battlezone was doing the same thing back in 1998, and Section 8 has similar ideas at work three years ago – but it’s probably the best implementation we’ve seen. StarHawk has just enough strategy to make it more interesting, but not enough to detract from the blasting at its core.
The plot and setting take the same magpie approach, and it’s not hard to see chunks of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, James Cameron’s Avatar and Robotech/Battlemech in StarHawk’s sci-fi western premise. In the future, mankind has colonised the planets and thousands of pioneers have laid claim to mysterious energy sources known as rifts. However, rifts can have a corrupting influence, transforming some prospectors into outlaw mutants who will go to any length to get more rift energy.
StarHawk’s single-player hero Emmett Gray is himself half-mutant, able to absorb rift energy but still in touch with his human side. Acting as a kind of gun-for-hire, it’s his job to make sure that energy is collected and safely transported, fending off attacks from the ‘outcasts’ when needs be.
In practice, this means blasting away at the outcasts then using the collected energy to build whatever resources Emmett needs. StarHawk is played out in third-person, but it’s not a cover-based shooter in the mould of Gears of War. Instead, it’s all about hitting objectives hard and fast, then building whatever you need to defend or assault the next one. During the course of the campaign, most facilities you can think of will be deployed to assist, ranging from simple defensive turrets to sniper watchtowers and supply bunkers, each giving Emmett access to more weapons.
Take to the skies
More importantly, garages, corrals and hangers give Emmett and his allies access to vehicles, ranging from speeder bikes to warthog-style jeeps and – most excitingly – the Hawks. Basically mechs that transform into fighter jets, the Hawks enable Emmett to take the fight into the air, or even into space.
There’s a lot going on here, but the surprise is how well it all fits together. The building interface is instantly accessible and very easy to use, and whether you’re on foot, on wheels or in flight the movement controls are intuitive and responsive, with excellent handling and a versatile set of weapons.
The levels also have an interesting structure. You’re not starting off at one point in a level and working your way through to the end, but moving between objectives across open maps, establishing a beachhead, moving out to attack key objectives, then defending them from waves of outcast attacks. The single-player game has enough sense to throw in checkpoints and give you room to breathe and prepare for the next assault, and the game scales up nicely to give you new equipment and new enemies, so that there’s always something new to get to grips with.