One of the first big hits for the PlayStation 3, Warhawk, originally a game for the PSOne, was a big hit with multiplayer aficionados. The multiplayer-only title demonstrated the power of the next-gen Sony platform, and also offered some great online gaming, mixing on foot third person combat with the ability to do battle in a range of vehicles, including the titular airborne ‘Warhawks’. However, with no single player option, many gamers were left out in the cold, until now.
Starhawk, although not a sequel as such, is the next game in the series, and it brings with it not only greatly upgraded combat along the same lines as Warhawk, but also a ton of extra content, including a single player campaign and the tower-defence element called the ‘Battle and Build’ system.
As the title now features a proper single player story, it also has a little more in the way of narrative this time, with the game world being portrayed as a sci-fi western, where prospectors hunt down planets rich with a valuable power source called Rift energy.
These deposits of energy usually exist on back worlds deep in dangerous territory, occupied by Outcasts, people altered and mutated by Rift energy, and often these prospectors have to employ trouble-shooters to help get their quota mined and shipped. This is where the game’s protagonist, Emmett Graves, comes in, and he and his partner, Cutter, take on missions to safeguard operations against attack, and make use of a range of heavy weaponry and equipment to achieve their goals.
This forms the base of the single player campaign, which, although short, and clearly heavily focused on introducing the game’s multiplayer mechanics, actually plays more like a proper campaign, and not just a glorified training exercise.
As Emmett, you’re guided along a series of missions, ranging from defending frontier-style settlements from attackers, to taking over mining stations, dog fighting in deep space and escorting star ships. All the while the game keeps introducing new weapons, vehicles and structures, and by the end of the camping, you’ll be suitably prepared for some online action.
In both the single player and multiplayer one of the games biggest new features is the introduction of the real-time base building system. As you fight and harvest Rift energy you’ll build up a pool of resources, then, using the simple radial menu you can spend this energy and request deployment of various structures, such as an ammo bunker, sniper tower, vehicle garage, and, of course, a Hawk landing pad, all of which are dropped from low orbit onto the battlefield. And yes, you can get kills by dropping these structures on foes too.
As well as these functional structures you can request simple defensive units such as walls and gun turrets, and some structures can be combined. For example, you can build a wall or bunker, and then deploy gun turrets to be mounted on there structures.
The system, which is very easy to use, works very well, and although it’s sometimes difficult to place structures exactly where you want them (turrets can be especially tricky to place on structures) for the most part, the mixture of combat and base building is seamless and intuitive.
Likewise, transition from on foot to vehicle combat is handled equally well, which is an impressive achievement, given the variety of vehicles and control schemes needed. Hover bikes, buggies and tanks are easy to control, and jetpacks, and the highly desirable Hawks, which can transform from mech-walker to fighter jet and back at will, are also silky smooth in operation. This is especially true for the Hawks, which are a joy to fly around the various maps, and dog fighting takes mere seconds to get used to.
I have to say, though, that using the weapon switching menu when flying a Hawk is a royal pain, especially in a hectic dog fight. A simple weapon cycle button would be much more suitable than the d-pad radial system here.
Bomb the base
The use of the building system isn’t a bolt on addition, and instead it’s a core aspect of the gameplay. Tactical deployment of structures and wise use of resources is often the key to victory, both on and offline, and choosing the wrong option can leave you high and dry. In many modes you’ll be taking part in a tower defence, having to protect your Rift mining from attack, and setting out your defences requires careful use of your available options.
What’s more, although not perfect, the game isn’t as unbalanced as it could have been. With vehicles as powerful as the Hawks, and structures like the ammo bunker offering a great level of protection (not to mention infinite ammo), it would have been very easy to upset the flow of the game. Thankfully, there’s always a counter to each offensive and defensive move. Hawks, as powerful as they are can easily be brought down by shoulder mounted missile launchers, and fortified structures can be toppled with directed fire, or infiltrated by sneaky players.
The end result is a great combination of traditional games modes like death matches and CTF, with the base building features that you don’t see in many online games of this type.
Online and off
Sadly, although the single player campaign is very welcome, as not all players wish to take the battle online, there’s no sign of actual bot matches, something that many players really wanted to see. Instead, there’s a co-op survival mode that pits you against waves of foes that are trying to destroy your Rift structure. This is designed to be played with another friend, but can be played solo if you wish.
The lack of real bots is irritating, not least as the single player clearly features AI that’s capable of piloting and driving vehicles and using structures. It can’t be all that difficult to plonk this AI into single player bot matches for the other game modes, and this alone would make the game a must buy for many players. Sadly, it’s not an option.
The only way you can play actual multiplayer modes, which are undoubtedly the meat of the game, is to go online against other players. Once you do go online, though, the game does impress. There’s the plethora of game modes, leader boards, news feeds, messaging and more, all accessible from the central game menu. There’s even a multiplayer home world, which you can roam around at your leisure, and invite friends to. You can also explore each game map on your own too, without the threat of attack.
If you do enjoy playing against others online, then this is a game that’ll certainly entertain and keep giving. The highly polished game play, solid controls and variety of modes will keep you going for a long time, and the announcement that all future map packs will be free is an added bonus, making the game even more desirable.
Starhawk is a great, and very well put together title, and is one of the most enjoyable online titles I’ve played for quite some time. The single player is also enjoyable, if very short, and if the game had the option for offline bot matches, it’d most likely get a higher score. As it stands though, fans of Warhawk will get a kick out of this, and anyone looking for a different kind of online competitive title won’t be disappointed.