First I would like to begin with a brief review of Warhawk. Warhawk is one of my favourite games of this generation, Why? because it was pure and it was simple. From the characature-esqu style of the game to the variety of maps. No where else could you fly over a destroyed capital city, or jump your way around a paradise archipelego. Weapons were tactically placed as were the vehicles. Defending the flag was as much of a joy a was capturing the opposing teams. It had charm and was simple. You could pick up, play, and put down again, having had a laugh with your pals all the way through. It didn’t take itself seriously and kamikaze runs to the enemies base was a normal tactic of mine. It was almost like playing army in the playground when you were a child.
And so, when news hit me of a sequel, I squealed like two pigs on a honey moon. So excited about the prospect of more of the same only with tweaks here and there to make what was almost perfection perfect.
So here we are with Starhawk, the spiritual successor to Warhawk with added single player campaign and a brand new Battle and Build function that adds more than a dollop of Tower defence to the mix. But more on that later.
The first thing you will notice if you’re a Warhawk veteran is how grown up it’s all become. The fun and charm from the first game is sorely missing, replaced by gruff growling characters that look like they would fit in any other space shooter. You don’t feel for any of them, unlike the under siege Ucadians from the first game.
Single player Slopiness
In Starhawk, money doesn’t talk, Rift energy is the currency of choice. Glowing blue power that powers pretty much everything you see in the game. And this is what the single player campaign boils down to. You take on the roll of Emmitt Graves with his bunch of merry men, and are hired to stop the nefarious Outlanders from steeling Rift energy. This results in missions that see you take part in outer space dog fights and tower defence style defend the objective. All nicely wrapped up in a wild west theme that nods more than once to often overlooked TV show Firefly. The truth is though, that this single player campaign is dull. Each mission is just the same as the last, defend this, defend that and use the battle and build element to help you in these tasks.
It gets boring very quickly, the whole single player campaign just serves as a prolonged overly complicated Tutorial. Each mission shows you how to use one of your new facilities or vehicles, annoyingly, you need to go through most of this campaign before you should even think about jumping into the multiplayer otherwise you may miss out on some important information. There is an argument that developers Light Box Interactive could have done away this campaign all together and had a dedicated tutorial.
Build and Battle bulls**t
The other big new thing in Starhawk is the new Build and Battle system, throughout your single or multiplier game you are collecting rift energy from nearby towers, collect enough and you can call from space what ever contraption is available for that particular map, be it a launch pad for a hawk, an auto turret or a supply depo. It’s a very easy system to use. simply tap the triangle button and your radial appears with your options, select what you want and BOOM it lands right in front of you.
I take my hat off to Lightbox for trying something new, but It kind of just gets in the way of the run and gun fun battles. Having to worry about building supply bunkers rather than just running off to pick up your weapon of choice is a real chore. Providing you have enough Rift energy, you basically have all he vehicles the game has to offer at your beck and call, making it all touch simplistic. In Warhawk, once you captured the flag, it was a mad panic to get out-of-the-way of the all the cross fire, hoping upon hope that the jeep or tank that should be in its place is actually still there so you can make a get away. In Starhawk however, you can hide out long enough for Build and Battle system to land you a bike then you can scarper, making it all too easy.
Granted, it’s still early days in Starhawk’s life, so I’m sure tactics will become more apparent when people get used to the maps and the complex joys of the battle and build system. For me, I found it a nuesense and kept wishing there was an option to turn it off.
I guess I sound like I hate this game. Not so, The multiplayer is as good as expected, the simple drop in and out gameplay is present and correct as are the same game modes, Capture the flag, Zones, Death Match and Team Death match. Once you pick up a controller in the Multiplayer game you feel right at home. Ground vehicles are a breeze to control, the Hawks now have added Mech functionality which adds another layer of tactical offence. Even the flying seems to have been tweaked to an inch of its life making it a pleasure.
Once you add in the real-time resource management, thinking is required more so than ever. Do you call down some walls to defend your flag at the expense of some gun turrets to shoot on coming troops. Do you rush the enemy encampment, knowing that if you die, you’ll be giving them a whole load of Rift which they can then use to fortify their camp even more. In the middle of battle it really is tense.
Things get even better when you’re having a game with your clan. With headsets firmly switched to on, you can discuss the best way to use the Build and Battle system, making a camp that is designed just for your clan. it’s an amazing feeling when you survey the battlefield with some of your chums racing for the flag, while others are building around you. Amazing
The only downside is, when you just drop into a game head set-less, bases can begin to look messy with items doted haphazardly around the central rift conductor. They also all look familiar (at first at least) so you’re not sure where to go or what to do. Is that a supply depo or a rift shield?Is it a tank re-spawn point or a bike re-spawn point? It’s never really that clear. Neither are the weapons for that matter, dotted around the maps, or even in the supply bunker, It’s not always obvious what you’re picking up. same goes for the aerial weapons too, half the time your don’t even know what you’re picking up. Sure, eventually you’ll learn what the symbols mean, but they just aren’t’ as obvious as the were in Warhawk.
Overall Starhawk Is an ace of a game, perhaps made overly complicated by the battle and build system,It does take a while to get used to, but once you do, it all kind of makes sense. I just wish I could make head or tail of what was happening mod-battle. All around you, fellow gamers are dropping out of the sky, their pods exploding as they land. If you have built something with the Build and Battle system, you can take it down again, but it explodes, couple that with enemies throwing grenades, tanks firing mortars. Your rift reactor sending blue energy to you, constantly filling up your gauge. I found myself standing there thinking, what the hell! Am I being fired at? Has a Hawk just dropped a cluster bomb? or has someone has to build a handy bunker on my head? for want of a better it just seems like a mess.
The key to enjoying Starhawk is to not expect Warhawk on steroids, the sooner you realise that it’s not, the sooner you will be able to adapt to the new gameplay styles the game provides. There are some awesome Multiplayer games to be had for sure, but I personally preferred the more intimate battles of Warhawk. The maps also lack environmental variety, generally made up of sandy wastelands. There will be more as DLC in the future I’m sure. Build and Battle wont be for everyone, and an option to turn it off would be a welcome one. If you put in the time you will be rewarded with some great multiplayer battles.
Special mention has to go to the draw distance. you can see everything, I mean everything, It’s a little unnerving seeing your foes drop from outer space in their pods in the distance, just as your motoring towards their flag, you just know you’re in for a whole world of hurt once you get there.
The single player campaign is forgettable, but the multiplayer campaign sets things right again, it demands time and effort and gives back what you put in spades. Work at it and you will enjoy it immensely. Despite all the changes, good or bad, Starhawk sticks to its roots and brings back memories of playground games of army once again.