Think Red Dead Redemption. In Space.
Weird right? But that’s the initial thought I had after 10 minutes with Starhawk. Truth be told, it’s a little different from that, but Starhawk is definitely one of the few Sci-fi Westerns out there that’s worth a look.
You play in the distant future, and humans are traveling across the galaxy, colonizing on profitable planets. The valuable energy source they’re profiting off is called Rift Energy. However, it turns out some of the miners were exposed to the energy and transformed into savage, mindless freaks known as ‘The Outcasts’. Without giving out too much more of the story, you play as Emmet Graves who was also exposed to this energy but was able to remain human thanks to the help of his pal Sydney Cutter. Now, both of you have taken up the job of hired gunslingers as you travel across the galaxy protecting mining sites from the Outcast, who are protective of the Rift energy and this is where the story kicks off.
But let’s get the worst out of the way as soon as possible. The story. Okay, so it’s not some horrible train wreck of a single player experience but essentially it’s a weak and somewhat dull intro to the settings and controls of the game. That said, the game also features some very cool cut scenes reminiscent of comic book art, which do look very nice.. The campaign follows Emmett and Cutter as they go across the planets in their fight to keep locations safe from the Outcasts, but it isn’t very long. What the single player does do is that it familiarises you with everything you’re capable of. For example, certain missions emphasise certain aspects of the game such as vehicular controls, or how to defend your base from waves of Outcasts.
Moving on, let’s get to the real heart of this game. The multiplayer. I’d even go as far as saying that the single player campaign is just an extended tutorial for the multiplayer.
As you collect rift energy from destroying certain objects and killing others, you can call in Orbital Drops in both single player and multiplayer aspects of the game. These drops are basically buildings or utilities which you can order in to be built almost instantly. From Auto-Turrets to supply bunkers, shields and Launch pads for Hawks (read on for an explanation), the game effectively merges the shooting aspect with the strategy side. In the single player you’re the only builder usually, however in online matches of up to 32 players it’s basically anarchy. Organised anarchy. And yes I understand that makes no sense, but that’s really what it feels like. Organising your bases with turrets and building vehicle spawn points and shield really gives you a sense of empowerment that’s almost godlike. Collaborating with your team mates, you’ll be build defences around and strategically place utilities around the map. Effectively, the level turns into your playground and the resources system is very well implemented and is nowhere near complex so this game is not just for the RTS fan.
Classic game modes like Capture the Flag become so much more dynamic than other games, with every base being different every round due to the positions that players have chosen for their buildings and weapons. There’s never a dull moment in Starhawk, and the transition from land based or flight based fighting is no exception. If you choose to build a tank you can enter a large Mecha of sorts (much the same feel as in Transformers: War for Cybertron) which can stomp around on the land or quickly change into flight mode. Using this you can gun down others from the skies or take them on in air based battles with a variety of weapons such as machine guns, homing missiles and lasers. However, it’s not all easy, venturing too close to another base will probably get you killed as the Auto-Laser Turret beams you up into oblivion.
As someone who doesn’t enjoy the whole Western genre (Heck, I didn’t enjoy Red Dead Redemption) even I could understand how good the multiplayer aspect of this game really is. Would I play it over and over again? No, well not in terms of the single player which features more of that western setting I don’t like. But that’s all just a preference and the multiplayer aspect of Starhawk shines through.
With such a dynamic gameplay style, it’s actually hard to put into words how much action can go on in one round of Starhawk and it’s something that really should be experienced first-hand. I’ll give it 4.5/5 Drop Bears, with the only criticism being the weak single player aspect. I can definitely see this becoming something we’ll all remember as a ‘PlayStation 3 Classic’ in a few years time with a online community that will continue to grow.