Build and Battle changes everything.
Just when you thought you had seen everything in a shooter, along comes a game to defy the rules you’ve come to play by and create something truly fresh and unique in one of the most overly saturated genres. This is one of the games that will make you glad you own a Playstation 3, and this is one of the best shooters, if not all games, of the year. This is Starhawk.
Starhawk’s campaign is a very enjoyable ride in the shoes of Emmett Graves, a Rift Salvager and gun for hire, whose latest job turns out to be much more than he signed up for. Set in the vast frontiers of space, humanity has found a new resource, Rift Energy, to profit off of which has become threatened by a group of mutated outcasts, led by the Outlaw who wants the Rift Energy for himself. Hired by the Mayor of his former hometown, White Sands, Graves sets off to eliminate the Outcast, only to find out that they are more than they seem and pose a much larger threat than he could have imagined. With a few, albeit semi-predictable, twists in the story, Starhawk is a great Sci-Fi Western that breathes some fresh life into a crowded shooter genre, dominated by military based games.
The thing that really helps Starhawk separate from the pack is the Build and Battle system, which lets you call in reinforcements on the fly, such as vehicles, sniper towers, turrets and more. Each structure costs a different amount of Rift points, which can be collected from fallen enemies or Rift Energy Barrels throughout the world. Need some more guns? Call in a Supply Bunker, filled with guns and ammo. Want a new vehicle? Call in a Garage and jump in a Razorback. In the campaign levels, you can build these structures whenever, and for the most part, wherever you want, which is the best part about them. No longer do you have to go on foot to find a new vehicle, or search around for ammo. You can just build it, as long as you have enough points. The campaign levels are set up so that, most of the time, you know when enemies are about to reach your location, so you can use that time to build some defensive structures, such as a large fortified wall, and place turrets on the top of each section, or build a sniper tower and wait for them to arrive. The Build and Battle system adds a Strategic layer to the game, and is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a Third-Person Shooter and changes everything about how you play the game.
With beautiful and enormous environments, Starhawk features plenty of Vehicles to ease the pain of walking. There is the Hawk, which is a Mech that can also transform into a Jet, and is the most commonly used vehicle in the game, as there are quite a few spots in the campaign where you will have to control a Hawk and participate in some massive aerial battles. Luckily it controls really well and features a great arsenal of different ammo types. There are also a couple of different ground vehicles such as the slower Ox Heavy Tank, the three person Razorback (aka Warthog from Halo) and a single person Jet Bike called the Side Winder. I loved using the Side Winder as it’s the fastest ground vehicle, but sadly it doesn’t feature any guns, although you can stop and shoot your own gun, it would have been awesome if it had some guns of its own to be able to shoot and drive at the same time.
There aren’t any major flaws that I could find, and I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches during my campaign playthrough, but there are a few small annoying things that are worth mentioning. First off, the load times can be quite long. It’s not at every loading screen, but when it happens, it’s long enough to get really annoying. Also, the cut scenes during the campaign have really bad voice overs, with some characters mouths moving and then 3-5 seconds later you hear the words. It’s so bad sometimes that it’s more funny than anything. Other than those two small grievances, the overall package is really well done.
The Campaign isn’t the longest ever, but it’s just enough to justify charging full price for a game that most players are going to buy for the multiplayer alone. Since there are no collectibles to find or multiple paths to take in the campaign, once you beat it, you probably won’t bother playing it again any time soon, unless you want to crank the difficulty and test your skills on hard. For most gamers, the real reason they are here is for the multiplayer, and they won’t be disappointed.
Starhawk features both multiplayer and cooperative modes. Starting with the co-op, you and up to three friends (it’s only 2 player when playing offline) can defend a Rift Extractor from increasingly difficult waves of Outcast in Prospector mode. While it is fun, it’s unfortunate that it’s the only chance we get to play any co-op in Starhawk, because the campaign would have been awesome to play through cooperatively.
With four modes to choose from, Capture the Flag, Zones, Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch, the multiplayer in Starhawk is some of the best you’ll ever play. It’s pure, adrenaline pumping mayhem and everyone who does, will be glad they paid for a ticket to this show (literally for those who rent or buy it second-hand, as Starhawk requires an online pass to play online). You’ll earn XP for your performance, and rank up to unlock new character customization items and skills such as Earn Extra XP, Increase Vehicle Speed, Gather More Rift Energy and many more to equip to your character. Whether you are playing co-op in Prospector, or one of the multiplayer modes, any XP that you earn helps rank up your character, which is great. I love when games use the same character progression for different modes.
I also love how they did the skill system in Starhawk and it’s nothing like you’re used to. The way it works is that you will unlock new skills by completing different tasks, such as Get 10 Melee Kill In A Game, Kill An Enemy With A Drop Pod, Get The Most Kills On the Winning Team and more, but then you’ll need two skill points, which are earned by levelling up, to actually buy it. So even if you eventually reach level 10 for just being an ok player, you won’t get any new skills unless you also completed the tasks. This is a cool way to weed out those players who just ride the backs of their skilled friends, and reward those who actually earned it.
Just like in the Campaign, the Build and Battle system is available in both the co-op and multiplayer modes, except when playing Dogfight in Deathmatch, which is all players in Hawks only. In Prospector, you collect Rift Points from fallen enemies just like in the Campaign, but in the multiplayer you will automatically harvest Rift Points when you are in your team’s zone. All 10 of the huge multiplayer maps allow you to build whatever structure you want, which causes the multiplayer matches to be dynamic, because they play out differently depending on what each player chooses to build. One match could be full of Jetpacks and the next could be all players in Hawks or Razorbacks. It’s never the same and up to the players to decide, not the map.
These unique twists to the multiplayer make it feel new again to play an online shooter, and I don’t see people getting tired of this one any time soon.
Starhawk has everything I look for in a shooter and more. Plenty of driveable vehicles, check. A good story and interesting characters, check. Unique multiplayer features, check. Some form of co-op, check. Then add-on the Build and Battle system to toss in a little bit of strategy and dynamic gameplay and you have one of the best shooters released this year and a real gem for PS3 owners. That is Starhawk.