Thursday, 14 June 2012

Review: Starhawk (PS3)

Starhawk represents the fusion of multiple genres of gaming – Vehicle Based combat (Battlefield 3), hectic 3rd person shooters (Gears of War), and Real Time Strategy (Command and Conquer). This non-traditional mix makes for a very different type of gameplay – such that no two people will play the game the same way.

The universe of Starhawk is a future where pioneers stake their claims on far-off worlds all in search of Rift Energy, the new power source for a new generation. This valuable commodity is highly sought after and unfortunately fought over. People who have been infused with Rift Energy become drug addicts called Outcasts – destructive in hunting down anyone collecting it and trying to preserve as much of it as possible. You play as Emmett Graves, a security expert who helps defend these border claims from Outcasts. As your defeat enemies and collect Rift energy you can call down additional equipment – not only adding additional features to the map but bringing down vehicles or defensible positions depending upon need. As you can imagine you can quickly change the battlefield with the addition of new buildings on the field, or leave the battlefield all together by calling down a Hawk for yourself to fly above it.

The single player campaign plays through Emmitt's story where he returns to his small hometown after being called in for a contract against a strangely well-coordinated Outcast attack. While safeguarding the collection and eventual shipping of the Rift Energy, Emmitt's backstory is slowly revealed through a series of flashbacks as well as his ties to the Outcast threat. Taking about 4 hours to play through the campaign – it serves as a good starting point to develop your own combat style, which you will quickly find to be woefully inadequate on the multiplayer servers. The campaign is brief and lacks bite except for the later missions which will finally start to challenge you to handle superior quality enemies en masse. The problem is, you are the only person capable of doing this in the campaign… now in a 32-man multiplayer match, there are 31 other people who can do the exact same thing as you. You'll find yourself painfully unprepared in early games, but will quickly learn to sink or swim.    

Visually Starhawk is very polished – I can only name one or two moments during the game that didn't look spectacular. Characters look well detailed, the equipment and buildings that you call down all look great. The arenas deserve special credit – they seem both open and yet filled at the same time, never has an open desert waste been referred to as "busy" quite like in this game.

Aurally the game has good sound-effects, but the character dialogue splits time between serviceable and hackneyed. Some characters are spot on for delivery but have nothing interesting to say, others deliver lines with a complete lack of context of the situation. Sure, the story isn't exactly the greatest ever, but it almost feels thrown together which is in stark contrast to the care shown in other areas of the game design.

Gameplay itself flows well – not much slowdown is noticed except when calling down a lot of equipment during a hot fire-fight. In each aspect of the different game genres Starhawk deserves a passing grade. Jack of all Trades… Master of None.

The third person combat is good – but missing some features that we've come to expect… using cover against incoming fire is a big omission, and the weapon selection seems to work intermittently. The real-time strategy aspect is done on the fly so you have to find an open space to figure out how you want to array your stuff because the enemies will not stop pressing because you are trying to establish perfect Feng Shui in your combat space. Vehicle combat is decent – some of the land vehicles move rather stiffly; Hawks in robot mode seem to lack fine control but not as badly as the Ox Tank (prepare to get high-centered a lot). Air combat has the most obnoxious evasion system. Unless you are looping or doing an Immelman turn any incoming fire will connect as intended. The flare system helps deflect some of that but is available so infrequently (i.e. long recharge time) that it is of little use in a hot fight more than once.

All in all, the care put into Starhawk definitely shows – but the amount of things that were left on the drawing board or out of the concept phase shows as well. A few tweaks to the combat, vehicle, and piloting system would have made huge steps into making this the premier game of the year as opposed to just the pretty darn good game that we got.

- Tazman

The Good:
- Interesting fusion of RTS and TPS

The Bad:
- Single-Player Campaign painfully short and easy

Score: 8.5 / 10