Field Report: Starhawk

Warhawk managed to garner a dedicated fan base with its unique blend of on-foot, vehicular, and air combat. Five years later, LightBox Interactive has prepared a spiritual successor with Starhawk. Retaining many of the gameplay elements of Warhawk, LightBox expanded upon the formula, adding not only space combat, but a RTS-inspired "Build and Battle" mechanic that allows players to dynamically drop gameplay-changing cargo from the sky. It's clear that Starhawk will live and die by its multiplayer. However, unlike its predecessor, Starhawk also offers a single-player campaign--one that players will not want to miss. focalbox While it's tempting to simply jump into the multiplayer offerings immediately, it's helpful to give the single-player campaign a try, if only to better come to terms with the game's varied mechanics. With many players already familiarized with the game through the online beta, getting a tutorial will probably be the only way players can be competitive. The single-player narrative tells the story of Emmett, and it unfolds through a series of comic book-inspired cinematic sequences. Mixing sci-fi and western elements, the story plays out not unlike that of Joss Whedon's Firefly--but with a more heavy-handed approach. I found it difficult to get truly absorbed into the world, with the comic book style more befitting of a game like InFamous. In many ways, the campaign's real purpose seems to be to "train" players for the online offering. The story didn't immediately grab me, and the stiff in-engine animations make the single-player experience feel phoned in. Regardless, the story mode does do a great job of walking the player through the various mechanics. In the first level, you learn simply how to run around, jump into a vehicle, and ultimately, build walls and turrets to fend off enemies. Clear objectives are marked on the in-game HUD, and the slow progression of abilities makes what would otherwise be an overwhelming game into an accessible one. Later levels will introduce other vehicles, like the titular Hawks.

Starhawk's comic book inspired cinematics

I didn't have a chance to play much with the game's online offerings, but those modes are probably best tested after the game has a chance to be populated with the masses. However, if the single player is any indication, the blueprints for truly fun online battles are definitely there. The controls feel spot-on, no matter what mode of transportation you choose. And while you certainly feel powerful in many of the game's more impressive vehicles, you never feel impotent when on foot. For example, a player on the ground equipped with a rocket launcher is a formidable foe against a Hawk. The "Build and Battle" mechanic--which allows you to call upon new resources dynamically--also shows a lot of promise, adding RTS and tower-defense mechanics to an otherwise "standard" affair. The flashy entrances these platforms make--literally dropping out of the sky--do not get old. Having a turret kill an enemy by landing on it is incredibly satisfying. It will take a lot more time and community involvement to see how Starhawk ultimately fares. However, our pre-release impressions of it are quite favorable. Starhawk will be available on PS3 tomorrow. BOOM video 12682
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review.