Starhawk is what you would call a spiritual successor to Warhawk. As with Warhawk, it’s a third person action game intended to be played online with up to thirty-two players. There are two factions, the Rifters and Outcasts, who battle it out across four modes and ten maps, utilizing a variety of vehicles and structures to get the upper hand. Blending third person action, both on ground and in the air (including space), with RTS elements, Starhawk reminds me both of Warhawk (obviously) and The Outfit.
The Build And Battle system (BnB) is Starhawk’s most impressive and cool feature, as it empowers any player with enough Rift Energy the ability to create over a dozen different structures, from vehicle repair depots to defense turrets to shield generators. The battlefield is constantly changing — structures go up, get destroyed, new turrets pop up in unexpected places, tanks roll out, hawks take to the sky, and so on. With enough players to populate the map, it’s frenzied fun.
My appreciation of Starhawk started several hours before I hopped into the multiplayer arena, though. Unlike Warhawk, Starhawk includes a solo campaign, which actually supports up to four player co-op (including two player splitscreen). The campaign is not just there as filler. Okay, so it’s primary purpose is to get you set for online play, but its production values, from the characters and story to mission design, make it clearly more than just an elaborate tutorial.
The story is set far into the future, when space travel for humans is common and a new mysterious resource known as Rift Energy has been discovered. Miners, known as Rifters, are harvesting Rift Energy, but it’s dangerous work. Over-exposure turns humans into violent, mutated beings that are known as Outcasts. Emmett Graves, the protagonist, and his brother Logan, have carved out a living for themselves mining Rift Energy, but one day they come under attack from a group of Outcasts. The Rift Energy afflicts both Emmett and Logan; Emmett goes on to become a mercenary, taking on jobs with friend and technical expert Cutter. Cutter is your remote assistant, providing you intel and objective updates, as well as opening doors and making more elements of your arsenal available to you for purchase. Together they help repel Outcasts from other mining sites around the cosmos. The Outcasts are like an unorganized tribal group, intent on keeping the Rift Energy from being taken. The campaign begins with Cutter and Emmett taking on another job, one they would eventually regret.
The story and characters of the campaign are actually pretty darn good, and the cutscenes in between missions are very nicely animated and interesting. Voice-over work is also strong. The campaign is split up into several missions that introduce you to the various locations that the multiplayer maps are based on, including Dust, Scourge, Sever, Space, and a pair of others. Along the way, the gameplay mechanics are logically introduced — everything from crouching, piloting a hawk, building a turret, and more are covered smoothly in tune with the story. By the time the credits roll, you’re more than set to hop into online.
There’s another mode you might want to take a look at before going online, though. The Exploration mode lets you hop into any of the multiplayer maps by yourself to explore. The maps are huge, but properly sized for lots of players, many of which will be using some form of transportation like a jetpack, speeder, tank, or hawk. Exploring the maps by yourself isn’t a lot of fun, but I thought it was a really nice option to include for players that want to study tactics and positions.
Changing from this mode to campaign or to online is a snap; from the pause menu, you can do a lot of things, from customizing your player, spending points to unlock skills/buffs, checking Starhawk news, viewing received messages, Friend status, clan status, view available games, or create your own game. It’s a cinch to find or launch your own online game, and in my experience there were always at least twenty-five games available, and many more than that were hidden from view as they were full. Before joining, you can look over the full list of parameters a game has (or create your own to suit). Game type (CTF, TDM, DM, Zones), maps, loadouts, time and kill limits, all of that stuff is available to you.
As with any multiplayer experience, your level of enjoyment can depend a lot on the people you’re playing with. Thus far, I’ve had no trouble finding people to play with, and the games have run smoothly. Beyond that, the human side of the equation has also been good, with some memorable team moments already logged. Starhawk just seems to have the right blend of accessibility and depth to be accommodating to new players, yet still offer lots of reason for veteran players to keep ranking up and unlocking new skills and customization options.
To the summary…