Multiplayer-only videogames haven’t taken off the way console chieftains predicted this generation. Warhawk, one of the first truly dedicated multiplayer experiences for most PlayStation 3 owners, combined infantry and vehicle led battles across vast stretches of land as well as skies fit for epic dogfights. Despite being noticeably flawed, the game managed to scrape together a dedicated following thanks to its unique premise and fun combat.
Cut to the present. Five years and a handful of other failed multiplayer focused experiments (MAG, anyone?) later, we now have a true sequel to Warhawk, one that’s quite clearly tried to fix a lot of the issues people had with the first game. The most noticeable of these is the presence of an honest-to-goodness single player mode: something that its predecessor didn’t deem necessary to include back in the day. Set in the vast reaches of colonized space, Starhawk attempts to buck the space marine trend-line by adopting a wild-west theme to its story. With humans actively seeking out and mining Rift energy on a massive scale, it was only a matter of time before the prospectors figured out that hanging around next to a glowing energy source might not be the most sensible thing to be doing to your body. And thus follows a simple tale of conflict with the humans on one side and the rift-afflicted outcasts on the other.
You play Emmett Graves, a rift miner with a troubled past. Not only are you a part mutant thanks to an outcast raid that exposed you to an unhealthy dose of rift energy, but you’ve also lost your brother to the marauding band of misfits. The only thing stopping you from joining him is a regulator implant that bottles up the rift energy and stops it from consuming you whole.
Death from above
Now a mercenary for hire, you travel between outposts protecting settlements from the outcasts who are now suspiciously more organized and led by a mysterious figure (no prizes for guessing who). It’s a predictable story that’ll last you 6-8 hours depending on how stumped you are at certain pain spots in the campaign. It’s also quite evident from the start that one of the main reasons for the mode’s existence is to serve as a tutorial for the multiplayer main-act (especially since there’s practically no multiplayer tutorial whatsoever).
That said, this clearly isn’t a throw away mode. There’s a fairly well put together (if generic) story set in a varied set of coloruful environs. It’s also competently voiced and scored, with storytelling split between in-engine vignettes as well as a set of stylistically animated cutscenes. Aside from a handful of exasperating difficulty spikes, you’ll want to play through the single player mode if only as a fairly lengthy segue into multiplayer.
And multiplayer is where the real action is, and where everything you’ve learnt in the campaign actually gets put to good use. You’re still playing the same third person shooter with the same two factions from the campaign, but it’s here that Starhawk’s second back-of-the-box bullet comes into its own. Jabbing the Triangle button on your DualShock controller gives you access to a radial menu of war assets that you can call into the battlefield at the expense of Rift energy. Crucially, these assets can be built anywhere on the battlefield allowing you to construct outposts midway or near enemy encampments. Using this Build & Battle mechanic against human opposition is much more satisfying than against the AI in the campaign where it’s mostly relegated to stemming waves of enemy drones.
Your war chest include defensive structures such as walls, sniper towers, and various types of cannons, to structures that aid your inevitable charge into enemy encampments, such as a weapon-spawning barracks where you re-kit yourself, to structures that allow access to the game’s handful of vehicle types (providing you have the rift energy to trade in, of course). There’s nothing surprising on offer – you’ll get a tank, a buggy, a jetpack and a speeder bike – aside from the titular Starhawk mecha. While the ability to stomp around, use a multitude of weapons, and then transform into a fighter and jet about does sound cool, you’ll find that you’re a tad too vulnerable to enemy fire once airborne unless you’re a crack pilot.
Whether on vehicle or on foot, you have your choice of a 32 (or less) player Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF, and Zones – fun control points on the map game type. Where Starhawk trips up slightly is in the balancing of these modes. You’ll notice certain matches becoming quite drawn out either due to neither side having the tools needed to break a stalemate or players not coordinating well enough to make a concerted push to a definitive win. Turtle yourself in your base with a bunch of walls, tanks and flak cannons for example, and you’ll be sitting pretty for a long while. Although the game is structured to not require voice-chat, it does benefit from team communication so everyone knows what structures are being built where and when the appropriate time to rush or defend a control point is.
Battles are set across 10 maps, planet-side as well as space. The maps have a good look to them and never default to drab colour palettes or boring layouts. In fact, Starhawk may just have some of the most beautiful skyboxes this side of Halo: Reach. Load times are quick enough and the main menu is always available no matter where you are in game. The game also comes with a lovely, always-on server browser that takes some of the guesswork away from matchmaking. You’ll also find a reasonably detailed character and vehicle customization tool, lobbies, clan management, a scheduling calendar, skills that you can enable once you hit certain in-game achievements, and a free play mode that lets you play around the maps at your leisure.
Kill 'em all
The acid test for any multiplayer game is its longevity. Lightbox Interactive hasn’t skimped on the features, which is nice, and full props to them for offering all future map packs to the community for free. This ensures that playlists don’t fragment and players don’t wander off to other games. There’s also the promise of the game being constantly tweaked via patches to iron out post-release balance issues. And while the game could certainly have used a couple of modes and vehicles, and perhaps some less conventional weaponry, what’s on the disc as of now is perfectly competent – especially if you’re looking for a multiplayer game that doesn’t involve modern conflict.
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Oct 24, 2016
Oct 24, 2016