Previews// Starhawk

Posted 13 May 2011 09:45 by
Warhawk was one of the first games on the PlayStation 3 that really leveraged the online gaming benefits of the fledgling PlayStation Network. Now, four years later, we get to learn of the spiritual successor to this multiplayer crack-machine, and itís sounding like a space opera of epic proportions. Welcome to Starhawk.

Now, the keen-eyed among you may be able to tell that youíre not exactly in Kansas anymore. Developed by Lightbox, a splinter studio formed of members of Warhawk team Incognito, Starhawk dares to take the strategic third-person shooter to a whole new universe and packs a beefy single-player campaign to boot.

The setting is a galaxy known as the Frontier, made up of planets and asteroids that act as colonies for space-miners. Their goal? To dig hard and deep into the cosmic rock, in order to find geysers that pump out Rift energy. Turns out that Rift energy is exceptionally valuable, triggering a new-age Ďgold rushí and changing the Frontier into a futuristic, intergalactic Wild West.

You ought to be careful with that Rift energy however, as itís also extremely dangerous. Miners that come into close contact with the stuff have their flesh eaten away and transform into maniacal beings that can only be described as tactical space zombies. As a result, these changed souls establish a faction and wage a war for Rift energy against the still-human miners.

This, as you would expect, is the setting for the multiplayer side of things, with networked players gunning one another down, hopping into vehicles and taking control of huge mechanical beasts known as Hawks to establish control of Rift energy in a given arena. Itís the pretty standard, Warhawk-in-Space fare that youíd expect, with the inclusion of one major gameplay mechanic that changes the state of play dramatically.

Lightbox is calling it ĎBuild and Battle,í and it allows you to spend a certain amount of Rift energy to create defence towers, launch pads for Hawks and other structures that will give you a strategic advantage in play. For multiplayer, it means you can erect walls, vehicle spawn points and other buildings wherever you fancy on the map to try and push your team forward and put pressure on the opposition.

Creating structures is as simple as holding the Triangle button, selecting an item from the wheel that pops up, and then choosing a location for it to go in a manner not unlike a real-time strategy game. If the outline of the building is green, you can build - if itís red, you canít. Press the X button to confirm and youíll see pieces fall from the sky and dynamically build up your chosen obstacle from the ground up. No lag, no slowdown. Itís impressive stuff on a technical level.

In single-player, the Build and Battle mechanics make the experience feel more like a tower defence game than a third-person real time strategy.

The campaign has you stepping into the shoes of gun-for-hire Emmett Graves as he bounces from colony to colony protecting Rift claims from wealthy miners. The stage I played was set on a distant moon called Echo, and tasked Emmett with taking control of a Rift geyser from the enemy faction, who appear to be obsessed with the geyser as a centre of worship.

Once control is taken of the geyser, Emmett then has to defend it from waves of oncoming enemies until they get the hint and bugger off for good. Red zones are marked at the beginning of each wave to signify their area of approach, and youíll have a moment or so to plan your Rift-powered fortress before foot soldiers, enemy mechs and rival Hawks come crashing through the sky and start taking you out.

If youíve played a few third-person shooters before, then youíll know what youíre getting into with Starhawk. Itís nice and easy to control, and the Build and Battle feature brings a new element of play that doesnít seem to completely overshadow the fact that the game is a shooter at its core.

Building landing zones, hopping into Hawks and then transforming into a jet fighter and cruising through the air is a seamless experience, and Iím interested to see how varied these arena-like stages can be to the single-player campaign.

No doubt more Starhawk details will be revealed at E3 - Iíll be sure to check out more of this game and see what else we can look forward to in the months to come.

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