Shamelessly tagged on multiplayer modes that nobody ever asked for are nothing new nowadays. All too often, a game is deemed “incomplete” without some kind of multiplayer component; single player just isn’t enough for some people these days. As such, whether or not your game has a multiplayer option can invariably be enough to make or break your experience. And yet, for all the incompetent ramshackle and diluted multiplayer experiences that no one ever wanted, there are some glorious multiplayer options out there and LightBox Interactive’s Starhawk can now ranks itself among the best of them. It’s a brilliant multiplayer game. But the unfortunate problem with Starhawk is that for everything it emphatically does right with multiplayer, it only goes and undermines itself by the non-event that is the single player campaign. Starhawk just proves that whatever way you look at it, finding a game with an equally capable and rewarding single and multiplayer option is becoming more and more difficult.
LightBox has made quite a fuss about the single player, not least because it’s spiritual predecessor Warhawk, didn’t come bundled with one. Starhawk plays out like a sci-fi western akin to cult TV hit Firefly. It’s an interesting stylised twist and its refreshing for the most part, complimentary to the open planet expanses and interesting visual impetus of this world. You play Emmett Graves, a suitably stubbled space gruff who apparently shoots before he thinks. Rift energy is Starhawk’s currency and as such, this resource acts as the main point of contention between you and the “Outcasts” with whom you will be aiming your crosshair at for the duration of the short campaign.
The single player is an unapologetic tutorial for the multiplayer. Objectives are defined by the building mechanic; summoning structures from the sky to enhance your offensive and defensive capabilities. It’s a wonderful mechanic and will make or break how you play Starhawk, especially online. As for the single player, you’ll build to defend for the most part. Enemies will launch from different areas of the landscape and it’s your job to basically put them out of business and defend whatever rift dependent structure you’re told to by the annoying little man talking in your ear. This is where the repetition starts to kick in. The gameplay is varied but the missions are the same nearly every time you launch somewhere new. You’ll do a lot of time waiting around while a surface marker tells you where your enemy is going to essentially spawn and launch from. It’s frustrating because there’s nothing particularly taxing about it. As I say, the gameplay is quite varied but it only really sparkles in multiplayer. The campaign determines what you do when you do it which doesn’t really suit Starhawk. The organic and spontaneous interplay between the different gameplay types which defines the multiplayer is what really brings the game to life. It’s all there in the campaign, be it cross terrain air vehicle combat, the on foot over the shoulder run and shoot stuff, strategy base building or frantic mid air dog fighting, but it’s not nearly as free as it should be. The storyline is timid, the characters instantly are forgettable, the AI is horrendously poor and unless you’re a real trophy hunter, you’ll probably never go near the single player campaign again.
Starhawk’s multiplayer thankfully is a thing of inventive genius. Everything the single player does wrong, the multiplayer does right, not least because you’re in charge and you’re not bound or tethered to the structured limitations of the single player campaign.
Everything about the multiplayer is accessible. This is organised chaos at the best of times. Take for example the 16 versus 16 player spin on capture the flag. It’s madness personified. What you’ll find is that one team will always be foolhardy defenders and will essentially shut up shop by constructing any number of barricades, offensive turrets and gun hardy battlements in the name of retaining their flag. What you can build and when you can build it is all down to how much rift energy you have. The more you have, the more structures that appear on your radial menu. Highlighting the structure you want with a tap of the triangle button will send said structure crashing to earth. It’s immensely satisfying. Apart from the stalwart deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag modes now customary in all online shooters, there are a couple of additional modes like the prospector co-op modes that keep things fresh and different. In saying that, it still feels a little light on the gameplay side of things and could really have done with a couple of extra multiplayer variations. However, DLC will undoubtedly fill this void. It’s just a shame that they will probably charge you for it.
The gameplay is tight. There’s a couple of balancing issues that probably need addressing, but for the most part it’s a very competent, accurate and honest shooter. If you’re used to playing first person and third persons shooters then you’ll know exactly what you’re doing here from the get go. The same can be said for vehicular sequences and aerial combat. The transition from one form of attack to another and then back to defence is seamless. Starhawk’s online play is as refreshing and rewarding as it compellingly addictive.
Visually, it stacks up. The worlds and environments really impress and represent the best of what the game churns out. The animated cut-scenes on the other hand are unanimously boring and shallow, lacking any sense of charm or purpose. Of course, they aren’t helped by the lacklustre story and silly voice over’s.
Starhawk could very well be the PS3’s best original multiplayer experience to date. If you can look past the pointless single player campaign, you’ll find a wonderful competitive online experience akin to nothing else out there.
TGL SCORE 8/10
Format: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Out Now
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developer: LightBox Interactive, SCE Snata Monica Studios