Online multiplayer shines in Starhawk
Starhawk is the spiritual successor to 2007's moderately successful Warhawk, an online shooter which had its fair share of hardcore fans. Its multiplayer-only style was widely appreciated, and it looked like the development team had got a lot right, including flight controls, game balance and most importantly, pricing (the game was priced $20/Rs.1000 less than a regular retail release). With Starhawk, however, we now have a game that features a single player story mode as well as a new and improved multiplayer component which features space combat and a newer price tag — that of a full retail release. What could go wrong?
As a single player experience, Starhawk is passable. There's a background story involving the intergalactic mining of ‘Rift' energy; a substance that causes humans to mutate into ‘outcasts', whose primal instinct is to protect the said rift energy — which means to basically go around murdering humans who are attempting to mine it. It's not particularly interesting, and despite Starhawk's efforts to make it a personal tale involving brothers Emmett and Logan Graves, it's difficult to get into. If anything, the story mode feels tacked-on, but it does give you a feel for the multiplayer, walking you through the various gameplay elements one at a time, but that doesn't make it any less tiresome. The only other thing it has going for it is the 2D-animated cutscenes, which look pretty cool and are reminiscent of Infamous. Other than that, it just feels like the game's story missions are set in the multiplayer maps — which would have been all right if not for the lack of exaggeration.
However, take Starhawk online, and it's a different game entirely. There are a variety of game modes, featuring online staples such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and zones (Starhawk's take on Battlefield's ‘conquest' mode). If competitive multiplayer isn't your thing, there's a co-op mode akin to Gears of War's horde mode, but it's the team battles that really stand out, offering an experience that feels fresh, particularly due to base building and the resulting combinations of endless strategies. Online battles support up to 32 players on massive battlefields set both on strange planets as well as in outer space. Each player can build structures to either spawn vehicles, provide guns and ammo, repair, harvest or facilitate player spawns on different locations of the map. Rift energy is required to do all of this and can be obtained quickly through kills, shooting rift barrels, or if you have the patience, hanging around in base. Battles can be a grind, with each team slowly advancing on the other, building forward bases and support structures en route, with vehicles and weapons at the player's disposable only adding to the layers of strategy already in place. Starhawk's biggest achievement is that it doesn't necessarily require teamwork. Basic understanding of game mechanics and a bit of skill can help even an average player contribute to a team's success.
It would have been great if Starhawk was more than just a sum of its parts, but it isn't. It feels like two separate games bundled into one — even if both parts share common gameplay mechanics and settings. The story mode is undoubtedly the less impressive of the two parts, with weak writing and unmemorable characters. The multiplayer on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air, effectively combining base building, tower defence and frantic action. If Starhawk was a multiplayer-only experience priced at Rs. 1,499 (like its spiritual predecessor Warhawk, which can now be had for Rs. 999), picking up Starhawk would have been a no-brainer. But tack on a sub-par single player experience which takes the asking price up to Rs. 2,499 and it gets a little harder to recommend. On the other hand, if you're tired of Battlefield, Uncharted or Modern Warfare and want something else to play online, one thing's for sure: Starhawk's online play will not disappoint. Starhawk is now available for the PS3.