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PlayStation 3 Review: Starhawk

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Starhawk—dubbed the “spiritual successor” to the hit multi-player phenomenon Warhawk—takes third-person shooter action into outer space. Like its predecessor, Starhawk features an addictive mix of land vehicles, aircraft, and hand-to-hand combat in a variety of objective-based game modes.

Starhawk‘s Single-Player Campaign

The biggest deviation in Starhawk‘s game play from Warhawk is the inclusion of a single-player campaign. Though a single player mode was designed to be released with Warhawk, it was ultimately eliminated as the developers felt the quality was inferior to the multiplayer game.

As a third-person shooter, players take an over-the-shoulder view of the life of Emmett Graves, one of the first deep space settlers in search of riches through harvesting “rift” — a valuable yet dangerous energy source. The story spans the extraction of a shipment of this energy that Emmett is hired to protect from the attacks of hostile forces (“Outcasts”) who have been mutated by the rift energy.

Through each successive chapter in the Starhawk story, elements of the game are gradually introduced, which might cause some critics to consider the single player campaign merely a tutorial for the multiplayer game play. Despite this criticism, players new to the ‘Hawk series should welcome this progressive gameplay over the “sink or swim” attitude in found in Warhawk.

Starhawk Genre Bending in Deep Space

Emmett Graves in Starhawk

More than a tutorial, the importance of the single-player campaign lies in establishing the setting for the game. Since the story of Warhawk was as simple as two armies fighting one another, not much explanation was needed. Starhawk, on the other hand, is a genre-bending mess.

Though the story is set in deep space, Emmett is decorated more like a gunslinger than an astronaut. He and his partner, Cutter, travel from planet to planet chatting with a western drawl more reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood flick than a futuristic action game. And Graves’ antagonists—the mutated Outlaws—are just about as brainless as zombies.

This mishmash of genres extends beyond the setting and story of the game and permeates the gameplay as well. Though at first blush Starhawk seems to be a run-of-the-mill third-person shooter, it quickly becomes clear that whether playing in a single- or multi-player game there is much more going on than one thinks.

Because he was partially exposed to rift energy, Emmett has special powers to absorb this energy from his fallen enemies and use it to call down structures from his aerial support. This emphasis on construction and resource management adds distinct characteristics of real-time strategy games to Starhawk. This construction also makes several modes of vehicular transportation possible, which adds another set of features to the game. And the lengthy cutscenes (which, unfortunately, cannot be skipped) make Starhawk feel more like an action game than a typical shooter.

Is the Single-Player Campaign Worth It?

Like many other recent videogames, Starhawk‘s story is well-done, but quite short. Depending on how quickly you learn the skills of the game, you can easily complete the entire campaign in 10-15 hours or less. And the bulk of that time is made up of the cutscenes. Though the illustrations are well-done, the story is both too drawn-out for eager gamers and too linear for intricate story fanatics.

Starhawk Multiplayer

As Warhawk‘s successor should be, Starhawk‘s main pull is the multiplayer action. Though there are four different game modes (Capture the Flag, Zones, Team Death Match, and Death Match), the construction skills learned in the campaign are necessary for successful strategic planning in all but one. The Death Match game mode is unique and the most distinct from the Starhawk campaign because of its lack of construction. Rather than allowing players to choose a strategy of attack—land or air—players are restricted to flying a hawk (a heavily armored mech) and shooting down the opposing hawks.

Hawks in Starhawk

Like any high-quality multiplayer game, Starhawk features a range of goals of varying difficulty, making it very addicting. From trophies to experience points, upgrades and character customizations, the developers at LightBox Interactive and SCE created a compelling multiplayer experience that is arguably the best since Halo 3.

The Final Word

Despite a short and underwhelming single-player campaign, the unusual combination of various genres and powerful multiplayer experience make Starhawk an absorbing gaming experience for fans of shooters, RTS, and action games.

Starhawk is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Violence. This game can only be found on PlayStation 3.

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