Starhawk Review

By Darryl Kaye on May 21, 2012

For many years, fans of Warhawk were waiting for a successor to the game that soaked up hours upon hours of their time. It was never a game that blew anyone away with amazing visuals. No, where Warhawk excelled was its engaging gameplay. So when rumours of a game called Starhawk started buzzing around, the fan base got rather excited. After all, while Warhawk was primarily a terrestrial-based combat game, Starhawk promised to be a game that saw space combat become a realistic possibility. Those aspirations were never truly realised, but Starhawk is still a game that should be considered a worthy successor; it brings a lot to the table.

One of Warhawk's strongest facets was that the developers decided to ditch the proposed single-player campaign and just focus on the multiplayer. It's not a choice that's been replicated with Starhawk, but it's easy to see why. Many games try to offer a single-player campaign that acts as a tutorial for the online experience, but many fail to do so in an effective manner. With Starhawk the concept works perfectly.

On the surface, Starhawk is a game that's pretty generic. You're a soldier, you can shoot stuff and also get behind the controls of a few vehicles. Where the single-player has emphasis though, is with the new build mechanic, and the utilisation of Hawks.

It's quite a short, but sweet affair and it's certainly not going to win any awards for the strength of its narrative. However, the single-player campaign does what it needs to do and when you do go online, you'll at least have a better understanding of the types of structures you can build and where they're applicable.

Shifting over to the realm of online multiplayer, there's some good, but also some bad. The good is that the developers have tried to introduce some new elements, like the build mechanic. They've also tried to balance the game somewhat. The bad, is that some of the new elements don't seem all that fleshed out and that the majority of the game is the same as Warhawk, just not quite as fun.

To give a bit more depth around the build mechanic, here's a brief rundown. As you go through games, you'll collect Rift Points. This can either be for doing an action like killing someone, or capturing a zone. But it can also be from destroying Rift barrels, or just existing in a zone that you occupy. You can then use these Rift Points to buy buildings, although your team can only have a maximum of 32 structures at a time.On the larger maps, there are quite a few different locations which can be captured and to offer a "risk and reward" style of gameplay, limiting the amount of structures works nicely. You can choose to really defend one of your locations, but this will leave others with limited defenses. Or, you can choose to defend them all equally, which will leave them vulnerable to an exert amount of pressure.

This in itself, is something that should be praised. There are definite pros and cons to the new approach and it requires a different skill set to achieve results. In Warhawk, all of the maps were pre-populated, offering towns and places to hide. This meant that you could capture zones from under the enemy's noses and evade tanks quite easily. In Starhawk, most of the terrain is barren and you have to build-up bases around the capture point. This makes things a lot more difficult - it's much harder to turn the tide of battle as you can't sneak in and steal stuff.

As a result, Starhawk promotes a kind of siege mentality. Quite a lot of the time, you'll end up digging into a base, holding onto territory you've claimed. There's less emphasis on the capturing of objectives - once you've got something, you just make sure it can't be taken. With Warhawk, it was always a constant to and fro battle, with capture points frequently changing hands.

One of the main problems comes with the limited array of structures, there isn't a whole lot of variety, but this is a perennial problem with the game. There are only a handful of vehicle types and aside from going to specific points on the map, getting a weapon aside from a machine gun can only be achieved by someone building a supply depot - not that there's a wide range of weapons either.

It's clear that this was a conscious decision by the developers, probably so that players weren't overwhelmed. But if you look at player statistics, the vast majority of people will get kills with the basic weapons and anything that isn't a starting weapon, or accessed by supply depots, is almost never used by anyone. They aren't that effective either, which probably doesn't help matters.The same can be said for the buildings. Almost nobody ever builds Razorbacks, and the majority of people just push for Ox Tanks, Shield Generators and Beam Turrets. Hawks then come in a little bit later, but if you've got a Shield Generator with a good supply of Beam Turrets and Ox Tanks, you've got a solid footing.

It's difficult to understand why the Hawks have been nerfed so much - they are obviously a strong component of the franchise. Yes, they were strong in Warhawk, but there was such a good balance. No matter what you did, you were always weak to something. It doesn't seem the case in Starhawk. The removal of the hover mechanic, and replacing it with the mech-like action changes so much - especially as it takes so long to transition between the two.

The tank has also been made rather strong - it's the pinnacle of the game. If your team has semi-solid defence, winning a game is quite often about who builds tanks first, and takes advantage of building them. The fact that they can fire twice in quick succession just adds insult to injury. Again though, it all comes down to balance and it doesn't feel like Starhawk is all that balanced yet.

When looking at the visuals, Starhawk again isn't all that impressive. That's not a dampener in any way though, as the gameplay and animations still shine through with their quality. And there is even a level that takes place in space too, it just isn't quite what most people envisioned from the game. Seeing a team that's developed a fully-formed base is rather special though, and while it can be a bit boring and frustrating, there's something to be said about a team that knows how to defend their camp.

People have gradually been coming up with more creative ways to do this too, with Beam Turrets being built on peaks, and Outposts attempting to turn the tide should all the major spawn points be taken.

It's worth noting that despite these issues, Starhawk is still a very fun game to play, but only if you conform to the unbalanced gameplay. If you don't, you'll die rather frequently. There aren't a great deal of game modes either, which is a bit of a shame too, but it's nice that you can kill people by landing on top of them.

Final Thoughts

It's easy to see why the developers didn't want to peg Starhawk as a sequel to Warhawk, instead opting for the spiritual successor tag. After all, aside from the build mechanic, it doesn't do a whole lot to take the franchise further. Yes, there are some nice touches, like the lack of a "true" home base and the more tactical approach to the game. However, it's plagued with balancing issues. There are also hardly any new vehicles, game modes or weapons and while it does add some familiarity, it also makes the experience feel a bit stale. Having said that, Starhawk is still an enjoy experience and fans of Warhawk should definitely check the game out though, as Lightbox are sure to tweak and improve as time goes on.

The build mechanic offers something new.
Shield generators make everything way more tactical.
It's still rather fun.
Aside from the build mechanic, not a whole lot has changed.
The balancing of Hawks and Ox Tanks is way off.
Some people might get frustrated with the new style of play that's evolved.
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