LightBox Interactive and Sony have been slowly kicking up the gears on Starhawk, the spiritual successor to the popular 2007 team-objective-based third person shooter Warhawk, with a closed beta and the forthcoming open beta which takes off later this month. Closed beta participants, PlayStation Plus subscribers and the legion of Uncharted 3 owners should already have early access to the public beta, but for those waiting on February 22, here's a little taste of what to expect.
First and foremost, it's still a beta. Don't start expecting it to shine like a game that's gone gold. Bugs are present and features missing. That said, Starhawk in its current form showcases just a sliver of the bundle of fun that could be had. The beta gives you access to two of four game modes across two maps, including Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch; the other two modes include Zones and Deathmatch.
Warhawk vets and newcomers alike will find that jumping into a game is incredibly simple, dummy proof in fact. You literally drop into the game via drop pods which can only land within the confines of your home base. From there, you start harvesting Rift Energy, the in-game currency that powers the whole "Build and Battle" mechanic.
There are a number of structures and vehicles that you can call in, including the Hawks, jeeps and jet packs. Linkable walls can be dropped in to keep enemies out of a base. Turrets can be attached to the top of walls and huge anti-air cannons will keep the skies of your base clear of enemy aircraft. Beta or not, the game already feels intuitive. Calling in structures is as simple as hitting a button and navigating a wheel menu. Structures will become available as you harvest the required amount of Rift Energy.
Now a third person shooter featuring over-the-shoulder aiming, the gameplay feels tighter and much more intense. Add huge structures violently dropping in from the skies and it's like playing from the perspective of a foot soldier in a real-time strategy game. Build and Battle looks to be a very innovative feature in a genre that lacks it. Infantry and vehicular combat is Starhawk's core, and the best part of it all is the Hawk's ability to transform into a bi-pedal death machine and vice versa at the push of a button.
The only other big hit that features vehicular combat on top of infantry skirmishes that comes to mind is the Battlefield franchise. However, unlike Battlefield 3, flying a Hawk isn't rocket science. Did I mention that they transform into bi-pedal death machines? On the other hand, just like Battlefield, the experience is wholly dependent on teamwork and playing the objective. Even so, it's easier said than done and unless a good majority of your team are communicating via voice chat, there doesn't seem to be any other way to coordinate. Draws seem to be very common in Capture the Flag matches, even with the Sudden Death round.
Moreover, just as Warhawk had its fair share of campers, it appears that they've all come back for more in Starhawk. It's made all the more worst considering the level design for both available maps feature a whole lot of open areas, encouraging a rather annoying issue known as base rape. Warhawk at least provided indestructible cover, but it seems that in supporting Build and Battle, LightBox had to create levels that would accommodate a multitude of structures being placed on the fly by players. Hopefully as the beta carries on, adjustments will be made to create a more balanced experience. The jet packs help in counter attacking campers perched high up on towers, but aiming whilst flying takes quite the bit of practice.
Speaking of adjustments, expect plenty of those as LightBox are seriously taking user feedback to craft a well-balanced multiplayer experience. Feedback can be given over at the Starhawk community page. All in all, Starhawk seems to be shaping up to be a multiplayer experience worth checking out. The beta opens up to the general public on February 21, and the full game is out May 8. I hope to see you all on the battlefield soon.