I never thought I’d like Warhawk. But then I hit the Triangle button to switch from hover to fly in the beta, and I was instantly hooked. It turned out to be one of the best early experiences on the PlayStation Network, and remains one of the better multiplayer games available in my eyes. That’s why I was excited to try Starhawk, the spiritual successor in development at Lightbox Interactive. After a fair amount of time, I’m happy but not necessarily ecstatic.
I know the game will have a bunch of cool modes, ranging from standard deathmatch to Capture the Flag. And in this beta, we could only test the latter, which is fine. I also know that in many ways, Starhawk will be structured similarly to its predecessor. But I really didn’t expect the differences in versatility and style when it comes to the design and environment; even with only two maps, one can sense the upgrade in artistic vision and ambition. In direct comparison, almost every map in Warhawk seems bland.
I also was surprised to see the new building system. It works pretty well and it’s relatively easy to grasp, especially if you’ve used similar mechanics in other strategy-based multiplayer games. You can construct essential defenses, like turrets that will fire on unwanted invaders and impenetrable force-fields. And when you finish certain buildings, you’ll gain access to fun toys like jetpacks and hawks. It actually reminds me a little of Heroes of Might & Magic in this way; i.e., build this, get this.
And of course, your resources are limited, and there are only so many buildings that can be erected in any given match. Each side’s max is 32, so make sure you communicate to avoid making 20 of the same type of building (unless you think that’ll benefit your team in the long run, for some reason). In regards to the aforementioned “resources,” this is mostly dependent on your energy bar, which can be filled by killing enemies and grabbing energy barrels. You lose some energy when you die, by the way.
This is all fine, but personally, I’m less into the strategic element and more into the flight aspect. I was primarily a pilot in Warhawk so above all else, I wanted to test the flying in Starhawk. Here’s where I’m a little iffy; it feels looser and not quite as stable this time around, and finding and locking onto foes seems tougher. Then again, I haven’t played Warhawk in a good three years, so maybe I’m just out of practice. The controls are familiar even if the feel is a little new, and it’s something I can get accustomed to, provided the final product is just as addictive.
Starhawk is certainly more strategic than Warhawk and offers more in the way of depth and team-based possibilities, which is something that many gamers should enjoy. If you want to run ‘n gun, stick to standard shooters; this one is designed for those dedicated to the art of a perfectly formulated and executed game plan.
12/22/2011 Ben Dutka