Yeah, I’m going to take a lot of flak for apparently not rewarding a game with clearly excellent online multiplayer. But I remain stoic in my belief that a single-player campaign should boast a solid story and shouldn’t merely serve as a warm-up for the multiplayer, as great as the latter may be. It’s true that Starhawk’s predecessor was only online but then again, it made no effort at a campaign…and when you do that, I have certain expectations, as should everyone.
We’ll get to all that in a minute. Firstly, the technical elements of Lightbox Interactive’s title are good albeit not spectacular, and they excel during periods of frenetic action (and there are many such periods). The best part about the visual presentation is the variety and diversity with which we are presented; the developers put a ton of effort into creating environments that are both engaging and intriguing. The landscape isn’t as barren as I might’ve thought, and the special effects really light up the screen, thereby enhancing the immersion factor.
The audio features a compelling, fitting soundtrack and a series of effects that coincide nicely with the bombastic nature of the graphics. Whether you’re playing the campaign or online, the sound typically proves to be a positive aspect of the experience. That being said, the balance can be a little off and I’m not overly thrilled with the music selection, although that’s definitely a subjective viewpoint. The good news is that both the visuals and the sound combine to provide the player with an accomplished and invigorating foundation.
As you already know, Warhawk was strictly online, while Starhawk boasts a much-anticipated single-player mode. I was happy with the multiplayer in Warhawk and in truth, the online action in the successor is deeper, more involved, and potentially more rewarding. But the campaign lacks a decent story and basically plays like you’re online. It reminds me of last year’s Brink, which was also purported to feature an entertaining single-player option. However, in both cases, neither really deliver on that promise.
You will play as Emmett Graves, who becomes infected with Rift energy, which is a valuable commodity in the Starhawk universe. The problem is that while Graves can control his infection, others view him as potentially dangerous; a member of the violent “Outcasts” who are capable of all sorts of rash destruction. Emmett’s brother, Logan, is one such individual. Now, one would assume that such a plot would result in all sorts of great emotion and drama but despite one big surprise (which isn’t all that shocking, really), the story is a missed opportunity.
Graves becomes nothing more than a clichéd action hero during combat and the somewhat lame storytelling and mediocre writing don’t paint a gripping picture. Couple this with the fact that the campaign is merely a five-hour tutorial for the multiplayer experience, and perhaps you will understand my bitterness. But provided you’re only in this for the multiplayer and you really don’t care about the campaign, I can almost promise that you’re in for a wild yet strategic ride that is bound to satisfy in the long run. I don’t want that message to get lost.
Starhawk thrives on the Build & Battle system and this works extremely well in all respects. You build up Rift energy, which can be expended to develop the surrounding area, giving you and your team the advantage. The options are numerous and appealing; there are walls to build, supply bunkers for big-time weaponry, and all sorts of vehicles with which to experiment. There’s a ton of complexity and, although I speak badly of the campaign, this is one instance where it’s not necessarily tacked-on and worthless. As I said before, it’s a tutorial and it’s one you’ll definitely want to play; otherwise, the multiplayer could feel a little overwhelming.
As one might expect, the best part is the open-ended freedom. There’s really never one set way to achieve an objective, and this flexibility becomes all the more apparent as you learn the game’s intricacies. Plus, with a maximum of 32 people going at it, the action never stops; there’s always something to do and somewhere to go. The only downside is that you really need everyone to be a team player. Otherwise, a match can regress quickly and become a frustrating mess, which is why I would advise playing with a group of reliable, quality players.
But if everything clicks, there’s no doubt that this game becomes one of the most fulfilling and addictive online experiences out there. I’m not a fan of RTS and although this doesn’t really qualify, I’m not in the business of building stuff when it comes to my games. Never liked that kind of thing. And yet, I really took to this like a fish to water; the process is both accessible and deep; the developers walk a fine line and they do so brilliantly. Standard matches like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag always feel fresh and new because everyone attacks and defends differently.
The number of players, structures, and vehicles is impressive, and the dynamic nature of the competition is almost unparalleled. There are all sorts of cosmetic upgrades to earn as well, and getting involved with friends on a consistent basis could result in a weekly (or even daily) scheduled event. From thoughtful positioning to out-and-out firefights across nicely appointed and ever-changing landscapes, the multiplayer is definitely a triumph. Like I said, though, the only drawback is that only fair, avid players let it shine; online idiots can really hinder this one.
In my opinion, Starhawk is a great multiplayer game that should’ve shipped without a single-player option. If you want to give us a multiplayer tutorial, then just do that. The story is weak, I don’t really care at all about the character, and there’s very little difference between the campaign and the online action. The single-player missions do serve a purpose, though, and that’s to introduce players to a rich multiplayer experience that encourages experimentation at every turn. You just have to accept that the campaign doesn’t do much else.
The control is sound, the depth is there, the 32-player matches can be downright epic, I love the vehicles, and the detail and general construction and presentation of the setting is pretty damn good. If you can focus on all this, you’re good to go.
The Good: Solid technical elements. Great style and design. Good control throughout. Inventive, endlessly entertaining multiplayer. Action blends nicely with strategy. All future map packs will be free (big bonus).
The Bad: Campaign is only a multiplayer tutorial. Story is weak. Multiplayer can be tough to fully embrace.
The Ugly: “If you’re gonna do this, just don’t bother with a campaign.”
5/9/2012 Ben Dutka