Starhawk is yet another game that has earned the “spiritual successor” title. That’s just a fancy way of saying reboot, which is just a lazy way of saying, “The developer is using the ideas that worked from the last game, and ditching those that didn’t.” In film the characters often remain the same, while the director and actors are replaced. In gaming, this usually means much of the core gameplay remains the same, while the characters, story, and settings change (Bayonetta was derived from Devil May Cry, Red Dead Redemption from Red Dead Revolver, Dark Souls from Demon’s Souls which it turn was from King’s Field.) That’s pretty much what we have here.
Warhawk, Starhawk’s “spiritual predecessor,” as it were, lacked a single player campaign, characters, and plot, so getting rid of those was easy. Apparently gaming for the sake of gaming worked in 2007, but that isn’t good enough anymore. Lightbox Interactive took the old Warhawk formula, which was mainly 32 player vehicle combat, and added in a new setting, a single player campaign, and a co-op mode. Does it work? Moderately. Was it necessary? Hell no.
The gameplay for all three modes is the same. Starhawk is a better-than-average third person shooter with a cookie-cutter selection of weapons including, but not limited to; an assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, and sniper rifle. Luckily, a nice variety of vehicles has been thrown into the mix to keep things from getting stale. Starhawk eschews the overdone third-person shooter cover mechanic for a simple duck animation. You’ll need to manually duck and run between cover to stay alive when operating as a foot soldier. What happens when you run out of cover? No problem. Simply drop in a building - from SPACE!
Starhawk’s "Build and Battle" system is where the game should shine. As you gather Rift energy from kills or from the environment you’ll slowly fill a meter. You can use this energy to call in orbital drops of defensive walls, supply bunkers, watch towers, offensive turrets, and other goodies. You can use these plummeting structures as enemy-crushing missiles if you time your drops correctly. Many of these structures provide additional weapons, such as rocket launchers and ammunition. Some buildings, like the Launch Pad or Coral, supply vehicles that you can access with your accumulated Rift energy.
The Hawk vehicle gameplay is incredibly satisfying. I loved diving into a base while dodging beam cannons and homing missiles. Once the defenses were circumvented I'd transform into a stomping mech while serving up cluster bomb hell. When the scene got too hot I’d jump into the air and Starscream away feeling like an absolute bad-ass. A good Hawk pilot can tear the game up. There’s even a Dogfight mode for players who want to keep the game in the air. I would inevitably be shot down, but that presented me with a new enemy-squishing opportunity. Even respawning is fun. You enter the battlefield via drop pod, similarly to Section 8. If you aim your drop precisely you can take out the player who killed you, or even an enemy vehicle, including tanks!
It’s all well and good until you throw un-mic’d teammates into the mix. Want to barricade the main pathway to your flag? Too late! Mr. City Planner just dropped a repair arm there. Ready to drop a launch pad in a centralized location of your base? Screw you, buddy, that’s a good place for a third supply bunker! You can always “reclaim” (blow up) someone’s structure to help tidy up your base, but things get real stupid real fast when no one’s using a mic. And if the other team is actually working together you won’t even have time to rage quit.
I’ve been on good teams and I’ve been on bad teams, and I can say that Starhawk is a stellar multiplayer versus game when everything is working right. Each of the five environments have two different areas, making ten versus maps. Loadouts and game modes can be adjusted through the in-game menus. There’s a progression system which will allow you to unlock aesthetic customizations for your multiplayer avatar, including different looks for your characters and paint schemes for your vehicles. Clan support is also in effect.
A solid skill system will give you unlockable advantages in the fray. Some skills will allow you to respawn with certains weapons, others help you gather energy more efficiently. You’ll have to accomplish certain feats in-game to unlock these skills. For example, if you score 10 kills with the sniper rifle in one match you’ll unlock the skill which allows you to spawn with that weapon.
While not as robust as a Call of Duty or a Battlefield game, all the bells and whistles you expect from a AAA multiplayer title are present. You can even bring along a local friend via split screen. The second player will have to sign in to their own PSN account. Their character will level up and unlock skills, but they will not earn trophies.
Sadly, my experience was marred by frequent disconnects and the occasional PS3 freeze. You know the one. I was forced to power off my console and then it warned me that it may take two to three hours to restart. It always recovered quickly, but it still activated my beast mode.