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Review: Starhawk

Aug 10 // Darren Nakamura
Starhawk (PlayStation 3)Developer: Lightbox InteractivePublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment AmericaReleased: May 8, 2012MSRP: $59.99 From the outset, Starhawk lets the player know that it isn't going to be just like all the other science fiction-themed third-person shooters. Set in a galaxy where small human colonies were set up to harvest a powerful energy source called rift, Starhawk takes on a space western genre not unlike that seen in Firefly. Players control Emmet, a mercenary of sorts, who is hired to protect the rift-mining colonies from raids by the Outcasts, a group of former humans who have endured so much rift exposure that they've become mutated. The space western setting is exploited to its fullest, complete with hoverbikes in place of horses, barren desert planets, and even a space train robbery. The music is an especially nice touch, with sweeping woodwind melodies that accompany vehicular movement and combat, and more understated background music while traveling on foot. Vehicular combat is central to Starhawk, as it was in Warhawk. In addition to the aforementioned hoverbikes, there are also trucks (complete with a mounted machine gun, of course), tanks, and the eponymous Hawks. Hawks are like small fighter jets that can transform into bipedal mechs, which is every bit as cool as it sounds. There are a handful of missions that require the use of Hawks, but many are open ended, letting the player choose how to deal with the threat. The really surprising gameplay addition that helps to make Starhawk especially unique is the Build-and-Battle system. At the cost of some rift, Emmet can call his partner Cutter, who is constantly orbiting the current area, ready to drop supplies down for Emmet's use. It starts off fairly simple, with things like walls and turrets, which call to mind a very Iron Brigade feeling, but it expands from there to include customly placed bunkers, sniper towers, jetpacks, reinforcement areas, garages, and even Hawk landing pads. The substantial amount of freedom given is a huge plus; for instance, a player can be defensive with walls and turrets, or instead put up a landing pad in order to take control of a Hawk and go on the offensive. With the Build-and-Battle system, Starhawk does a decent job at keeping missions feeling fresh. There are frequently multiple possible solutions to a particular problem, though on some levels your capability is limited in order to encourage variety. As one who never became entirely comfortable flying a Hawk, I can appreciate the levels that require it, but I can appreciate even more the levels that allow it as an option alongside other equally viable and completely different paths to victory. While the gameplay and setting are interesting, the story itself falls a little flat. A lot of it is told via graphic novel-esque cutscenes. While the cutscenes look great, the backstory is not particularly well conveyed. At one point, there is a big reveal of the evil mastermind behind all of the raids, and it's clear that Emmet is emotionally affected by it, but it isn't explained to the player why that is until later, and by then, the moment has passed. Near the end, there is another scene that is clearly meant to be emotionally heavy, but with a disconnect between characters Emmet cares about and characters the player cares about, it seems melodramatic at best. It is not the worst videogame story ever, and it certainly gets points for being relatively unique, but Starhawk won't be winning any awards for its narrative. Of course, when it comes to shooters, many can overlook mediocre storytelling if the main focus of the game is in the multiplayer. Herein is my biggest disappointment with Starhawk. After enjoying the campaign immensely, I expected the multiplayer to be a deeply tactical, team-based affair. And it certainly tries to be that, but few small issues compound to keep it from being truly great. The most noticeable problem with the multiplayer is the lag. It is a strange breed of lag, where the player's own movements and actions are never delayed, but the consequences of those actions are, and by significant fractions of a second. For instance, when playing offline, a few shots from the default assault rifle will explode a barrel of rift. The same number of shots will do that online, but the explosion won't occur immediately, causing the player to waste several shots. More frustrating is the PvP combat, where a rocket can detonate near an enemy infantryman, but far enough that there may be doubt about whether it would be a kill, causing the player to wait until the explosion presumably registers on the other end before the kill is counted. Most annoying is melee combat, which frequently devolves into both combatants circle-strafing and slashing at thin air until one teleports onto the other and delivers a deathblow. While the lag does not make Starhawk unplayable, it definitely creates some irritating situations. Once the player becomes accustomed to the strange lag, the balance issues begin to pop up. The game is titled Starhawk, so it is not surprising that the Hawks play a central role in the multiplayer, but they are really a dominating force. If one team has more skilled pilots than the other, it is almost an automatic win. The Hawks are faster than any of the land vehicles, and they are equipped with enough countermeasures that they are incredibly difficult to take down from anywhere other than another Hawk. Naturally, given their speed, maneuverability, and strength against infantry, they are a perfect spawn-camping weapon. A particularly unsportsmanlike Hawk pilot can camp an enemy's spawn in mech form, stomp on any infantry that get near, fire a huge assortment of weapons, and quickly convert to fighter form to make a getaway if things get too heated. The relative power of the Hawks is pretty well known, and a game mode exists that specifically excludes Hawks from being buildable. Unsurprisingly, these are some of the most popular game modes online. Past the Hawks, each player can also earn one Skill to equip. Many of these are small bonuses, and not unlike Perks seen in the recent Call of Duty games. Some of these include extra ammunition, always spawning with a particular weapon, or the ability to survive a vehicle explosion. One Skill in particular seems overwhelmingly powerful, and as a result, most players who have it use it. It allows you to destroy enemy buildings and vehicles with melee attacks, which is something that can normally only be done with grenades, rockets, or vehicles. Grenades and rockets are not infinite, so unless a bunker is nearby, they aren't a viable option for building destruction. Vehicles are expensive, and prone to destruction themselves. Melee attacks are infinite and quick. There is simply nothing more disheartening than saving up rift for half a game to spend it on one of the most expensive buildings only to have one lone enemy ride in on a cheap bike and madly slash at it for a few seconds to topple it. Another thing that makes multiplayer less enjoyable than I had expected it to be is actually not the fault of Lightbox at all. For a game that requires as much coordination as Starhawk, there are disconcertingly few people playing it with headsets. It is a pretty common tactic to begin a match and immediately spawn a hoverbike corral, then hop on the bike and rush the enemy before they can put up significant defenses. It is not an awful tactic to employ, but it becomes increasingly less useful the more teammates do it. The total number of buildings per team is limited, and having a half dozen corrals wastes rift as well as slots for buildings. A well-organized team will have some players in charge of defense and others in charge of offense, but such a team is an impossibility if nobody communicates. Lastly, Starhawk features no mid-game team balancing. If a player drops out and nobody new joins, his team is at a disadvantage, causing a cascade of poor performance leading to more dropouts. While being switched to a losing team can be annoying for the one person who is switched, not having any functionality for it is annoying for the entire team that is put at a disadvantage. Otherwise, there are some cool ideas to be found in the multiplayer. In addition to the usual team deathmatch and capture the flag modes, there is also a mode called Zones, which tasks players with holding points on the map. As one team's influence increases around one of these points, the zone around it grows, providing a bigger area for teammates to spawn. Spawning itself is pretty well done, where the player designates his drop zone and careens toward the ground with a little bit of control over the pod. Landing on an enemy kills him, so spawn campers who are not paying enough attention can get some retribution, but most skilled players can easily avoid a falling pod. All in all, the multiplayer portion of Starhawk is not bad. The disappointment stems from the notion that it could have been truly great, but a few design decisions and strange lag keep it from achieving that. As a single-player experience, Starhawk exceeds expectations, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it for those who prefer to play alone, if only to try out the undeniably cool Build-and-Battle system.
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When Starhawk was announced as the follow-up to 2007's PlayStation 3 exclusive Warhawk, cynical gamers wondered if it would be nothing more than Warhawk in space. Going into this completely cold, I was expecting another ...

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Get Warhawk in your Starhawk (if you are European)


May 11
// Fraser Brown
Europe gets a lot of things, like political extremism and unnecessary languages, like French. What we don't get a lot of, however, is love from the industry. We usually have to wait for the Japanese and Americans to get their...
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All Starhawk DLC maps to be released for free


May 08
// Conrad Zimmerman
Starhawk hit store shelves in North America today and with the release comes great news for its long-term prospects, as it has been announced that all future map content will be made available free of charge.  In a ...
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Live show: Mash Tactics takes to the skies in Starhawk


Dec 27
// Bill Zoeker
Today, Mash Tactics will once again take flight in the Starhawk beta. Carnage is flying solo today, but that has never stopped him from going full thrust in both playing the game and chatting with the audience. Jump into the ...

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Live show: Mash Tactics takes to the skies in Starhawk


Dec 20
// Bill Zoeker
Today, Mash Tactics is strapping on their G-suits and barrel-rolling into the Starhawk beta! Jon Carnage prides himself on his prowess in the original Warhawk. You can watch live to see if Carnage can regain his former glory,...

Preview: Starhawk

May 13 // Dale North
Story and core mechanics: Starhawk is set in the future, in a distant frontier in space. Human settlements have moved into every corner of space by now, making it a vast, lawless frontier. Many planets have been populated with new colonies in this period called The Rush, a time when men searched for and mined powerful Rift energy.  These miners, called Rifters, search the universe for this resource, at first for fame and fortune, but later in worship. This Rift energy, often called blue gold, is very dangerous. Rifters will begin to mutate after contact with the resource, becoming stronger, but unrecognizable, with their skeletons pushing outside of their skin (among other deformities). These mutated Rifters form groups to protect what they worship, and will go to great lengths to defend it from others. The same Rift energy that sets up the story also fuels the gameplay systems. In most multiplayer shooters you'll start at the beginning of a map, work through a layout, fight planted AI enemies and work your way through all the preset obstacles. Starhawk turns the system on its head by getting rid of paths. Instead, they've made each map an open region, where you and your enemies are free to roam. Instead of fighting AI in predesignated locations, they're all free moving, with intelligence that lets them mingle and spawn dynamically, and react to your strategies. The Rift energy comes in with the player's ability to create the layout on the fly while the game is running, leaving them to solve the current mission in any way they please. This Build & Battle system lets players freely build turrets, launch pods, garages, buildings, bunkers and more, anywhere and at any time. Players are given complete freedom to solve problems in their own style, with no one right way to do things. Rift energy is used to build, and the built items are used to kill, which brings in more Rift energy. It's a simple and fast gameplay system, and opens the door to all kinds of new strategy and gameplay that makes the current standard shooter formula look a bit tired in comparison. Single-player hands-on session: Starhawk's story follows Emmett Graves, a human that was exposed to Rift energy, but never fully mutated like other exposed miners. He keeps his human form and mind, but still has the poisonous and empowering Rift energy in his system. A regulator implanted in his spine has kept him alive, but he lives every day like his last as he has no idea if this technology will continue to keep him alive. Being partially mutated, he is also an outcast, but he takes up work as a sort of hired gun, working to defend mines around space as a rift salvager. In the beginning of the story Emmett and his partner take a contract to defend Echo, a moon of planet Dust. In the single-player mission I played, Emmett drops down on moon Echo, where a communications center relay is still standing, but needs power. The level eases players into the action with what looks to be a standard third-person shooter at first, with gunning and sniping of attacking outcasts, which have been nicknamed Scabs by Emmett and his partner, a gear man named Cutter. I moved Emmett down into a dusty valley to find outcasts worshiping a rift, shooting some Scabs in the back when their guard was down. This caused many outcasts to swarm my position, keeping me from my mission of powering up the relay. The level slowly eased me into the Build & Battle system with the early ability to use my current Rift energy stock to build turrets to help gun down attackers. By pressing the Triangle button, a circular menu is displayed. By tilting the right analog stick in the direction of any displayed item and releasing the Triangle button, the selected item will be dropped any area I determined, seemingly direct from space. After selecting a location and a short countdown timer a turret came firmly down from the sky, crashing into the ground with a satisfying thud. It instantly came to life, gunning down Scabs in front of it. Later I could build a Pod Beacon that would continue to bring a maximum of three allies to help with the fight as long as it was still standing. In fact, anything available can be built with enough Rift energy orbs in stock As I battled against the current wave, a countdown timer was displayed in a separate zone, indicating that another wave of outcasts was on their way. I learned from watching an earlier demonstration that I could use Rift energy to drop in armored walls strategically to put a barrier between the relay I was defending and the incoming wave. Using this choke point worked well, but another wave was on the way, and this one would have flying manned crafts called Hawks. I was able to build my own launch pad to launch my own Hawks, letting me take to the sky for some airplay to take out this last wave and complete the mission. My build choices fit my own style of gameplay, but by no means were the only way to carry out this mission to connect and later protect a communications center. LightBox Interactive says that the game rewards you on your creativity in solving these missions. I could have built to bring in more allies, letting me sit back and watch the fight. I could have also stayed on the ground by building better guns to take out Hawks, instead of taking to the air. In fact, I was told it is possible to go through some missions with no killing at all! The only wrong strategy is one that does not have you successfully clearing your mission. Multiplayer: Imagine giving every player in multiplayer the ability to build anything at any place in any map, in any game type. Warhawk was already known for its fast-paced, insane multiplayer battles, but this Build & Battle system in Starhawk takes it over the top. With the increased possibilities this system provides, tactics have to constantly evolve, making every type of standard multiplayer game mode newly fresh. Lightbox Interactive says that they had play tests that have lasted over five hours on the same map. They say that with all the possibilities provided, battles play out differently every single time.  The few tries I had in sessions of Capture The Flag were a blast, and a lot of my enjoyment came out of seeing how this battle system opens the doors for player types beyond the typical offensive and defensive positions. At first, my defensive tendencies took over, and I found myself building a sniper tower at a prime spot, and then manning it to pick off attackers. Later I tried building a wall in front of my base and found that walls could be linked together to create gates that only allies could enter and exit. Bunkers could also be built, and they come fully stocked with fine defensive weaponry including missile launches to take incoming Hawks out of the sky. Later I found that with some communication, some really advanced strategies could be devised to keep the enemy out of the base.  Pure offense was a joy with all the fun vehicle and weapon types available in Starhawk, though I'm usually more comfortable on the defensive side. An offshoot of the defensive player, the Troll, is made possible with ease of building in any place on the map. Imagine taking a ride along with an ally in a jeep to an area in front of an enemy base and then quickly jumping out to build a wall that holds the enemy in their base. While full-on offensive players are busy taking out any attackers, I found myself helping out with the placement of obstacles to create bottlenecks. I dreamed of sneaking past the enemy guard to create a bunker behind their base lines so that I could constantly bombard them with missiles. I could never pull it off, but I was told that it was easily possible. The Build and Battle gameplay system allows a different type of gamer to finally give the skilled shooter player a run for his money. Creative types and troubleshooters can now stand toe to toe with the headshot wonders of the world now. The wealth of possibilities this new system provides makes Starhawk's multiplayer side much more accessible than Warhawk was. That said, the game still manages to keep that fast-paced, addictive multiplayer action that Warhawk was known for.  Twinkle, Twinkle little Starhawk: Warhawk's multiplayer game was already considered to be a gratifying and polished experience, but LightBox wanted to go bigger and better with this new outing, and with their Build & Battle gameplay system and area-based maps, they've found a way to do so. A side benefit is that new and different types of gamers will be enticed by these new creative possibilities, which will likely make Starhawk an even more popular online game than its predecessor. Add in some of the teased multiplayer improvements, like cross-server clan voice chat and super specific tournament creation and scheduling, and you've got a perfect recipe for success. And that's not even mentioning the addition of a single-player mission, which is shaping up to be great on its own. Get ready, folks: Starhawk is poised to make a major impact on multiplayer gaming.
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Sony Santa Monica and Incognito released Warhawk, a fast vehicle/dogfight multiplayer third-person shooter for the PS3, back in 2007. Since then there has been a goal to build on this popular game and do something special wit...

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Check out these leaked Starhawk details


Apr 29
// Dale North
We can't verify these details of the rumored sequel to Warhawk, but SystemLink says that an anonymous Sony employee has passed them along, and they look legit. Don't take these to heart just yet, but maybe start feeling hopef...
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New Warhawk expansion adds rocket pack, new level


Aug 25
// Nick Chester
Sony has announced that they'll be dropping the third expansion for the excellent PlayStation 3 title Warhawk on August 28 for $7.99. Called Operation: Fallen Star, the expansion will add a game-changing new feature -- t...
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New Warhawk update gives new gameplay modes, quick play, and more


Jul 14
// 8BitBrian
While you could easily be glued to Destructoid for all your E3 updates, you could be playing Warhawk while being glued to Destructoid. Be sure to boot up the game on Wednesday to pick up the Warhawk 1.4 update, which is dropp...
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Calling all Warhawks: Operation: Broken Mirror is dated and priced


Mar 28
// SRVSLPS
 Fresh on the heels of Sony's surprise announcement that Warhawk would be offered with a limited-time discount ($29 until 4/15), comes the official release date for the game's latest expansion pack, Operation: Broken Mir...
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First Warhawk: Omega Dawn screens, pricing announced


Nov 30
// Nick Chester
Sony has released the first screens and artwork from the forthcoming Warhawk expansion pack, Omega Dawn, and I've made the decision that I want it. Damn it. For $7.99, you get the new "Omega Factory" map which can b...
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It's official: Warhawk expansion pack 'soon come'


Nov 23
// Nick Chester
Yup, that Warhawk expansion pack that Game Informer revealed last month is the real deal. Called "Operation: Omega Dawn," the expansion will be available this December, and unfortunately, there's not much to it.&nbs...
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New Warhawk patch coming, Arbiters introduced


Oct 22
// Dale North
The PlayStation Network multiplayer title Warhawk is seeing some improvements by way of a new patch, as well as with the introduction of in-game watchers called Arbiters.The PlayStation Blog updates us on the upcoming v1.1 pa...
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Rumor: Warhawk expansion slated for December


Oct 16
// Nick Chester
Oh Game Informer, with your games and your informing. When will you ever cease to amaze us? While we at Destructoid have yet to receive our office copy of the latest issue (yes, we subscribe, and we also save 10% off of used ...
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Voice chat is for chumps: Warhawk coming to retail without headset


Oct 01
// Nick Chester
Newsweek's LevelUp blog has confirmed with Sony Computer Entertainment that later this month, retailers will start carrying a new $39.99 SKU of the PlayStation 3 online-only title, Warhawk. This SKU will not contain the Jabra...
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Sleep is for the weak: Warhawk getting midnight PSN release this week


Aug 26
// Nick Chester
It appears that Sony's multiplayer title, Warhawk, will be getting an early release on the PlayStation Network this week. Set to hit the PlayStation Store on Tuesday at 12:01 AM EST, the digital version of the title will cost...
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An explosion of knowledge: everything you need to know about Warhawk


Aug 15
// Jordan Devore
Warkhawk is coming to the PlayStation Network and retail stores later this month and if you're thinking of getting it, chances are you still have a few unanswered questions. But that's okay, because Dylan Jobe (game director ...
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Warhawk goes gold, gets price, date, matching pumps


Aug 04
// Earnest Cavalli
Warhawk, Sony's upcoming jet/ground-combat-simu-arcade title has finally gone gold. After what seems like years of watching pretty pictures and hearing how it's the next evolution in the jet/ground-combat-simu-arcade genre, o...

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