Published by Sony Computer
Developed by LightBox Interactive
When Warhawk was released back in 2007 there were not many memorable online experiences on the PlayStation 3. In some respects Warhawk was a simplistic online experience but it was also very enjoyable offering support for up to thirty-two players. It had its fair share of problems however. Graphically it wasn’t impressive, it did little to take advantage of the PlayStation 3’s graphical horsepower and the online communications were voice only making it a testing experience for deaf gamers. Starhawk is essentially the spiritual successor to Warhawk and for the most part it’s just as enjoyable providing an engaging online multiplayer experience that does enough to differentiate itself from Warhawk. However, it also has its fair share of problems.
In addition to its online multiplayer support for up to 32 players, Starhawk also comes with a single-player campaign to ease you into the game’s universe. Unfortunately the campaign for this third-person shooter is rather limp and at just under five hours in length, it’s also rather short. The story is based around a conflict between humans. On the one side there are the Rift Energy miners, who have been mining various planets for Rift Energy and on the other a group known as the Outcasts who are former Rift Energy miners who have been exposed to Rift Energy causing them to mutate into savage beings. You’ll play as Emmett Graves, one of two brothers who have been changed by Rift Energy. Whilst Emmett’s brother Logan mutated into an Outcast however, Emmett was prevented from doing so thanks to his friend, Sidney Cutter, who fitted an implant to his spine which kept him from mutating into an Outcast. Both Emmett and Cutter became Rift Salvagers, hired guns who are paid to protect the various Rift Energy mining sites on an assortment of planets from Outcast attacks. Both Emmett and Cutter realise however that they will eventually have to confront Logan at some point.
Whilst the campaign isn’t great, it is effectively one long tutorial for the multiplayer game and in some respects that’s no bad thing because Starhawk isn’t simply Warhawk with a different theme. During the campaign and the online battles you have the ability to drop turrets, vehicles and structures such as walls and supply depots onto the battlefield to assist you in overcoming your enemies. Placing structures requires Rift Energy so you can’t simply crowd the battlefield with walls and turrets but what this ability does is to give you a range of tactical options and the ability to change the nature of the battlefield at any time. You simply have to select what you’d like to bring onto the battlefield from a radial menu that appears when you press the triangle button, choose a location where you’d like to place it and then wait a few seconds for it to land and construct itself. All of these actions are performed quickly without affecting the pace of the battle.
There is a good range of air and ground-based vehicles in Starhawk ranging from warthog-like Razorbacks to the Return of the Jedi style speeder-bikes, known as a Sidewinder Jet bike, the Ox Heavy Tank and of course the mech-like Hawk which can transform into a rather impressive looking jet fighter plane. The vehicles all handle well and are easy to get grips with but what is really pleasing is how no particular vehicle seems to unbalance the combat significantly and thanks to the aforementioned ability to change the battlefield, you always have options to correct any imbalances that may occur.
Multiplayer allows up two players to play locally or up to 32 players to do battle online. There are four game types in total which are: Capture the Flag, Zones, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. In addition to the competitive modes you can also play co-operatively and collectively deal with wave after wave of enemy hordes. It’s in the multiplayer games that the building elements of Starhawk really come to life and allow you to change the battlefield in ways that will help you and your team. Without the ability to drop turrets, supplies and walls etc., the multiplayer experience wouldn’t feel significantly different from other multiplayer experiences out there but the ability to reshape your strategy and the battlefield whilst being in the heat of battle really does add some zest to the experience. That said however, it’s not without problems for deaf gamers.
Visually Starhawk looks good and represents a definite improvement on Warhawk. The game’s graphic novel style cut scenes that adorn the game’s campaign mode look good and there is a pleasing visual look to the game as a whole with it being a bizarre mix of futuristic science fiction and the Wild West. The game’s ten multiplayer maps have been well designed and those with colour deficiencies will be pleased to learn that an alternate colour scheme can be selected so as to prevent any difficulties. From a performance perspective the game does well and the frame rate holds up nicely even when the action is at its most intense.
One of the main problems for deaf gamers with Warhawk was its reliance on voice communications during the multiplayer battles which certainly made it difficult. Unfortunately, Starhawk also requires voice communications in order to co-ordinate your strategies with your team members. Such a glaring oversight takes a lot of fun out of the online experience for deaf gamers which is a shame as the online play is certainly the highlight of the game. The single-player experience is much better thanks to the inclusion of subtitles which are enabled by default. As a result you’ll be able to follow the game’s storyline and be fully aware of what needs to be done. The only problem here is that the single-player campaign is the weakest part of the game and won’t keep you entertained for long. The game also makes a good use of icons to convey information in both modes.
Under the right conditions Starhawk has the potential to be a highly enjoyable online experience that’s quite unlike anything else you can find on other platforms. The problem is however that one of these conditions is the ability to hear and engage in voice communications to make the most of the online experience which sadly puts the deaf gamer at a big disadvantage. This is unfortunate as the multiplayer component is the heart of the experience and whilst the single-player campaign has been subtitled it’s not enough by itself to justify a purchase.