Hands On: Starhawk

It’s been said that developer Lightbox Interactive and SCEA’s  Starhawk is the spiritual successor to Warhawk. I spent some time with the game at the SDCC and while the presence of space combat hints at the classic title, this is a brand new game.

Right off the bat, the demo at the Sony booth at Comic Con dropped Starhawk’s hero Emmett Graves into a hornet’s nest. The Outcast, a sect of mutated humans that live on the dangerous frontier worlds had captured a rift geyser- a hotspot that gushes dangerous cosmic ‘rift’ energy. Mr.Graves was there to stop them.

Frontiersmen rocking glow paint?!? Madness!

But a little background first- Rift energy is nasty stuff that’s usually mined as a power source, but it’s not all sunshine and roses because it can warp those it comes in contact with into unstable mutants, that’s where the Outcast come in. But not everyone is a horrible freak, there are regular folks on the frontier as well. Called Rifters, these people have similar agendas to the Outcast but are just a little bit nicer and a lotta bit less mutated.

So where does Emmett come in? Right down the middle actually. Many years before the game picks up, he was exposed to raw rift energy and was permanently scarred by it. Shunned by Rifters, he set out on his own as a hired gun. Without spoiling anything, the gist of things is that he’s back on his home planet after it’s been attacked by a group of Outcast that he’s got a very personal problem with.

Draw!

Okay, back to the nuts & bolts- nothing about Starhawk impressed me before Comic Con. Despite the very Firefly-esque setting (does anybody not like Firefly?), I was under the impression that it was a generic third-person action title with some space flight elements. I was also under the impression that there was only the slightest of threads of single player campaigning to be done. I was wrong on both counts.

Starhawk is a third-person affair, that much is true- but it’s no where near generic. The Build and Battle system that is woven seamlessly into the action basically transforms the game into a genre bending third-person real-time strategy game.

Buena Vista

After wiping out a few waves of Outcast and making my way to a communication tower that needed a repair, I was directed by my pilot (relaxing in orbit) to mark locations for defensive towers as well as a Rift harnessing power plant. A few button presses later, the structures were dropped onto the gamescape and ready for action. Now, you might think that the interface might be a little clunky or that the strategy bits more than likely interfere with the action segments- but everything works really, really, well. Calling up structures to build takes about the same amount of time and energy as selecting a new hand cannon.

One thing that did spoil things a little was that the spaceflight portions of the game (which I wasn’t able to try out) are handled as separate levels and are not continuous from the planetside stages. So there’ll be no jumping into your ship and breaking orbit to fight on in the outer atmosphere. It would have been an impressive feature and I can’t help but think that Lightbox missed the boat by not finding a way to work it in. However, I was also told by a Sony rep that the Build and Battle interface will definitely carry over with the same functionality and mechanics as the base building segments on the ground- s0 that’s good news anyway.

Emmett Graves’ adventures in the Rift look pretty spiffy as well. Starhawk’s graphical presentation is quite good and the pseudo-western feel is spot on. Honestly, it’s a little icing on the cake- I liked the B&B system so much that I’d have overlooked a slightly less robust visual package. Fortunately, I didn’t have to.

I’m very much looking forward to getting a better look at Starhawk when it’s released early next year (there’s nothing firm yet in terms of the actual date) for the PLaystation 3.

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Jason's been knee deep in videogames since he was but a lad. Cutting his teeth on the pixely glory that was the Atari 2600, he's been hack'n'slashing and shoot'em'uping ever since. Mainly an FPS and action guy, Jason enjoys the occasional well crafted title from every genre.
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