Lightbox Interactive's Starhawk takes the wide-open battlefield of its spiritual predecessor, Warhawk, and drops in an intriguing mix of third-person shooter, vehicle combat, air combat, and strategy, all wrapped in a sci-fi/Western wrapper (roughly space settlers vs. space natives, and you probably don't want to go too far down the path investigating the "wipe out the native inhabitants" mentality at the core of the game). In spite of a super-rough story, a very short campaign, and limited multiplayer modes, Starhawk offers some pleasures if you want to put your time into it.
It's all about the Rift Energy in Starhawk, the glowing blue energy source coveted and harnessed by colonial settlers called Rifters. You play as Emmett Graves, who was once exposed to the same energy, with the net result being that you've got a case of glowing blue skin, and seem to be the only one hardy enough to take on the dangerous jobs of killing others infected and driven insane by the Rift Energy. The infected, called "Scabs" (there's a lot of Union/Scab talk in the story, but the labor titles don't really fit the context of the story) are attacking settlements, and as Emmett, you must take them out along with their mysterious leader, simply called The Outcast.
The two to three hour campaign is frequently structured as a series of capture and defend missions, a single-player simulation of the multiplayer modes (Capture the Flag, Zones, Team Deathmatch, and Deathmatch) framed by the plot. The enemies attack in waves, and instead of simply shooting down the oncoming horde (which you will do), you can collect Rift Energy and use it to call down equipment like turrets, walls, tanks, jetpacks and of course, the Starhawk mech/spaceship in real time (meaning you'll take some hits while you're selecting your equipment from the game's scroll wheel). Most of the missions will consist of you simply moving to a point on the map and defending it from waves of enemies, or, with outer space battles, take out enemy 'hawks, eliminate orbital targets, and protect resources.
If there's one major fault to the campaign, it's that this simple structure can lead to a feeling of repetition after a while, but given the length of Starhawk, that won't be too much of a problem. Besides, Lightbox probably intends for you to spend your time in the game's multiplayer modes which do the persistent ranking thing and also include a co-op mode which drops you onto one of the campaign's map up to three other players. Meanwhile, the competitive modes support up to 32 players, meaning you won't lack for targets.
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So much interesting equipment
By the end of the campaign and in multiplayer as well, the sheer number of items that you can call down will allow you to vary up a match so that you can confidently say that each plays different than the last.
The motion-comic style cutscenes are neat
While the story is pretty lackluster, the presentation, done in a think lined, blue-tinged style, is tops.
Structuring the campaign around building multiplayer proficiency is a good idea
Learning through repetition is often the way to go. And Starhawk really wants you to learn the rhythms of attack, drop equipment, collect energy, attack, etc.
Structuring the campaign around building multiplayer proficiency wears a little thin
The sameness of the mission structure starts to show at about the halfway point, and depending on whether you're into what Starhawk is doing, you may want to bail.
The mishandling of the space-Western setting
While the characters have a mix of the sort of leathers and cotton clothing you'd see in something like Firefly, and the soundtrack draws on the same Western twang you'd expect, Starhawk never really feels like it's fully got a handle on the setting.
Ungainly, hard to shoot from, they're essentially a "make me easier to shoot while in the air" tool.
If you're looking for something a little different in your multiplayer shooter, then Starhawk might be worth giving a shot. While the campaign is ultimately inessential (and repetitive), the use of equipment in both the single and multiplayer modes puts a unique spin on the material and is a welcome respite from simple run-and-gun gameplay.
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