Starhawk [Preview] – An RTS, a shooter and a space-combat sim
So far, we’ve played two and a bit levels of Starhawk’s single player campaign. In that time we’ve experienced on-foot combat, space combat, mech walkers, sci-fi infused old western mining towns, expansive bases orbiting planets and toxic alien worlds. This is one diverse game.
Lord only knows what the remaining levels house.
There’s a lot to learn here and, as the rules of modern game design dictate, the path to understanding begins with a tutorial. Here’s where you’ll learn what is sure to become one of the key pillars of Starhawk, base-building. Yep, a third-person/space combat shoot with a hint of RTS about it. That’s not something you see every day.
Of the levels we’ve played so far, base building has been primarily used as a means of defending your ‘rift rig’; a power plant of sorts that harvests the rift energy that acts as your currency. Supply bunkers, automated turrets, defensive walls and vehicle deployment pads (and more that we’ve not experienced yet) can be brought in to keep you and your rift rig safe.
These buildings can be built anywhere there’s enough space, so no worrying about having to keep within a specific proximity of the rift rig. Choosing where to build can be slightly awkward within the confines of a third-person shooter perspective; the camera does pan up a little to give you a better view of the environment but it’s still not perfect.
Once you’ve positioned the holographic representation of your selected building in the correct spot, pressing ‘x’ will drop it from the sky. Within a few seconds it’s up and running.
Enemies attack in waves, which gives you enough opportunity to build a defensive line between bouts of fighting. So far, the best tactic seems to be to load up on as many auto-turrets as possible and back them up with a supply bunker (which provides you the all-powerful rocket launcher and a ready supply of ammo).
As mentioned above, these buildings require rift energy to buy. This is acquired by killing enemies and destroying barrels that regenerate over time. The abundance of rift means we’ve not yet found yourselves genuinely limited in our construction ambitions. At one point during the second level we had eight or nine auto-turrets, more than enough to wipe the floor with the invaders without us so much as aiming as our weapon.
Modern game design dictates that once a player has mastered the rules, things must get more difficult in a bid to provide a challenge. So a struggle between resources and firepower is sure to be on the agenda during later levels.
It’s not all construction, you do have to get your hands dirty with weapons and bullets. The levels we’ve played have had an emphasis on verticality which, because of the ability to build structures, will likely be experienced in a slightly different form by each player. Once we built a supply bunker we tended to stick to its upper platform, waiting for enemies to come within range rather than getting stuck in at ground level.
Even without supply bunkers, various platforms and ladder-laden huts/walls provide decent opportunity to give you a tactical advantage. However, you’d do well to remember that whatever you can climb, the enemy can also climb.
As with most shooters nowadays, Starhawk uses a regenerative health system; although this one is not always as forgiving as the likes of Call of Duty or Halo. Once your screen starts to go red at the edges you really should look to take cover by crouching behind some piece of wall, door or turret. The non-linear level design means you’ll have to have your wits about you when entering a fight as enemies can attack from multiple angles and vastly outnumber you and the small number of AI companions we’ve fought alongside thus far.
Things alter completely when in command of a mech-walker, which is also able to transform into a nimble space-fighter. When on solid ground the mech is slow and lacks much in the way of manoeuvrability, instead making up for it with brute force in the form of a powerful chain gun and a foot stomp that will crush any poor fool stupid enough to get too close.
Transform into the fighter craft and it’s a different beast together; fast, nimble and armed with homing missiles as well as a standard machine gun. The ability to lock your weapons onto enemy craft means deep-space combat is not as difficult as it might otherwise be although, like everything else we’ve experience up to this point, the likelihood is that things are only going to get more difficult as new elements are introduced to challenge us.
Perhaps the biggest questions here though, considering that this is the successor to Warhawk, is how does all of this tie into multiplayer? For the answer to that you’ll need to come back next week to read our full and final review.
One thing’s for sure though, Starhawk is a game with ambitious variety that’s seemingly not afraid to blend existing ideas together in such a way that they feel fresh and new. The challenge then becomes striking the right balance throughout the entire experience…