Don’t you just hate getting stuck on a tricky level? Well Starhawk – the latest effort from Lightbox Interactive, and spiritual successor to Warhawk – hates it too, which is why with a flick of the L2 button, it lets you order up turrets, armouries and sniper towers to turn the battle back in your favour.
Think of it like Mercenaries, but a lot speedier and with more choice than just airstrike, airstrike or airstrike. Whatever sir wants in Starhawk, sir gets: too many bad guys on the horizon? Place your order for a brand new sniper rifle and it’ll be dropped at your feet. Getting pinned down by incoming fire? Find a good spot for a concrete wall and have it beamed down in an instant. The choice is yours, and it adds a welcome touch of RTS to an otherwise bland tower defense game.
Starhawk takes place on a distant string of planets called The Frontier. A kind of space-ageCalifornia, The Frontier is under threat from a mutant army called the Outcast, former humans exposed to too much Rift energy. Rift is what you’re fighting for: the mutants need it to live, and the humans want it to power their ships and build their fortunes.
You play Emmett Graves, a former prospector turned gun-for-hire, who, thanks to a genetic fluke, has all the bonuses of Rift infection without turning Outcast. The perfect hybrid,Graves and his buddy Cutter operate as mercenaries, added security for anyone looking to protect their Rift claim from the Outcast.
Here’s where the tower defense element comes in. Starhawk’s lovingly designed campaign has you scrambling from one arena to another, holding off waves of Outcast using guns, the aforementioned weapon drops and, on occasion, fighter jets. That’s where the game really shines: on the ground, combat can get dull as you repeatedly drill laser rounds into endless hordes of bad guys, but find yourself a space ship and the resulting dogfights are wonderfully fast-paced and fluid.
Otherwise, Starhawk’s single-player is a drag. The Build ‘n’Battle system swiftly breaks the game by stripping away all the challenge; no matter how many Outcast you come up against, they’re never a match for your mail order rocket launcher and infinite ammo crate. With the difficulty curve laid out flat, and the string-thin plot doing nothing to keep you interested, Starhawk’s offline mode gets tired fast.
Online, it’s a different story. A perfect follow-up to multiplayer-only Warhawk, Starhawk’s 32-man PvP battles make you wonder why Lightbox bothered with a campaign at all: this is what they’re good at. The maps take their cue from the single-player mode, and as such can be tackled in a variety of ways. There are basic vehicles like cars and quad-bikes, which you’ll need to keep up with the game’s fast-paced Capture the Flag matches. But most fun of all is the District 9-style mech battle suit, a veritable game changer if you can get hold of it. Perfect for stomping fools on solid ground, at the tap of a button the suit flips Transformers-style into a nippy fighter plane, letting you take the fight to the skies.
The Build ‘n’Battlesystem works online, too; Starhawk’s sprawling multiplayer arenas are ideal for building your own little fort. Rack up enough Rift by killing folks the old fashioned way, and you can summon the Gods of Not Playing Fair to drop you in a few gun turrets and a bunker. Precision is everything: get your base set up in just the right spot, and the kills will come rolling in.
Starhawk’s multiplayer plays to the game’s strengths: frantic variations on the classic Capture the Flag mode see to it that you’ll be running around every which way, taking in every corner of Lightbox’s lovingly crafted space stations as you go. The pay-per-building concept works better online too, giving the players who earned it a well deserved break from head-to-head third-person scrapping.
If Lightbox deserve any criticism, it’s for gluing an unnecessary, half-baked offline shooter onto what is obviously meant to be a purely online bit of fun. Ditch the tacked-on campaign, and Starhawk is a blast.
Starhawk is available to buy now.