Why Starhawk is great, and why you might want to wait

Not that Starhawk invites food-based metaphors, but it’s a game that has all the right ingredients for an utterly delicious recipe. The problem with this type of title, though, is that it needs some 32 chefs to cook it all to perfection.

And on those occasions, where you don’t burn the potatoes or drop the eggs (last one, I swear), Starhawk is a tasty treat. It’s a dream toy box of an online game, letting you commandeer transforming mechs, jetpacks and shamelessly Halo-esque buggies in third-person games not far off the likes of Star Wars: Battlefront. It can create a heart-pounding flow of master plans, overcoming odds and desperate escapes that many single-player games strive to recreate by leading you down a path on a tight leash.

But there are also the other kinds of occasions, where everyone ‘does their own thing’. Matches seemingly start with a time bomb in each team’s camp as everyone speeds off on the word go with no real plan of attack. A little bit of unbalancing on the game’s build n’ battle feature can lead to some of the most frustrating camping seen on PS3. Oh, and there’s nothing worse than the guy who drives off in the Razorback you just bought without a gunner.

Fortunately, you’ll quite often find that matches play out like the first of these two options (which I would stake is largely thanks to the community from the game’s predecessor, Warhawk), at least enough to warrant coming back for more.

Build n’ battle is what separates Starhawk from the pack – an RTS-inspired feature that lets players build bases to their liking. You might supply an army of turrets to guard the entrance, or build plenty of vehicle depots to keep the team supplied with firepower. Strangely, game modes don’t necessarily cater to this new style of play, instead leaning on old classics like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. It’s a shame that the opportunity for more unique modes has been cast aside, but the likes of CTF are given a fresh twist when allowing you to defend your flag as you see fit.

At the worst of times, the feature will go against the games you’re playing, allowing for camping right outside a base that completely kills any flow the match might have. It’s also a little too hectic and unfocused, allowing any team mate to place any structure anywhere within the base. Without any kind of communication between teammates you can pretty much kiss the strategic importance of BnB goodbye.

Starhawk still holds its own despite these issues, largely thanks to the rock-solid foundations it’s been built upon. The build n’ battle feature is completely dwarfed by the sheer thrill of climbing into a hawk, leaping into the air and transforming Starscream-style before jetting off.

It also doesn’t hurt that it enters the competitive online scene with some well-earned cred, again largely thanks to the original PS3 debut from 2007. Warhawk wasn’t the be all of multiplayer, but it was feature-rich and heavily supported with both free and premium content post-release. It’s encouraging to know that, while developer Light Box might not be quite the same, the game is in good hands and worth committing to.

But while all of this gels together to form a compelling multiplayer package, the single-player component is sorely disappointing. It’s more developed than your average ‘multiplayer tutorial’ seen in past Unreal Tournaments and the like, but it still completely falls short of expectations, simply playing out on online maps and offering little more than telling you where the enemy is going to be next and asking you to kill them. Hawk sections are a frightful bore as you endlessly shift and twist to lock onto enemies, and the game’s intriguing lore is wasted on poorly-presented motion comics that disconnect you from the story and its characters. There’s a lot of potential in Starhawk’s fantastic sci-fi wild west setting, which depicts a warped oil rush for the space age, but it goes nowhere here.

Then again, you don’t see Dead Space 2 getting knocked for its terrible online offerings; why should a multiplayer-focused game get marks off for a boring single-player?

Besides; there’s an entertaining if simplistic co-op offering to make up for those shortcomings. The BnB system is at its most useful here, as you defend a structure with a friend, but it’s still an obvious afterthought. It helps greatly that two players and tackle it in split-screen mode. In fact the whole game is open for a second local player, which Light Box should most definitely be commended for.

Don’t consider Starhawk for anything other than multiplayer, then. And with that in mind, it’s disappointing that this isn’t a cheaper PSN download after Warhawk proved it could be done. It would simply be easier to recommend with just the one mode at half the price. Sony would do well to replicate their recent Killzone 3 plan here by releasing the online component separately. On that day, I’ll happily tell you to suit up for war.