Few games I've played in recent years are as ambitious as Sony's "Starhawk," the spiritual successor to the early PlayStation 3 title "Warhawk." A third-person shooter at heart, "Starhawk" also blends elements of real-time strategy and aerial combat, creating an unusual mash-up of genres.
Pulling together these very different play styles into a cohesive package was undoubtedly a difficult task, but one that developer LightBox Interactive, with an assist from Sony's Santa Monica Studio, has managed to pull off without a hitch. The result is a wholly unique experience that delivers countless hours of fun whether you're playing alone or with friends across the co-op campaign or 32-player competitive multiplayer.
"Starhawk" is set in the distant future, a time in which the far reaches of the galaxy have become the new Wild West during a rush to collect the rare resource known as Rift Energy. Harvesting this energy comes with a steep price - exposure can transform humans into psychotic mutants. These creatures, known as the Outcast, need Rift Energy to survive and will stop at nothing to get it.
That's where you come in.
Players assume the role of Emmett Graves, a former Rifter - those colonists who chased the riches of Rift Energy -- who survived exposure to the resource with only partial mutation, but has since been shunned by his fellow colonists. Now a hired gun, Graves becomes entangled in the war between the Rifters and Outcast after a face from his past resurfaces.
Missions in the campaign are varied, covering everything from traditional shootouts on the ground to dogfights in space. Regardless of where combat takes place, the action is always frantic and fast-paced. There was a decided learning curve where flight was concerned (I'm not a big fan of the genre as a whole) but I was willing to put up with some frustrating moments in order to get back to the action on the ground, where the Build & Battle system added a layer of strategy to the mix.
The Build & Battle system allows Graves to instantly call down buildings, supplies and vehicles from space, dynamically altering the course of a battle. The ability to design a strategy using these tools, then adjust that strategy on the fly, is nothing new for a RTS game. But I can't remember ever having that kind of power at my disposal in a shooter. Best of all, the system is simple to learn and easy to use.
While the story itself isn't anything revolutionary, the presentation is top-notch with comic book-style cutscenes reminiscent of the "inFamous" franchise tying together missions and providing some needed backstory. At the end of the day, though, the campaign is most notable for preparing players for the epic multiplayer battles that are unlike anything I've played before.
The hook in multiplayer matches is that every player has access to the Build & Battle menu. While the freedom this creates can be chaotic - there is always something being built or blown up -- it also ensures every match is a totally different experience. The most enjoyable matches were those that turned into virtual chess matches, with each team using the Build & Battle system to counter what the other was doing.