An early PlayStation 3 classic, Warhawk introduced many console gamers to the idea of proper online multiplayer. It has been a good few years since the game was released and the entire multiplayer landscape has changed drastically, thanks to the likes of Modern Warfare and Battlefield 3.
Now comes Starhawk, the spiritual successor to Warhawk. Different characters, a different game world and a drastically updated graphics engine ensure it feels modern. But can the gameplay style still hold its own or are there other multiplayer delights to be had elsewhere?
Starhawk is based around a sort of amalgamation of modern video game cliches. Take a bit of Borderlands, a touch of Rage and then add a trickle of Red Faction and you have most of Starhawk's style.
The entire game is driven by something called rift energy. It forms the backbone of the storyline and acts as an in-game currency with which to purchase items. You play as rift miner Emmet Graves whose rift mine has been attacked by a group called the Outcasts. These chaps have been infected by rift energy and become mutated, they act as the main bad guys throughout the game and the opposing force when playing online.
Charged with rift energy himself, Emmet and his brother end up entangled in a battle against the Outcasts. That’s about it really, the single-player story is fairly forgettable and more just a training ground for the title’s much beefier online content.
It’s a looker
Starhawk may look like a lot of other games, but that doesn’t mean it's not easy on the eye. Rich colours, varied environments and some awesome character design on the Outcast side of things ensure it is one of the best-looking titles on the PS3 in recent memory.
Particularly special mention has to be given to the Starhawks themselves, which put even Optimus Prime to shame when they transform. In fact a lot of the game would make Michael Bay jealous, its explosions in particular, which tend to be frequent and rather on the large side.
Gameplay in Starhawk is split up into three different formats: vehicle-based combat on the ground, in the air and combat on foot. The flying element alone is a game in itself - add in the rest and you have a very substantial package.
Starhawk’s magic lies in its skill at balancing battles between the three. Never does it feel like an unfair fight, even when you are on foot and up against a huge flying metal transformer. Things like the rocket launcher, which easily locks on to any Starhawk up above, keep you protected on the ground. Doing so however could leave you susceptible to attack from a Sidewinder, a sort of low flying hoverbike.
This kind of gameplay triangle is consistent throughout and keeps you wanting to come back for more. Mastering only one vehicle will leave you weak when you can’t get hold of one, so it requires practice in other fields in order to succeed.
On top of this all this the game has a sort of tower defence element to it, which sees you constructing bases and vehicle spawn points in order to further your team’s efforts. Every building requires a set amount of rift energy, which you can grab either by destroying enemies or hanging around your base.
Online gameplay combines every element in Starhawk’s arsenal to make one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experiences of recent times. It’s refreshing to see a game as unique as this played out online when the likes of Call of Duty have become so ubiquitous. The single player might be a bit throwaway, but with a multiplayer element this strong, it is easily forgivable.
One thing we particularly like is the ability to pause the game and jump around its various menus without exiting gameplay. You can’t access character customisation but the server browser and quick-match options are available, should you not like the game you are playing.
On the character customisation side, skills can be unlocked which act as small perks when playing online. It is also possible to change character skins and alter the look of various body parts. Very little has an effect on the core gameplay experience, which is a good thing as the balance is nigh on perfect.
This is also maintained with the weapons available, none of which is particularly overpowered. They're also all in keeping with the razor-sharp art style of the game and as such look, and sound, great.
Playing Starhawk online is extremely fun, rewarding and different. It has had us coming back for more since the moment our review copy arrived and will likely do so for a long time still.
Warhawk clearly laid out a strong set of foundations on which Starhawk could build, but the game has taken the concept so much further and added such a degree of polish that it has become a must-have title for the PlayStation. This is the multiplayer exclusive that the console needed.