Starhawk Beta Impressions

Enemies coming in form all sides. Snipers, machine gunners, tanks. You name it, they’re on my ass. In almost any other shooter that’d been made in the last 5 or so years (including Starhawk’s 2007 predecessor Warhawk) I’d be dead. Instantly. No question about it. But in Starhawk? I’d call down from the sky a miniature fortress covered in ammo pickups and turret hard-points and then I’d damn well hold the line.

That’s the power Starhawk’s Build n’ Battle system gives you. Within seconds you and your teammates can turn any old desolate little hovel into a buzzing military citadel complete with all the amenities a good soldier needs to get the job done. All you need is a flat patch of land and enough of the Sci-Fi MacGuffin “Rift energy” to instantly create whatever you need, wherever you need it. Could you do with a solid wall between yourself and the adversarial dune buggy speeding towards you? Build it. Think a sniper tower overlooking your enemy team’s flag would be cool? Build it. Want an entire secondary base on some neigh-inaccessible floating platform no one’s even set foot on yet? Build three.

The amount of Rift energy you get passively over time is minimal at best, while the boost you get from droppin’ fools is pretty significant. So the only way you’re gonna be able to fund your massive doom fortress is to partake in the time honoured video game tradition of shootin’ other dudes dead. Oh, and what a joy such an activity is! As someone who is sick and tired of CoD style twitch multiplayer, playing Starhawk has in many ways been an extremely refreshing experience. It hearkens back to the days where the average time period between spawning and dieing could be measured in minutes instead of millionths of a second. The weapons could perhaps be a little more satisfying for sure, but that’s a relatively minor issue when they’re fired atop a giant transforming jet fighter robot or from a vantage point a mile high by way of personal jetpacks.

At present, infantry have access to machine guns, sniper rifles, mines, repair tools, rocket launchers and gigantic shotguns; with the promise of pistol and flamethrower like weapons hitting in future updates.

At the moment the beta only allows for a traditional game of Capture the Flag on one of two maps, Space and Acid Sea. Both have more than enough of the complex terrain that made Warhawk’s maps so engaging, but still have enough open spaces that let you make best use of the Build ‘n Battle system in interesting ways. Although I’m not too sure what else the finished title will offer, the mode selection screen clearly has grayed out options for Team Deathmatch, Vanilla deathmatch, and my personal favorite from the Warhawk glory days, Zones.

Sadly not everything about Starhawk is quite such a throwback. Most of the varied colour palette utilised Warhawk has been abandoned in favor of the well explored but endlessly fascinating shades that exist between brown and grey. On top of that there’s plenty of…. “Progressive” modern gameplay mechanics that’ve worked their way in. Most predictably regenerating health now replaces the venerable health gauge, so those of you who’ve gotten used to near instantaneously shrugging off bullet wounds (or worse, have never known any better!) needn’t have to start memorising medipak spawn points just yet.

In fact, don’t bother trying to memorize any spawn points. If you want something to spawn in Starhawk then you damn well MAKE IT spawn where and when you need it. Pretty much all the key weapon pickups can only be found on specific Build ‘n Battle structures, meaning it’s in everyone best interest to keep the military machine humming, lest they find themselves with only the default armaments when duty calls. Furthermore, vehicle factories will only keep churning out new products if someone actually gets off their ass and spends extra Rift energy on them once in a while. If you find this concept a little confusing, then just go ask a PC gamer. I hear they’ve been doing similar sorts of nonsense in their Genuine Time Tactical whatchamacallits for years.

The ability to airdrop onto your opponent makes even respawning fun!

No, I’m serious, read up on that stuff. You’d be shocked at how bad it turns out console gamers are at resource management. Many a time I’ve seen players flood the home fort with vehicle factories just so they can get a quick ride, even if there’s already an identical and perfectly serviceable such structure mere feet away. Not only does that sort of behaviour totally ruin the fengu-shi that I spend most of any given match working on, it also eats into the team’s shared building allowance extremely quickly.  Currently in the beta there’s no real way to tackle this sort of malarkey other than running around un-building redundant facilities like a mother tidying up after a naughty child.

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s just an innocent mistake; the build menu doesn’t give any indication as to what your team’s already built, and in the heat of battle it’s easy to forget that there’s already 3 or more expensive jetpack factories right next to you. Hopefully it’s something they’ll correct before launch with some kind of “Bro, you already got like 5 of those things!” indicator, or at the very least start giving players some way to curb those who get a little too carried away with the buildin’ rather than the battlein’. But you know, figuring stuff like that out is what beta tests are for! As it stands, Starhawk is shaping up to be a truly stellar multiplayer experience, one that I’m sure will be further refined over the coming months leading up to release.

But In the meantime, I could certainly do with some more practice! Rather ironically I’m still not entirely clear on what purpose titular “Hawks” actually serve in combat. Yes they fly incredibly fast and look super badass by virtue of being gigantic death robots, but their effectiveness against anything other than OTHER hawks feels minimal at best. Perhaps it’s just part of the game that hasn’t clicked with me yet? If that’s the case then, no worries, I’ll figure it out eventually. And you know why? Because I’m going to keep playing long after this article’s done. I’m probably even gonna keep playing when the full review’s finished sometime next year. You see, It’s been very VERY long time since I’ve manged to find a multiplayer shooter anywhere near as engaging or unique as Starhawk, so forgive me if I can’t help but indulge!

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