Starhawk Public Beta Impressions

Xan Hisam – With the public beta for Starhawk opening up to all PSN members soon, we finally got our hands on the game. A quick overview of the game is in order, I suppose, since Starhawk is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

Being a spiritual successor to Warhawk, developer Lightbox Interactive have improved upon the core elements found in the original; with much success might I add, while expanding upon the third-person shooter formula by adding the option to build structures ‘on the fly’ in the heat of battle, rapidly transforming a warzone.

Called ‘Build n’ Battle’, the ability to create structures wherever and whenever you want adds a great amount of depth and strategy, turning even the simplest of maps into dynamic, ever-evolving battlefields.

At its heart, Starhawk plays like any other third-person shooter. A logical comparison would be the Star Wars: Battlefront series, and of course, Warhawk itself. Two teams; Rifters and Outcasts, duke it out like they would in any team-based shooter with each team trying to fulfill their victory objectives.

The victory objectives for either team are dependent on the game mode. Game modes currently available in the beta are Capture the Flag (CTF) and Team Deathmatch (TDM). Both are pretty straightforward, standard versions of the popular game modes, without any unique features.

Two other game modes hinted at in the matchmaking menu are Deathmatch and Zones. Zones is all about capturing and holding specific places on the map, whereas Deathmatch sounds like a free-for-all.

It will be interesting to see how both these modes play out with the Build n’ Battle feature at the disposal of each player. At the start of a match, you’re randomly put into either one of the two teams and deployed on to the battlefield via deployment pods.

When on the ground, you have access to a wide array of weaponry ranging from pistols, to sniper rifles, to rocket launchers. Jet fighters from Warhawk are replaced with large mechs called hawks that are capable of transforming into aircrafts.

They’re mighty useful for taking out enemy structures and have a lot of mobility when not on the ground. You can drive around in Razorbacks, the Starhawk equivalent of humvees, as well as other vehicles such as jet-bikes and tanks (the latter aren’t available in the beta as of yet, but have been confirmed for the final version).

Apart from all the vehicles, jetpacks can be obtained and used when on the ground. However, jetpack thrusters have a limit and require a cooldown period to recharge making it impossible to fly indefinitely with a jetpack.

Upon death, you can; after a small respawn timer, redeploy anywhere near your base or a Pod Beacon (more on that later) using the deployment pods mentioned earlier. During deployment, you can control your pod. Landing it on top of an enemy instantly kills them.

Build n’ Battle is where strategy and tactics (along with ‘Rift Energy’) come into play. Pressing Triangle (default key) in game pops up the Build n’ Battle menu and from here, you can select whichever structure you wish to build by navigating through a radial interface.

On a side note, selecting and then placing structures happens in real-time, so don’t get too comfortable (I hope you weren’t expecting the game to pause every time someone tried to build a structure, just imagine the horror).

Building structures requires Rift energy. Rift energy is the game’s most basic resource. It’s required for deploying structures, vehicles and for getting jetpacks. Rift energy is acquired by killing enemies and destroying their structures.

Rift energy is also accrued when standing in range of your team’s Rift harvester/generator (an indestructible structure that marks the boundaries of your primary base) or Pod Beacons. The Rift energy consumed in the construction of a structure can be partially recovered by demolishing structures yourself.

The structures available to you include walls and automated turrets for ground defense, beam cannons for aerial threats and enemy vehicles and energy shields to deflect all projectiles fired from outside its field.

Deploying structures such as launchpads, garages and jetpack dispensers act as hubs for deploying jetpacks, Razorbacks, Hawks and other vehicles. Building bunkers and sniper towers allows you to obtain and resupply the infantry with different weapons and ammunitions.

Strategically placed sniper towers are great for covering and taking out enemy infantry, and bunkers provide cover for ground troops and structures alike. Bunkers take the longest to destroy amongst all structures.

Pod Beacons act as secondary bases, allowing you to redeploy in an area around it and you accumulate Rift energy when in its radius. There’s a structure limit however, adding a whole lot of strategy and planning and making structure placement a key factor in the outcome of a game.

Try to protect your base with the least amount of walls and automated turrets, and don’t make multiple vehicle deployment structures. One of each type is more than enough.

Starhawk feels like a tower-defense game from a third-person perspective. Being a shooter at its core, it’s essential for Lightbox Interactive to get the shooting mechanics right, and I dare say, they’ve nailed it.

Shooting doesn’t feel as complex and detailed as you’d find it in Battlefield, but it’s exactly as accurate and deep as you’d want it to be in a third-person shooter.

Standard assault rifles take their time to kill a target, being best suited for suppression fire from afar, while shotguns are devastating at close range and capable of taking out a target with a single shot from point-blank.

Sniper rifles take two shots to kill an enemy, or one if you shoot them in the head. Hawks and Razorbacks don’t take forever to be destroyed, and they aren’t impervious to damage from assault rifles either. Build n’ Battle is well incorporated into gameplay, and the user interface for it is well designed.

It barely takes a few seconds to select a structure of your choice and then deploying it at your desired location. The game itself seems balanced enough, and rewards strategy and teamwork more so than skill. The only problem is, Starhawk is more or less a team game and more fun when you’re playing with a team of your own.

Matches aren’t always short, and bad team-mates can be quite frustrating, especially when they waste the structure limit by placing useless walls in remote areas of the map where no one might even go to. Here’s to hoping that the Starhawk community won’t turn into cesspit for trolls and flamers!

On the visual side of things, Starhawk looks absolutely stunning at 720p and maintains a high framerate even when there’s a lot of action going on.

The transformations for hawks look amazing and the formations of structures after deployment are spectacular. Character models aren’t the most detailed ones you’ve probably seen but they’re definitely part of the better ones.

The environments for maps are varied with battles taking place on the surface of different planets, moons and in space with the environment textures having a level of visual fidelity that you’d expect from a AAA title. The only downside perhaps are character animations.

They’re only relatively weak in comparison to everything else in the game and pretty slick in their own right, but it’s just that they aren’t as good as what you’re accustomed to seeing in other third-person shooters such as the Uncharted series.

All in all, Starhawk looks brilliant and plays even better. It’s difficult to make out if it has enough content to offer hundreds of hours of some ‘build-and-destroy’ fun and render it worthy of a purchase, from what’s offered in the public beta, but the solid gameplay we’ve experienced and the promise of a full-fledged single-player campaign by developer Lightbox Interactive leaves us optimistic.

The game is still months away from hitting the shelves of your local game store, so expect more content and announcements as it moves closer to the end of the public beta, and eventually its release. We’ll keep you covered with any and all developments regarding Starhawk leading up to its release.