Starhawk is a bizarre creation, an amalgamation of several different gaming directives cobbled together with uneven success – a little more polish in a few areas would have gone a long way here. As is Starhawk is best played with a concessionary attitude, a conviction that you’ll eventually love everything here once you get past X/Y/Z.
Its shooter learning curve is more a matter of mastering the clunky controls then familiarizing yourself with the weapons, which are all bread and butter staples. The shotgun, rifle, rocket launcher, etc. feel powerful but are strictly vanilla. For a game supposedly set in the distant future, with humans colonizing the whole damn solar system, nobody can muster up a laser-beam-launcher-saber-whatever? Ditto for the vehicles – you mean to tell me that the only advancement in warfare is a transforming mech-plane-thing? Beyond the orbiting construction platforms shooting buildings through the atmosphere (which is admittedly pretty cool), there’s little here that is suggestive of an active imagination. It’s one of Starhawk’s several blown opportunities to step it up and really follow through on its concept.
The lack of story and theme development is a shame as well, since there’s so much potential contained in the story of Emmett Graves flying around the galaxy cracking Outcast skulls. What could be billed as a high octane cross between Cowboy Bebop, the biblical story of Cane and Abel, and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West instead turns out to be mediocre pulp fiction, in space. I’m not sure Lightbox even noticed that some of the classic Western metaphors essentially fell into their lap – rift stands in for gold, capable of creating a monster out of the most indomitable men. Despite slick looking animated graphic novels bookending each mission, none of this goes anywhere.
I’ll give you the backgrounds – Starhawk boasts some impressive space and desert planet vistas if you pause for a spell. Too bad the insipid graphics themselves are stuck in 2005. The character models are middling at best and many of the animations just feel flat. The vehicles were handled with a little more love and care, but the production values in general won’t inspire.
On paper the multiplayer action is top notch, mixing equal parts high flying ambition with tried and true shooter fundamentals. But how often in practice do all of the elements come together and harmonize as advertised? For the curious 3rd person shooter fan that gives Starhawk a shot on her lonesome, there’s simply too many if’s standing between her and battle bliss. In scenarios where no one on your team has their shit together – allies are base loitering, making awful building choices and ignoring voice chat – irritation and rage quits quickly ensue. Equally annoying is playing teams that are 100% committed to turtling, forming an impenetrable defense that destroys the match’s intensity and renders anything but the most highly coordinated attacks a foregone conclusion.
When such are the circumstances, Starhawk is simply not that much fun to play. For reviews such as this, it’s still important to emphasize the multiplayer possibilities that Lightbox marshaled onto that disk, the viable positive experience that lays in wait. That will score Starhawk points, but that doesn’t matter much to the player that never saw that latent value come to fruition. An apt comparison is Demon Souls/Dark Souls – would that game be half as enjoyable for the random player if that small band of zealots that laboriously maintained the wiki didn’t exist? I think not. Be warned before you jump into this cockpit, your mileage will vary.