Starhawk Multiplayer Beta Preview
You know how sometimes when you first play a game, something about the way it looks on the screen, how it controls, and the way it rewards you causes something to click in your brain where you know without a doubt that you’ll be playing the very same game years from now? Yeah? Well, I imagine this is very much how the multiplayer in LightBox Interactive’s Starhawk is going to be for a lot of people. For those who don’t know, Starhawk is a sort of spiritual successor to 2007’s popular third-person online shooter with vehicles and aircraft, Warhawk. It has similar third-person gunplay, there’s still a bunch of vehicles, and it’s a huge, online frag-fest. It’s the kind of game that’s so easy to understand and fun to play that if you’ve ever played video games before, it just sort of explains itself.
The basic premise is that you’re a member of one of two factions, and you engage the opposing one to compete in various game types on various maps. At the time I played, only “Capture the Flag” and “Team Deathmatch” game types were available, but there also seems to be a non-team “Deathmatch” and some sort of zone-based game as well. The rules of these games are basically the same in any title, and thankfully, Starhawk doesn’t really stray from this. It makes it really easy to know what to do at any given time, and allows you to focus on play style and strategy rather than a set of confusing and arbitrary rules.
The gameplay on foot is also delightfully simple. You have a gun, and you can grab others off the map. There’s a button for you to aim down the sight and another to fire. You can change weapons with the D-Pad. There’s also the customary grenade and melee attack buttons, two other classic standbys of the genre. It was great to be able to drop down into the map and pretty much know completely how to play without ever having to be taught or looking at a manual.
Vehicle controls are also smooth and intuitive. There’s a buggie that’s satisfyingly similar to Halo’s classic Warthog, a fun jetpack that makes you feel super sneaky, and of course, the Hawks — giant walking mechs that have a whole arsenal of weapon pick-ups of their own and can transform into an space fighter at the click of a button. These are obviously the main draw of the game, as they are genuinely neat to fly but not over-powered. My first time in the air, I was already able to make strafing runs and avoid enemy fire with ease.
Another cool and intuitive feature new to Starhawk is something LightBox is calling the “Build & Battle” system. Basically, as time goes on in the match and you rack up XP, you also gain points for building structures — anything from a basic wall, to a bunker, to a a launch pad complete with a Hawk. You can do this in real time without pausing gameplay by pressing the triangle button, which changes the camera angle and enables you to cycle through a choice wheel with all the building options using the left stick. You can then just run around and place it wherever you want, where it drops from the sky with a beautiful animation. “Build & Battle” adds a clever RTS element to play without sacrificing the feeling of playing a shooter.
As easy and intuitive as all the gameplay features are, this game separates itself from some others like it with attention to detail. For example, it’s precisely balanced to allow various styles of play. Sure, Hawks are strong, but they can easily be defeated by someone on foot as long as they can find a handheld missile launcher. The turrets and other stuff you can build are the perfect midpoint between easily able to kill you and easily killable. Vehicles, walls, and sniper towers are cheap to build and enable dynamic battles every time rather than one-sided massacres. When you enter the battlefield, you do so in a pod via airdrop, and you can slightly change the trajectory of your descent, encouraging you to try and crush opponents on your way down, so even if you die a lot you can rack up kills.
Part Warhawk, part Battlefield 1942, part Star Wars: Battlefront, part Tribes, part Transformers: War For Cybertron — Starhawk is sure to become something of a multiplayer institution when it drops on May 8th. Can’t wait to see the single-player campaign in action.