Remember Warhawk, the sci-fi themed, aerial action game with the ridiculously bad live-action cinematics? Yea, well Starhawk is that on steroids. There was a multiplayer-only Warhawk title in between these two games on the PS3 as well, which Starhawk is considered to be the spiritual successor to. Though the main draw is multiplayer, the game does feature a single player Story Mode to dive into as well.
Starhawk is a space western. You play the main campaign as Emmett Graves — I'm guessing a combination of Emmett Smith (who he looks like) and Graves from League of Legends — and you're dropped right in the middle of a war being waged over the precious resource Rift Energy. People who mine the resource are known as Rifters, and they travel to other planets to mine it. Some Rifters were exposed to Rift Energy, transforming them into mutants known as Outcasts (who are very protective of the Rift Energy and attack Rifter sites).
This is where our main character comes in. Emmett and his brother, Logan Graves, own a farm. After an attack from the Outcasts, Emmett and Logan are exposed to the Rift Energy. Logan mutates into an Outcast while Emmett is able to remain human thanks to a spinal implant that keeps him from transforming. From here, Emmett becomes a gun for hire and gets paid to protect Rifter sites from the Outcasts.
There's potential for such a great story here, but ultimately, it ends up falling flat. There's a grand landscape with the sci-fi western, which we don't see too often, but the story — and the characters for that matter — never really take off. I'm not saying that I didn't have fun, but I never felt like it reached its potential. I feel that the story is mainly there to serve as a tutorial for the multiplayer and to get you acquainted with combat mechanics. If this is the case, it serves its purpose well.
Combat in Starhawk is a mix of third-person shooter, vehicular combat, and structure building. Tower defense and RTS elements come into play. With any multiplayer shooter, controls should be tight. I'm happy to say that the control scheme works perfectly. After a few matches, or just a bit of the Story mode, you'll have the mechanics down pat. Your typical shooter actions — like aim, shoot, throw grenade, melee — are assigned to your usual buttons for the genre. Then throw in the ability to build structures (tied to 'triangle'). The 'Build and Battle' mode uses a resource (Rift Energy level, which you get by staying in your base and killing enemies) to build structures. These structures give you and your team items and vehicles to be utilized both defensively and offensively. Want to snipe enemies? Build a watch tower, climb to the top, and grab a sniper rifle. Need more defenses in your base? Build walls and turrets to keep out enemies. You can build structures to give yourself and your teammates jet packs and of course, the infamous Hawks.
Hawks are different in this game — they transform freely from walking mechs to flying fighters. The great thing is that they aren't overpowered at all. A well-placed rocket, a manned turret, or enough machine gun fire can take one out. So, it isn't a battle of who has the most Hawks. Balance is so important in a player versus player multiplayer game, and Starhawk finds that balance. It feels a bit like Battlefield in that sense — with all the different options for weaponry and vehicles.
Since it is primarily a multiplayer game, Starhawk should have a cornucopia of game modes, which it does. There's the standard Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, and Deathmatch, but there's also Zones. In Zones, teams are tasked with capturing strategic locations on the map by standing in the capture radius. The longer you control the zones, the more points you earn. If co-op is more your style, Starhawk offers something for you as well. Not only can you play the campaign co-op, but there's a fun Prospector mode. This can be easily equated to the now familiar 'Horde' mode. You and your teammate have the goal of defending a Rift extractor against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Utilizing the 'Build and Battle' ability, you defend for as long as you can, gaining points in the process. It's fun and really forces the two of you to work together. Did I mention that you can play this (as well as all of the multiplayer modes) in split screen? The only problem that I found with this mode is that the waves don't increase in difficulty over time. I found the difficulty to be very random, and if you fall behind, your extractor is going down fast! I've had the second round be ten times tougher than the fourth round. A little tweaking on the ramping of the difficulty could pay dividends.