Starhawk Hands-On Preview

The spiritual successor to Warhawk is all about building something from nothing.

174 Comments

If you're anything like us, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of 2007's Warhawk is a swarm of fighter planes zipping through the sky. It only makes sense. The word Warhawk--the name of said zippy aircraft--is right there in the title to remind you of the highlight of the game. Now, a few years later, there's a spiritual successor in the works by the name of Starhawk. There are a lot of interesting new features going on with this follow-up, and if there's one thing we can say about Starhawk, it's this: The title isn't nearly as helpful this time around.

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Starhawk is on track to be a much bigger beast than its predecessor. Developed by a number of Incognito veterans at startup LightBox Interactive, the game uses Warhawk as a starting point on the road to much loftier ambitions, not the least of which is a full-on single-player story campaign. Starhawk's sci-fi narrative places hero Emmett Graves at the center of a conflict between those mining far-off planets for a valuable resource called rift energy and those who've been mutated by it and seek only to preserve and worship the stuff by any violent means necessary. There's very much a space-Western thing going on with all of this, both in the theme of exploring new worlds for valuable resources and the overall look of the characters and setting. Emmett isn't a guy who goes into battle wearing space marine armor; rather, he sports a sweet, leather gun holster; rolled up sleeves; and an awfully intimidating scowl. Likewise, the environments recall the rough-and-ragged terrain of the Wild West, though with an ominous view of deep space looming in the sky.

The story has its fair share of fun with the "What if?" nature of the sci-fi setting. Emmett, for example, has been tainted by the rift energy but has a regulator device planted in his spine to keep him safe and sane, and that adventurousness carries over to the gameplay as well. Layered on top of the core third-person combat carried over from Warhawk is a new strategy game-style mechanic that allows you to call in air drops that instantaneously pop up buildings and structures on command. Things like sniper towers, mounted turrets, defensive walls, and vehicle-spawning garages can all be dropped down onto the play space by pulling up a quick radial menu and selecting the object you want. The rift energy you pick up from dead mutants (called "outcasts" in the game fiction) is the currency for these buildings, so you have to be judicious with when and where you call on them. The radial menu interface works pretty well in the heat of battle, though the icons representing each structure don't have enough differences between them to make your desired building instantly identifiable.

In terms of the single-player campaign, LightBox president Dylan Jobe claims that the levels are designed with a more open, sandbox approach than the usual linear third-person shooter. The one level we played had Emmett Graves sneaking into a wide-open canyon and taking out a group of outcasts that were worshiping a rift spewing forth their precious energy. Far from pacifist religious types, these outcasts are former miners themselves, equipped with weaponry to help fight off anyone looking to ruin their fun. The initial on-foot combat was pretty standard shooter stuff, if not a little bit looser and faster paced than other games out there. However, once you take them all out and assume control of that valuable rift, that's when things change. For us, that's when this third-person shooter began to almost resemble a tower-defense game.

Meet Emmett Graves. And his scarf.
Meet Emmett Graves. And his scarf.

Once we cleared out this canyon of outcasts, we were free to begin harvesting rift energy. But our friends clearly had other ideas, sending in wave after wave of increasingly well-armed outcast reinforcements from a variety of different angles. Between each round of retaliating reinforcements, you have a set amount of time to build your next structure, accounting for where the enemies are coming from and how best to keep them from taking back the rift. It's during these moments of calm that the feelings of playing a tower-defense game begin to arise, which is to say, when you're running around placing objects to help stave off the next wave of enemies. However, bear in mind that it's still mostly a third-person action game. You're still running around shooting enemies and taking cover to let your regenerating health do its business. And when you've dropped in a launch pad, you can hop into a new style of aircraft that can transform from a walking mech to a fully weaponized bird of war. Not a lot of tower defense games can claim that.

Like Warhawk before it, Starhawk will support competitive multiplayer matches on large-scale maps that cater to three varieties of combat: on foot, in ground vehicles, and up high in those flying machines. We got to play a few rounds of two-team Capture the Flag and came away surprised by just how differently the tool set feels going from single-player to multiplayer. The big difference here, of course, is the fact that there are no fixed waves and your enemies have the same ability to plop down buildings and turrets on command as you. This is something that our outcast foes weren't able to do in that story mission we played (though that could certainly change later on in the campaign). What might have been a simple jeep run toward the enemy base to steal their flag can easily turn into your vehicle zipping around a blind corner only to smash into a well-fortified wall that the other team placed just a few moments earlier. Pathways and team bases are malleable things in Starhawk; the sheer variety of building and weapon placements means that you can't rely on the same strategies over and over again.

That said, there is a learning curve staring you down when you first pick up the controller. In our first few matches with the game, everyone was throwing down garages right at the outset so that they could hop in a jeep and cruise over to the other team's base. This left our side with a whole bunch of empty garages and little in the way of defenses. Others would throw down walls in random locations or sniper turrets overlooking the emptiest parts of the map. But as we played more and more, we could see the team strategies begin to crystallize. People would work together in linking walls to block off entire roadways; players would share jeeps; and the daring ones in the bunch would even kamikaze their way into an enemy base with an aircraft and plant a hostile turret right in the other team's stronghold.

You can morph from walking mech to soaring fighter plane on the fly.
You can morph from walking mech to soaring fighter plane on the fly.

And that's sort of the impression we came away with after playing Starhawk. It's a game that's clearly trying to add a fresh take on the third-person shooter genre, but it's going to take players some time to get comfortable with it. Despite some rough patches in this early showing--the camera, for example, was pretty wonky--we nevertheless really like where the game is headed. Starhawk has the potential to be a lot of fun, but we'll have to spend some more time with it before we're fully sold. In the meantime, expect to see it released on the PlayStation 3 early next year.

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RedneckJazz

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Microsoft bootlickers. Just cant stay in their own pig pen. Warhawk is still a great game. This looks good, I hope it actually is.

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Redhand7

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Santa Monica is also making it... They made God of War, so it will be a PS3 exclusive. @ grim0187, did you actually play the game?

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grim0187

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From what I played of it, it isnt "terrible" it just cant compare to xbox live. Xbox live is much more streamlined and user friendly. Microsoft knows how to network and use software. As far as the copyright issue, Im not sure if they copyrighted it or not. If they did, it would probably stay exclusive, but its all speculation and we'll just never know.

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ArabrockermanX

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@grim0187 How is online terrible? I used both Live and PSN and there really wasn't that much difference... Maybe with third party titles(I dont play those online). Also I think Sony copyrighted Starhawk back in 2009(name) it doesn't mean a similar game from LB couldn't come to Xbox but it wouldn't have the Starhawk name.

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grim0187

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@iammateo Just because their co developed doesnt mean it'll stay exclusive. It all depends on contracts, who has the rights to what and when or if they can branch off. Just sayin, its an exclusive now but it might not always be since it isnt developed EXCLUSIVLY by a Sony studio. I had a PS3. Used it for exclusives. After beating God of War 3, Heavy Rain and both LittleBigPlanets, I found there wasnt much else for me on the system. Online is terrible.

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dedbrains80

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@NegativePwn it's my opinion & you can take how you want to. I don't have any friends because I'm not interested in a game you like?! MAN SHUT UP!!!

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NegativePwn

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@dedbrains80 Lol you joined gamespot just to troll, i wonder if people like you have friends?

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NegativePwn

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This game looks pretty god damn awesome, i cant wait to get it, i played a little of starhawk and loved it, this is gonna be even epicer !!

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daveg1

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looks pretty damn good!!

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Pommii

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Hope they stick to the original gameplay, Warhawk is and was a great game.

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Adams_93

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@dedbrains80 last time i checked it was the gameplay that made the game not the graphics

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dedbrains80

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not interested, I'm sick of this last generation animation

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grim0187

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Im loling at all the morons talking crap about microsoft. Just because this is an exclusive NOW doesnt mean it cant go multi-plat later. Its not a Sony developed game. The game looks good, but the multiplayer would benefit alot better on a superior service like Xbox Live. At least we get to PLAY online and not get hacked. Thats what you get for paying for your stuff.

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solidsnakedude1

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@burritocakes why do people treat this console war like its racism?

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kerrman

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Hopefully the community actually plays this this time around, I loved Warhawk but it seemed underpopulated.

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kingnazer

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it would be better game if this was on pc as well

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gamingfrendly

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this game looks to be something to wait for and thats not a scarf game spot its called "masar" or qutra lol no one cares.

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shadow655

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Ive been waiting for a Gundam operation Troy type game and this looks like it! Gundam fans or Mech fans will want to pick this up!

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mlitz80

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hahaha....thank god i bought ps3, i was going for xbox360, but i thought i had ps1, ps2 so i am gonna continue this trend and i bought ps3. Now i am happy to see another exclusive... hahahaha. hahahaha...actually ps3 made me a lil crazy. any body can go crazy after seeing so many exclusives. hahahaha...hahahahha

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parkurtommo

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graphics look a little late, hopefully they can optimize that.

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parkurtommo

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lol ha another game microsoft can't touch, they're becoming a sort of failure in my eyes.

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TehUndeadHorror

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This actually looks pretty damn good!

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Poncho_Hachacha

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Looks fun

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ArabrockermanX

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@Mrglorp I loved the TOW missile =D I dont think there will be one this time around though and if there is your McHawk would be landed on ground and vulnerable..

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muzza93

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Warhawk was awesome, this looks kinda S###, walking robots that turn into planes F### that

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1UP09

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would be nice if this was also on pc

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threedown

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i missed out on the last warhawk, but ill definately be keeping my eye out for this

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FstrthnU

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Hmm, transforming mechs - Macross anyone?

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jonnybutler11

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niceeeeeeeeeeee

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ElFlechero

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3rd person action games are my favorite genre, so I'm happy I went with the PS3 right now, with Uncharted 3, Infamous 2 and now this coming up.

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ElFlechero

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This looks amazing. Isn't it great when you're surprised with news of a new game that looks absolutely awesome? And this is as fresh and different enough from warhawk that it's basically like getting a whole new exclusive for the PS3. excellent.

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aSchizophrenic

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YESYESYES! I loved Warhawk, I can't wait till this comes out, it should be fun

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Burritocakes

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Damn, why do you PS3 guys have to always gloat? It's not like people like me don't want a PS3, it's just we can't afford one. Trust me, I would love to have one but you need to realize that so many 360 owners like myself really appreciate the PS3, so quit with the gloating. And here I was thinking 360 fanboys were more immature...

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BOSTONJOHN32

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<< LINK REMOVED >> well said.

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Burritocakes

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@Maxim, uhh yeah I am serious man. Transformers? Wild west? And they basically did a reverse Red Faction Guerrilla by making the bases constructable instead of destructible. But if it floats your boat it's cool with me. But I kind of have a bias anyway cause I think these high action shooters have been done to death. But as long as people keep buying them they'll keep making them so it's whatever.

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BOSTONJOHN32

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<< LINK REMOVED >> after viewing tons of content i can confidently say that this is not just "some" game, it has great visuals, frame rate is more than respectable, a solid campaign and some free content which will be for beta and warhawk users which will NOT be recycled for profits making them truly "exclusive" .. I wasnt sold on this game, not at all but after seeing what i have i am now waiting for the 8th to get a copy, there arent many games which can promise half as much.. Its refreshing to be able to look forward/anticipate a game w/o the worries of copy/paste/recycle. Halo has done wonders over the years for the game being its own, following their own ideas and then executing w/ a good balance of everything. So as much as i did agree w/ your prior I dont agree that this game can be compared to the likes of Red Faction based on reverse destruction or "destructible"..so now we compare games for being complete opposites ? so any game which has either a destructible or constructable element would be a rip off of Red Faction? To me thats unreasonable and if you truely have a distaste for "high action shooters" at the present moment i would only imagine that this would serve as a refreshing dose of "something else", I do not enjoy the trend of many fps games, 3rd party saturating to get saturated w/ influences from "certain" fps games and starhawk is showing many attributes and some cons but borrowing stale ideas is not one of them. Day 1 buy for me..

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Mrglorp

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this looks interesting, i loved warhawk when i was playing it a few years ago i just hope there's nothing like a TOW missile in this.

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Cornicello

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This is exactly like The Outfit. Nothing new here.

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T-Sub96

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Never played warhawk, this looks really fun though. I enjoy sci fi shooters. Just me...

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GodGundamNT1

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This game is insane, its freaking amazing, definely looking forward to this one.

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The-Freck

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sci fi shooters blow. this won't be as good as warhawk

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4610383no

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AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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tennis12master

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This looks awesome. Can't wait to hear more about this one.

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cesar46

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Only on PS3!!!

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rustynailrdm

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NICE!!

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scratchisme

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Warhawk + Starcraft = Starhawk?

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tataaaar

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how?!!

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MaxiM_

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@Burritocakes Action shooter clone? Are you serious dude?

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amin7224

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good

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