My first few minutes with Starhawk felt much like playing any other sci-fi themed third-person shooter. I attacked howling mutants on a desolate alien
planet, shooting them from afar with a sniper rifle, then from closer range with automatic weapons. I hid, strafed, and charged. It was business as usual.
But then, after mowing down my final foe, a chubby, twanging fellow popped up in the corner of the screen and directed me to start building stuff. Serious
stuff, like walls, turrets, gates, anti-aircraft guns, bunkers, beacons, vehicle garages, and even aircraft launch platforms. And doing it was a cinch. I simply pressed a button to call up a radial menu, chose a structure on the wheel, and pressed another button to plop the building on the ground in front of me.
Enemies began to return, but now they came in waves. My newly created defences did a capable job of holding off many of the attackers, but I still had to run around and eliminate my fair share. When things got really rough, I took to the air in one of the game’s titular skyhawk mechs—summoned into existence atop that launch platform I’d built—and began raining death from above.It felt like some sort of crazy hybrid combining standard third-person shooting action with classic tower defence strategy.
Starhawk was unveiled to journalists earlier this month at an event in Austin, Texas, home of Lightbox Interactive, an American game maker under partnership with Sony to create wares exclusively for PlayStation 3. The studio is composed of the remnants of Incognito, the company that created 2008’s Warhawk, a distant relative of Starhawk even though it seems to bear no narrative connection.
Chatting with bearded and bespectacled studio president Dylan Jobe shortly after playing the game, my first question was why he bothered to link these two seemingly disparate games at all.
“We debated it for a long time, and eventually decided that there was some brand equity,” he replied. “Plus, the two games share a similar underlying texture; they’re fast-paced, arcade-y third-person shooters.”
He also happily acknowledged comparisons I made to classic tower defence games, though he hoped that wouldn’t turn off core gamers.
“Plants vs. Zombies, PixelJunk Monsters...those games were big influences,” said Jobe. “When you’re working on a game like this and you look at influences
outside of big budget shooters there’s a concern that you may be straying too far outside the clique. But with Starhawk, clearly, we want to stray from the clique. And while tower defence games were an influence for us, there’s also an element of tower offence. You’ll see people using buildings in surprising offensive ways.”
One such way, as demonstrated repeatedly in multiplayer matches, is dropping buildings on your enemies. When you place a new structure it takes a few seconds to be airdropped from the sky. Should any enemies happen to wander into the construction area in that time they’ll be instantly—and perhaps gratifyingly—crushed when it lands.
While I didn’t have the chance to lay hands on the multiplayer mode myself, I did have the opportunity to watch 16 players duke it out for an hour, with one of the game’s developers guiding a camera above and around the battlefield to capture the action and another providing live commentary.
The multiplayer map shown was set on another obviously alien world. A rocky labyrinth of paths sat atop a lake of fire, and lightning crashed down from a dark, angry sky. Much as in solo play, the action appeared at first blush to be much like that of any other third-person capture-the-flag game. Soldiers were moving about, often in small groups or in all-terrain vehicles reminiscent of Halo warthogs, attempting to steal and guard flags.
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