Seven things you need to know about Starhawk
- Seven Things You Need to Know
- Lightbox Interactive
Sci-fi shooters aren’t exactly a rarity on modern consoles, it’s fair to say, but that’s not suggesting the genre is completely wrung-out just yet. With Halo making a return to its sweeping, one-man-against-the-galaxy heroics in November and the Red Faction franchise apparently killed stone-dead by Volition’s deviation in Armageddon, there’s a space in the market for something somewhere in between – something Sony intend to fill on May 11th, with the release of Starhawk.
A new 3rd Person sci-fi action game from Sony and newcomers LightBox Interactive, promising huge online battles and an action-packed single player campaign, Starhawk has been in beta-testing for several months now as LightBox strive to deliver the best future-shooter experience this side of the Playstation / Xbox divide.
As we’ve pretty excited for Starhawk ever since we featured it in our Best Original Games of 2012 feature, we decided to go smashing our way around the various spaceports of the good old interweb to bring you the seven things you need to know about LightBox Interactive’s new blaster.
#1 My Hawk, Your Hawk, Warhawk, Starhawk
LightBox Interactive’s shooter is a “spiritual successor”
Warhawk was a multiplayer-only sci-fi war game developed by Incognito Entertainment (who have since dispersed to create Eat Sleep Play and LightBox Interactive) and released in 2007. Despite a steep difficulty curve and issues with server integrity, Warhawk’s mix of on-foot and vehicular combat was largely successful on release – not least because of the inclusion of the titular Warhawks themselves, flying “mechs” that enabled players to take the fight to the skies.
Though Starhawk is not a direct sequel, it is inspired by a combination of Warhawk’s combat elements and modern console shooters. In an interview with Complex, LightBox Interactive’s president Dylan Jobe explains how Starhawk evolved from Incognito’s title: “I've always in the past commented that what inspired us to do that type of gameplay in Warhawk was thinking, you know, if Battlefield and Unreal Tournament were to have hot sweet lovin', what would be the game output? That's kind of what inspired us to do Warhawk. So that, at the core, that recipe is still in play for Starhawk.”
The promise of huge online battles with a mixture of vehicles and infantry certainly sounds reminiscent of Dice’s Battlefield 3, but the setting of Starhawk is anything but pedestrian.
#2 You’ve got some Red on you
At first glance, the sci-fi setting is oddly familiar
Red Faction has a special place in the hearts of many gamers – though admittedly that’s more thanks to the series’ trademark procedural destruction than the grace of the storytelling or originality of the setting. When the first Starhawk screens emerged, it was hard to shake the feeling of familiarity with Volition’s Mars-bothering tale of rebellion and revenge and, if we’re totally honest, the similarities don’t stop with the aesthetics.
In the universe of Starhawk, human colonies on other worlds have discovered a way to mine a precious, potent power-source called Rift Energy. Emmett Graves, a young Rifter, is drawn into the centre of a planet-wide conflict when he is infected with Rift Energy alongside his brother, and becomes a mutated gun for hire in Starhawk’s future-western world.
So far, so Red Faction maybe, but (and it's a big but) although the sci-fi frontier has been plundered before in films like Serenity, it hasn’t really been used to its potential in videogames – something that LightBox are eager to capitalise on.
“We felt like just doing standard sci-fi or doing standard just military was not the right way to go,” explains Jobe. “And we wanted something that could be on one side completely unique to the shooter genre, but on the other side, could support the mechanics and story and universe. And so the western musical elements, the materials, the kind of vibe and the textures that you can imagine in that world worked really well for our gameplay and story.”
#3 Behold my Fortress of Awesome
Starhawk combines 3rd Person gunplay with RTS base-building
“We probably did a year and a half of ‘build-and-battle’ prototyping with Santa Monica,” Jobe told Complex, “and it took us a really long time to get that kind of visceral, weapony feel. But once we got that, then we thought: now we have something that is unique enough, that can draw people who may be shooter fans of the mega blockbuster shooters, but want to see something new.”
In both multiplayer and solo modes, Starhawk will allow you to call down weapons, vehicles and even fortifications, “violently delivered” (so it says on the official site) from an orbiting dropship. That means you’ll be able to construct temporary bases on the fly, just like a top-down RTS, adding a huge tactical element to proceedings – not to mention an incredibly original twist on multiplayer warfare.
There simply isn’t anything in the shooter market that allows you to do the things Starhawk allows – not simply calling on vehicles to add layers of new tactics to a ground fight, but able to build bases from which to coordinate attacks, too.
#4 Go ahead, punk, mech my day
The Hawks make a return
It simply wouldn’t be a successor to Warhawk without the crafts themselves – highly-manoeuvrable aerial mechs capable of delivering lightning fast airstrikes and indulging in breakneck dogfights. But while the premise remains the same, LightBox have seen fit to tweak certain elements in the interest of balance and accessibility.
Says Jobe: “Because Warhawk was so unforgiving to new players, and because the Warhawk was so overpowered, I think we lost a lot of our player base, and our audience was not as big as it probably could have been… So what we tried to do in Starhawk is take an approach much like how a studio might approach a real time strategy game, where all of the units are balanced. So we have tried to shift the focus a little bit away from the Hawk, just to try to achieve more balance across the game.”
Either way, the old recipe of guns + mechs + dogfights = awesomecakes can’t be ignored, and we can’t wait to get to grips with Starhawk’s blammo-toys.
#5 I’ve always been a lone-wolf
It’s not just a multiplayer game…
Although Warhawk was originally intended to have both multiplayer and solo campaigns, the latter was dropped during development due to fears that it wouldn’t measure up well against the high-quality multiplayer.
In Starhawk, the balance is readdressed as it features a meaty single player campaign, following gunslinger Emmet Graves and his struggle to control the Rift Energy that has infected him with the help of a spinal-implant – and his fight to survive in the midst of a galaxy-wide conflict between humans and the mutated Outcasts.
Called to return to his hometown of White Sands on the planet Dust, Graves’ story will see him battle against the forces of The Outlaw, an Outcast leader determined to bring White Sands to its knees – who shares a particular history with Emmet. Alongside his “gear-man”, Sidney Cutter, Graves will find himself fighting against his own brother to bring peace back to Dust.
#6 But everyone needs friends
…Although it rocks 32-player online battles
There is still a big focus on multiplayer, however, with LightBox even including a split-screen mode – something that is sadly becoming rarer by the year. With a variety of planets and maps to battle across, the huge 32-player online mash-ups include all the base-building madness of the solo campaign.
There’s also a “Horde-mode” style wave mode, where you’ll stand beside your teammates to repel waves of invading outcasts intent on destroying your base. Your multiplayer character is customisable and upgradable, meaning you always have something to work towards and almost guaranteeing some truly epic clashes once enough people have levelled up.
The multiplayer beta was open earlier this year, allowing LightBox to garner some essential player feedback.
#7 So… What do guys you think?
LightBox Interactive crowd-sourced ideas
In order to get the experience just right and secure themselves a place in the over-crowded online shooter market, LightBox approached the people who really matter when crafting a videogame: the players. As a result, Starhawk has been in and out of both closed and open beta testing since January this year.
“Our multiplayer tuning will actually continue well past [the beta],” Jobe told Complex. “Because you basically finish your game for your publisher and the disc is all set, ready, and that goes off for testing and manufacturing, but then there's a really great time for us to dig into the additional meat of all of our gameplay data from the beta and do the final tuning.”
In April of last year, LightBox’s Facebook page began taking suggestions directly from fans (and later, beta-testers) on how to better shape the gaming experience, asking questions such as how to improve the multiplayer game. It’s refreshing to see a developer take such an approach, not only listening to feedback but actively encouraging fans and supporters to play a part in the development of a game. It’s certainly a risk you’re unlikely to see well-established outfits take and, as such, bodes very well for a new house like LightBox Interactive.
So that’s that – seven things we thought you ought to know about one of the more exciting sci-fi shooters due this year. But what do you reckon to Starhawk’s blending of 3rd Person action and base-building? Please let us know in the comments below, and in the meantime enjoy this rather awesome trailer.
Starhawk is a PS3 exclusive developed by Sony’s Santa Monica Studio and LightBox Interactive, and is due for release in the UK on May 11th. For more information visit the official website.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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