Impressions: Starhawk Beta

*All impressions are based on a Beta build of Starhawk. ANYTHING described here is subject to change*

Back in May, our writer Rey and myself were fortunate enough to attend the unveiling of Lightbox Interactive’s first title for the PS3, Starhawk. Being a huge fan of Warhawk, and for me, the fact that I had known about the game since July of 2009, it was exciting to finally see what direction that it had taken since I saw and heard about bits and pieces of it on that day in Salt Lake City. To say that I was impressed is putting it lightly, as the graphical style and the “Build and Battle” system really took me by surprise. Also, as a film geek, the fact that the unveiling was taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse was just icing on the gravy. After getting the opportunity to play a mission from the Single Player and the chance to play a couple of rounds of multiplayer left both Rey and myself almost speechless, and for me at least, incredibly happy with how things had progressed, and now that the Private Beta is in the wild, even more changes have been made.

The first thing that I want to get across to everyone is that THIS IS NOT WARHAWK 2! I’ve heard so many people that primarily fly Warhawks that “the flight controls aren’t the same” and that “there are only 2 speeds instead of 3” and my favorite “we need hover mode!.” Of course, me being a player that doesn’t fly, these complaints sound great to me, since even after playing an awesome 3 1/2 hour session of Warhawk last night still evokes the sense that the Warhawks can be a bit too effective. A skilled pilot can evade numerous locked-on missiles at a time, but can still swoop down and completely rape ground troops, then boost right back out. The changes made to the ‘Hawks in Starhawk, to me so far, are a welcome change. A pilot can still deal a devastating blow, and frankly, the Mech that you can change into can be equally as devastating. Troop rocket launchers will not lock-on when it is in Mech form, which even though the Mech can move pretty slowly, still requires both the troops and the pilot to use some skill.

Starhawk is much more strategic than Warhawk in so many ways, and to me, seems to require teamwork much more than its predecessor. Since the teams can use the Build and Battle (B&B) system to shore-up defenses, it’s going to be much more difficult to play the role of the Lone Wolf while attempting to sneak into a base to capture a flag, and get out successfully. A team that is smart about setting up their defenses definitely has a huge leg-up in Starhawk, as I’ve seen the good and the bad numerous times already in the 2 maps offered in this beta. The change with the most impact they’ve made so far (but we’ll see if it makes the cut) is that each individual collects their own Rift Energy, instead of it being pooled to the entire team.

So let’s take a step back so that I can explain this. As in a typical RTS, you need some kind of resource to be used for building anything on your selection list. In this case, that resource is Rift Energy, and unlike an RTS, you won’t be doing any mining. Instead, in each team’s base you’ll see a large Collector, which you gain small bits of Rift Energy in timed intervals. Those are small bits though, so you gain bigger amounts by achieving different tasks such as eliminating an enemy, blowing-up a vehicle, taking-out an enemy structure, and capturing a flag successfully (among other things.) When your meter fills up enough, you merely hit the Triangle button to bring the ring up to the screen. Pick the structure or item that you want to build (which closes the interface) and place the wireframe of the structure to where you want it to be built. In seconds, the structure falls from the sky and is built within a few more seconds. It’s really that easy.

Build and Battle:
There are some best-practices to really succeed in Starhawk when it comes to building structures etc, so please heed these words. Each team is limited to 32 structures on the ground. You would think that would be more than enough, but when 3 people on your team have all built a Landing Pad to spawn new Starhawks, there’s a problem. Any wall, garage, launch pad, and supply bunker counts against this 32-structure limit, and it happens faster than you would expect. Just follow these simple guidelines as a starting-point and you’ll be well on your way to being a more effective teammate.

Only build 1 of each at the base: Garage, Supply Bunker, Sniper Tower (the only way to get a Sniper Rifle,) and Launch Pad (You can simply have another Starhawk/4×4 built by hitting the control pad, as long as you hold enough Rift Energy of course)
If you see more than 1 of these structures, go to the interface at the structure, and hold Square to reclaim it
Work as a TEAM to coordinate attacks and Flag Grabs

If you use these guidelines, you’ll have plenty of room when you drop a pod beacon closer to your enemy’s base (A pod beacon allows to respawn in a new area as well as back at the base.) Also, if you build a wall around something, make sure you upgrade one or two so that a door is accessible. It will only open for players on your team, and makes things a lot easier. One fun thing is that if your base is getting overrun with enemies, try dropping a structure on them. Either that, or move your drop pod so the yellow ring on the ground is right on top of then, that’ll even take a Mech out if it’s got any previous damage at all.

I was a tad skeptical of B&B when I first saw it in Austin, but then I used it. It’s insanely intuitive and extremely easy to use. The biggest issue is getting the rest of your team to understand the features and limitations of the system. Once that happens, your odds of winning will go up exponentially.

Ground War:
This is honestly my favorite part, because I have no flying skills to speak of (I do like using the Mechs though!) At its core, the ground game is similar to what Warhawk offered, with a few tweaks and changes. First, you can run now! Just hold R2 and you have unlimited running, and so far I don’t see it diminishing your aim or other attributes. You can’t fire when running though. Also, locking-on to a Starhawk in the air is different, as now you merely need to get it into your sights (instead of holding the fire button to lock-on) I see an option to supposedly go back to the Warhawk mechanic, but it didn’t work for me. Locked-on rockets seems to work well right now, and with some of the tweaks in the flight controls, Warhawk vets are going to change their rocket-shaking strategies a bit.

Currently, the only vehicles are the Starhawk/Mech, the 4×4, and a jetpack. The 4×4 is pretty similar to Warhawk, but definitely smoother to drive. The Jetpack controls pretty different to how it did in Warhawk, and the changes are blatantly for the sake of balance. You can still be pretty effective with them, especially in the Space map. Using the Jetpack, you can actually drop underneath the entire map and make your way to the other side to snag the flag, then make your way back in the same fashion, well, that is unless your inundated with some enemy Starhawks. Also, rockets can still lock-on to someone wearing a Jetpack, so “gas it” sparingly.

Other differences include the fact that it really seems to be tougher to go “Mano y Mano” with the default machine gun (no more pistol.) It’s not as sticky, and the longer you hold the trigger, the worse your bullet pattern gets. You still have to search the landscape for some weapons, including mines (which now have big flashing lights on them) and repair guns which have replaced the wrench. The repair gun can be invaluable too, as it can be used to fix not only the vehicles, but also the structures that you and your team have constructed. The one thing that I hope they reconsider is the fact that, so far, rocket launchers can’t lock-on to ground-based vehicles like 4×4’s (I know you couldn’t lock-on to 4×4’s in Warhawk, but my concern is with Tanks if they’re included) and Mechs. You can still hit them obviously, but it is pretty tough, and Mechs especially hold a pretty big advantage when they hit the ground.

The Starhawk:
I’ll admit, this is my weakest area, and I need a lot more time to judge these proficiently (I’m just not a good pilot in these things.) Overall, I think they’re pretty similar, but after reading Warhawk pilots ranting in the Beta forums, there are obviously some differences. First-off, as I mentioned earlier, there are seemingly only two speeds now. Honestly, I never tried to boost, so I can’t 100% confirm this change. The feel though, I think is pretty similar to Warhawk’s, and they have recently added the Pro-Flight controls, but I haven’t heard how effective they are yet. Locking-on and general combat again, to me at least, seem pretty similar as well. This actually seems to be the biggest source of contention with the Warhawk veterans that are in the beta so far though, but in my opinion, and as I said above, this is not Warhawk or it’s actual sequel. As someone that primarily sticks to the ground, I honestly love the changes because they definitely balance the playing-field a bit, especially since there are no Anti-Air emplacements available any more. You can build a Beam Weapon Tower, which is an automated anti-air (and anti other enemy stuff) tower that’s powerful, but slow at the same time. I do believe that the Beam weapon will need some additional tweaks, and also, it kinda bums me out that in the heat of a huge battle, that I can’t jump into an emplacement for a quick kill.

Of course, my favorite function of the Starhawk is the Mech. It’s a blast to lumber around the landscape with it, and when timed correctly, it can be devastatingly valuable during a base attack, both on offense and defense. At your disposal are the Machine Guns and Rockets, when used correctly will display an unmistakable talent for wiping many of your enemies right off of the battlefield. You are though, a huge target for everyone, so don’t expect to last long without reinforcements or repairs. Again, the sense of balance shines through even in these early stages. Even so, it’s one of the best feelings you’ll ever have in a game, when you swoop down onto your foes and lay waste to all that gets in your way. It’s mech-porn all the way, but in a much more action setting, than a Front Mission-style game.

As you see in the video, there are 2 maps included in this beta, Acid Sea and Space Platform. Both offer a very different experience, especially with the opportunity to fly underneath the platform in the space map. It definitely forces you to think in 3D Space, and can be a real game changer once more people learn how to exploit this new mechanic. Acid Sea is much more “traditional,” and both offer exceptionally visceral action, but at the same time, very different gameplay styles (more than you’d expect really.)

Visuals throughout have definitely been bumped way up from Warhawk, which I still think is an awesome engine. Colors are deeper, textures are much better with more definition and detail, and the lighting is superbly implemented. When you’re on the Acid Sea map, take some time to run up the hill while looking at the “Sun.” When it moves behind the mountains, the light actually wraps around it, and shows a really sweet effect. It’s something that needs to be seen to be completely understood (there’s an example in the video). Skilled pilots will need to learn how to use this as an effective way to perform quick strafing runs before enemies know what hit them. Also, the lighting on the Acid Sea map is really cool, and actually made me jump once while I was playing. This isn’t Uncharted 3 or another graphical “powerhouse,” but these visuals are incredibly well-done, and I really think that they’ve achieved a perfect fit for the style of this game.

Some things that I really don’t feel comfortable discussing yet are items involved with the interface like the server browser and matchmaking. Until the game is complete, none of us truly know how it will be, so I want to steer-clear of any speculation. Past that though, this is a very solid beta (much better than the Warhawk beta for sure.) The game is a blast to play (at least in Multiplayer) and to me, has that great balance between Warhak expectations and ease of learning the new aspects like Build and Battle. Check out the video included in this story, and check out the screenshot gallery. Everything was captured by me in public play sessions in the 1.09 version of the beta.

All-in-all, Starhawk is shaping-up to be a very worthy successor to Warhawk, and even for those that never played Warhawk, this one’s gonna kick ass for a long time to come. I know the Lightbox Interactive folks are working extremely hard on this project, and I must say, it’s time well spent.


Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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