Starhawk. Have you heard of Starhawk? Because despite spending a good few hours playing it today, I still feel like I might have made it up.
Long gone are the days of being able to walk into a games shop and find things on the shelves that I didn’t know had been released, or hadn’t even heard of at all. This is surely the combined fault of our increased internet use and the astronomically high costs of game development pushing smaller, more unusual titles away from the typical boxed release. But even in terms of digitally-distributed, low-budget indie games, it’s not hard to keep an ear to the ground. And yet here’s Starhawk, a big fancy third-person shooter that I literally haven’t seen a single person talking about.
For context, it’s worth pointing out that my Twitter feed includes the kind of radical dudes who will talk at length about unsung heroes like Binary Domain as well as the usual chart-bothering guff. But, no mention of Starhawk. At all. Looking at the game’s Metacritic page, it seems plenty of places reviewed it, and yet it seemingly failed to generate much buzz. Maybe I actually just have terrible friends.
I’ll acknowledge that I’m sure some huge Starhawk fans will surely read this, and be all WHAT THE HELL MAN IT’S LIKE MY FAVOURITE GAME HOW CAN YOU NOT HAVE HEARD OF IT. I can only apologise to those people, as being a fan of this seemingly ignored game must be bloody agonising.
I first became aware of Starhawk at last year’s Eurogamer Expo. I’d never played Warhawk, but I’ve got a big Freespace-shaped hole in my heart and thus take interest in any space-based shooter. So, imagine my disappointment when I sit down to play the demo and it’s a seemingly dull third-person shooter. This is surely not something the world needs.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, and I’m sent a 30-day Playstation Plus trial code for bothering to go to this year’s Eurogamer Expo*. I used the code mainly just to get a few quid knocked off Tokyo Jungle, but thought I may as well have a look through the free stuff. And there it is: Starhawk. A game I’ve not heard about in just over a year that apparently did come out at some point.
I finally played it today. And it’s alright!
The hook is that as well as crouching behind walls and shooting baddies, you can also use the glowy stuff you collect from your dead foes to call in structures from an orbiting ship and throw a makeshift base together, with perimeter walls, defense turrets, supply points, vehicle spawns and the like. It’s not a hugely complicated process - in fact, it’ll often occur to you that with the terrain you’re given, there’s usually only one configuration of walls and buildings that makes any real sense - but this simplicity kind of works in the game’s favour, as it enables you to actually have a lot of fun juggling your duties of fortifying your base and shooting mans. If it was any more complex, it'd probably just get on your nerves.
And then it turned out there is space-based stuff! In a spaceship that also turns into a fucking bipedal mech!
It’s all impressively seamless, too. Aside from the odd tiny cut-scene saying OKAY AND NOW YOU SHOULD GET OUT OF THE MECH AND DO THIS, or whatever, you are pretty much free to fly around, land your ship and then either stomp about as a mech, or run around on foot placing buildings and walls.
There’s an ace bit early on where you fly around defending a space station from bad dudes, then board the station to find its command centre and reactivate its defenses. As you make your way towards your objective, you realise the huge window in front of you looks out onto a supply point you were using just moments ago in your giant hulking mech-plane. It’s a subtle but startling illustration of the different but entirely cohesive scales the game simultaneously works on, and it’s cool as shit.
I’m only a few hours in, so I’m hoping this freedom is really given the chance to shine later on. All the pieces are there for the game to say ‘okay, these six space-stations or whatever are under attack, deal with it’ and it would be AMAZING. But it might not do that. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m not putting a score at the end of this so it’s not a review and you can’t have a go at me.
The game’s also got a half-decent Firefly vibe to it, and Steve Blum voices one of the characters. A mark of quality.
Starhawk isn’t the best game ever made, but it surely deserved a better fate than this. The free Playstation Plus version doesn’t even include the multiplayer stuff, which is apparently loads better than the campaign. I’ll probably end up buying the ruddy thing, now. This is how they get you, isn’t it?
*THIS ARTICLE BROUGHT TO YOU BY EUROGAMER NETWORK