Starhawk Beta Impressions

There’s no shortage of online multiplayer shooters this season, but there is a glaring lack of inspiration in many of the online behemoths. There’s an overwhelming amount of “realistic” war shooters out there, and to many who can’t keep up, they’re just starting to all look the same. Sony hopes to break the monotony with the uniqueness of Starhawk.

I’ve had the chance to mess around with the beta for Starhawk over the last week. I was really excited about it from the get-go as I was a pretty obsessed player of the spiritual successor, Warhawk, and the first few trailers for Starhawk all had my jaw on the floor, especially once you see the Hawks. A jet that transforms into a robotic mech? Yes please!

Keep in mind, kids, any negative (or positive for that matter) impressions I may mention here are entirely possible to change between now and the game’s release next summer. The purpose of a beta after all is to work out some of the kinks of a game on the developer’s end so the game can run smoothly when it hits retail shelves for $60, despite the odd, popular opinion that betas are meant to be a kind of demo for our enjoyment.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way; how is the game looking after all?

For those who haven’t been following the game, this is how Starhawk plays. The game is, at heart, a multiplayer-based third-person shooter in sci-fi settings. What makes the game unique is the strategy elements thrown into the game. The “build and battle” system sees players gathering resources on the maps in order to build defensive and offensive structures like sniper towers, automated turrets and places for vehicles to spawn. This cuts down significantly on the “everyone hog the vehicles” mentality you see in games like Battlefield and Warhawk. Even the necessity to purchase vehicles using resources instead of simply waiting for them to spawn means players can’t wait around doing nothing while they wait to get the next Hawk.

I actually thought the build and battle system worked out quite nicelyl. It promotes a lot of teamwork as well. Some members of the team might hang back and build up the defenses for your base while others will take the offensive and rack up kills or try to take the flag or other objective.

Now, the beta only had capture-the-flag available as a game type, although deathmatch, team deathmatch and zone capture will be available in the full game. There were also only two maps, one being set on a space station and one being in an industrial area surrounded by lakes of acid, but there’s still a lot of diversity in the maps. Whereas the industrial map was more on one level and straightforward, the space map had lots of different paths and potential for great things if planning is done right. The maps are also massive, which makes sense given the 32-player matches that the game supports.

These two maps showcased that maps will be much more varied this time around, instead of Warhawk‘s set of maps that all seemed to be simply a set of islands and smaller villages. The variety is a great thing to see in this day and age.

I’m also absolutely in love with the design direction that Starhawk is going in. As with the diversity in maps, we’re seeing everything from the ultra-clean and slick environments expected in a spacey game to the gritty and more natural areas that aren’t as stereotypical.

The only problems I ran into with the beta were problems connecting and some load times. However, after a quick look around the internet, it seems these aren’t very common, and it only emphasizes the beta status of the game.

Overall, this beta is quite impressive. The emphasis on a third-person shooter with added strategy elements works very well and is sure to attract a crowd away from the usual homophobic 12-year-olds that plague the more popular, mindless online games. The mix in genres creates an experience unlike anything I’ve played on consoles before, and it’s going to be a very hard wait for the game’s full release. LightBox Interactive is doing everything correctly with the development of the game, and it’s going to be exciting to see how the game shapes up between now and next summer.

What say you, gamers? If you’re in the beta, what are your thoughts?