Dec 21, 2011

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Starhawk Private Beta Impressions

Starhawk Private Beta Impressions

Starhawk is the sequel to the very popular multiplayer title Warhawk. LightBox Interactive is the team behind the successor to the multiplayer hit, and has kept a lot of the same gameplay mechanics that made Warhawk so popular. I was able to get some time with the Starhawk private beta, and while I was only able to play one mode on two maps, and there are some balancing issues, the game shows a lot of promise.

Starhawk, much like its predecessor, is a combination of third-person on-the-ground combat and air combat. The maps featured in the beta (Space and Acid Sea), are similar to those found in Warhawk in the sense that they are islands. The difference is that these maps feature vastly different terrain from that found in the original, and they are in space. The aesthetics of these maps are much better than its predecessor, especially when you can see a nice shot of a planet in the background.  The maps in Starhawk also feature multiple levels, which adds to the strategy, but also frustration, thanks to the new building system.

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The building system in Starhawk allows any player to create a building on any space of the map, almost instantaneously. Each team can build up to 32 buildings, which includes: turrets, garages (to spawn vehicles), Launch Pads (to spawn hawks), walls, Jetpacks, forcefields, and ammo depots. In order to create these structures you have to have enough Rift (energy orbs). This can be obtained by completing objectives, killing enemies, and standing near Rift distribution towers. At the start of each match, you are given enough to build walls, turrets, and towers, but the bigger structures will take much more time to accumulate.

By limiting the starting amount, it forces players to work together to create a balanced system of defensive and offensive structures right off the bat. In the beta, teams often times would create massive defensive structures surrounding the flag, not allowing anyone to even get to enter the structure where the flag sits. This is actually a cool aspect of the game and very much like an RTS. The issue right now is that most games end in a 1-0 score, or a tie where no one captures a flag. The game really ends up being this stalemate of either team trying to reinforce their flag areas and never really attacking. By the time they get enough energy to build stronger structures, the game is almost over. Even then, by this time the base is so heavily fortified that no one can get in even with stronger weapons or vehicles.

However, just like an RTS, there are ways around it, and it usually means rushing the base. So now if you catch the enemy off guard and capture the flag just once, you’ll probably win. Again, we have the issue of the game becoming very one-dimensional when the building aspect should allow you to do much more. The beta has been updated a few times, decreasing the amount of Rift cost for specific structures and balancing weapons. This has changed the game in terms of pace, but still remains a little unbalanced. Thankfully, they have time to balance these things out, and so far they have updated the beta nine times in less than a month, which is a great sign.

As it stands, at least in terms of Capture the Flag, Starhawk can either be a really fun game or a boring one. The maps are huge, which is great, but the max players could be increased to speed the game up a little. Having more players, without changing the building limit, can lead to more offensive attacks which will help the game a lot as well. I’ve played matches where both sides are fighting for the flag, and those games have been really exciting; the problem is those are few and far between. The buildings themselves might also need some balancing as well, but hopefully they can work a good balance after the game hits open beta.

 

In terms of controls and weapons, Starhawk controls well for a third-person shooter, and having the weapons linked to buildings gives players more of an incentive to create buildings outside of simply using them for defense. Melee seems to be a bit broken right now, as players can melee from obscene distances and it’s a one hit kill. Outside of that, I think the controls and weapons work well especially with the latest updates.

There is much to be said about how LightBox can improve the building system and combat in Starhawk. Tweaking the Rift cost, or collection could help, or placing limits on buildings could help as well. But this RTS aspect of the game will mean that it will take multiple iterations before a balance can be found. Right now the beta plays fine; I’ve only had a few hangs the first few nights and since then it has played perfectly. The matchmaking system is nice, and finding a created game is incredibly easy. Team Deathmatch was just unlocked yesterday, so I’ll have to see how the building system works in that space, for now what I’ve played of the Starhawk Beta shows a lot of promise. Improvements will need to be made, but so far I’m enjoying the few games of CTF where both teams are attacking.