Is this game worth sixty dollars? Well, that depends. Do you like online multiplayer? Or can you legally drink, and do you have at least one friend who can legally drink and come over to your house? Or are you a Browncoat, because this is as close to a “Firefly” game as we’re going to get.
“Starhawk”, as a single-player game, has an unforgiving learning curve. You’re going to need to master the Build and Battle system, and fast, or you are going to die. A lot. Seriously: fans of “Gears of War” really need not apply. You have to build your cover (and your backup, meaning autoturrets) yourself and do it fast, or you’re toast.
It’s a unique mechanic, and it’s hard to get into the groove of it: at first, you’re going to want to try and gun down your opponents solo, and it’s hard to break that habit. Once you get the hang of it, though, it’s actually pretty fun. Although my complaint stands in that it’s too hard to squish enemies in the single player mode with the structures that come screaming in from the sky. I mean, come on. Don’t include this mechanic if you can’t kill your opponent brutally for giggles.
The problem is the game leans on this mechanic, which is admittedly novel, way too much to make up for its flaws, and it doesn’t get nearly creative enough to do that.
As a shooter, it’s a bit of a mess. Sloppy level design is unfortunately common, complete with long driving sequences between setpieces, and it’s trying to force you into solving the problem in one specific way. You’ll be dropping a lot of walls, auto-turrets, and ammo bunkers; everything else is mostly just to amuse yourself or for multiplayer.
The shooting is flawed as well. You get absolutely no zoom when aiming, which is problematic since the game can be stingy with the ammo and you’re going to be fighting long range against massive swarms of enemies a lot, and the enemy AI is not screwing around; if you try to hide behind cover to catch your breath, they’re going to flank you, and they’re going to stay out of easy range of your melee instant kill. It’s good to have a challenge, but put this next to a carefully tweaked single-player experience like “Mass Effect 3” and it just can’t measure up.
The crosshairs don’t even turn a different color when on an enemy. Come on.
Also, the animations lack realism and weight; jumping off a 100-foot drop has the same feel as hopping off a six-foot ledge, and enemies, when they die, throw their hands in the air like they just don’t care. It’s a shame because the cutscenes are pretty; you won’t care much about the story, but you’ll watch them because they’re unskippable and they actually have a nice vibe to them, evoking comic book art without being a cliche.
The “Firefly” vibe gets pretty thick, at times: this game reminds you it’s a “Space Western” at every turn, right down to the music cues. But it’s pleasant; it’s a bit like playing a licensed Firefly game, in some ways.
Finally, some aspects of the controls are a nightmare. For example, there’s no simple way to switch weapons: there’s not even a way to configure the weapons wheel or to map weapons to directional keys, and the game throws lots of guns at you early on without explaining anything about them: I found myself running around with an empty pistol, trying to figure out how to get at my machine gun.
But to get back to those questions I asked…this game has that rare and lovely beast, an offline splitscreen mode. Sadly, it only supports two players, but two players and a six pack is really all you need to turn this game into a complete blast. It becomes ridiculously fun to mess with each other: slamming each other with buildings, sniping each other while trying to strategize, and generally messing around.
Honestly, I was just getting into the central campaign when a friend came over, and we’ve been playing this game off and on for the rest of the week.
In short, this is a game built for online multiplayer, and the single-player is mostly tacked on as an extended tutorial and sop to people who buy exclusives. It’s too bad: there’s a lot of potential here, for a genuinely good game in any mode. But if you play games with friends and beer, there are worse ways to spend a few nights.
image courtesy Sony