Starhawk Hands On Preview

Rumors of a Warhawk sequel have been percolating ever since the title debuted to critical acclaim – and began to secure commercial success over the course of the title’s three-and a half years on the market. Back in April those rumors were confirmed – when early Starhawk details slipped out.

Two weeks later, Lightbox Interactive released official gameplay footage and images for Starhawk – and fans finally got a peek at the upcoming franchise follow-up. The title does not have an official release date yet but that hasn’t stopped Sony from showing-off the title at E3 2011.

At first glance, anyone unfamiliar with the original Warhawk, developed by Incognito (now affiliated with Lightbox Interactive), may not recognize the numerous changes that have been implemented in the sequel. The original Warhawk was an ambitious title for two primary reasons:

  • 1) At launch, the game was available on Blu-ray disc at retail but was also offered at a discount if downloaded through the PSN ($59.99 versus $29.99, respectively).
  • 2) Despite the hefty price, the game entirely lacked a single player component – due to concerns that the campaign wouldn’t be as polished as the robust multiplayer offerings.

For Starhawk, Lighthouse Interactive intends to focus on a full retail Blu-ray launch – one that includes a robust single player campaign featuring compelling characters and rich world-building. While the multiplayer component will undoubtedly be a major draw for the upcoming title, Sony also chose to show-off a chunk of the single player campaign at E3.

For a game series that was never really grounded in a concrete storyline, Starhawk has a surprisingly rich backstory. Check out the Starhawk story trailer below – for an introduction to the game’s protagonist, Emmett Graves:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXNpMmu34t4

Beyond the compelling story, strategic third-person gameplay is surprisingly robust – and featured intelligent, and especially aggressive, AI that keeps players on the move. Gunplay was tight and satisfying, with a powerful melee move – for close quarters combat. Despite some similarities, Starhawk is not just a Gears of War-style cover based shooter (obviously cover is still a good thing) but, in order to see the “Mission Complete” screen, players will have to do more than run-and-gun – they’ll have to use all of the tools at their disposal. Fortunately, the “tools” in Starhawk are robust, effective, and extremely entertaining.

Starhawk Third Person Gameplay

The demo mission wasn’t particularly subtle in the “types” of gameplay covered but, nonetheless, each wave was enjoyable.

Stealth: Graves drops into an enemy controlled compound, to secure an energy rift, and the initial batch of enemies (collectively known as the Outcasts) are easily taken-down with careful gunplay and an odd melee attack here and there – for any overly-aggressive AI opponents.

Action Gunplay: Once the compound is secured, and Graves builds his first piece of tech – a rift extractor – the player is charged with hitting a fail-safe button, at the top of the Outcast compound. Enemy fighters spawn via drop pods and Graves has to fight to the top of the structure, scrambling for cover, as well as taking out opponents with assault rifle fire, grenades, and (of course) exploding barrels.

Strategic Defense: After Graves hits the fail-safe, a large-scale Outcast invasion is triggered – as the enemy attempts to retake the compound and destroy the rift extractor. On-screen countdowns, coupled with GPS locators, detail where more Outcast pods and tech will drop, allowing the player to set-up defensive measures – to keep Graves alive and the compound secure. Through a mix of assist beacons (which deliver human back-up), auto-turrets, bunkers, and a Starhawk launch pad (which can be piloted by the player or an AI ally), among others, Graves managed to beat-back the opposition and secure the rift.

Starhawk Aerial Combat

Each objective was straightforward and grounded in believable story beats – creating nuanced but diverse gameplay experiences. Like the gunplay, the various tech options are enjoyable to control (should the player choose) – whether climbing inside an auto-turret to focus on a specific enemy or piloting the titular Starhawk machines on the ground (as a mobile turret) or in the air (as a highly-maneuverable jet-fighter).

The Starhawk release date is currently a moving target – though, gamers should be able to get their hands on the title sometime in 2012. If our hands-on experience is any indication, expect Starhawk to be a highly-anticipated first-party offering for Sony – whether you’re a fan of third-person action or tactical strategy.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick and tell us what you’re hoping to see in Starhawk.

Starhawk is currently scheduled for release on the PS3 in 2012.

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