A futuristic upgrade of a title original to Sony's PS3 arrives to make a gamer's head swoon within a third-person multiplayer shooter that mixes elements of tower defense with vehicular combat in the air and on the ground.
In control of a glowing, blue-eyed warrior that reminded this old-timer of legendary football-star-turned-actor Jim Brown, a player takes part in Starhawk (Sony Computer Entertainment and Lightbox Interactive, rated T for teen, reviewed with PlayStation 3, $59.99), a sci-fi Western loaded with dusty bravado and strategy.
A storyline composed of 10 levels finds humans colonizing planets to mine rift energy, a valuable resource, while using mercenaries to protect themselves against the mutated, energy-worshipping Outcast (a ragtag group of war-painted Rage rejects).
Our hired gunslinger, Emmett Graves, a man who has been mutated by that energy, assists colonies across the galaxy and finds his ultimate destiny tied to an evil sibling.
This is not just a run-and-shoot game, by any means, though Emmett easily can carry up to eight weapons and a large knife to dispatch waves of bad guys. The character also absorbs energy from objects and fallen enemies that then is transferred into building offensive and defensive structures in real time, called in from an orbiting drop ship.
Those deliveries vary by situation and can include automatic gun turrets, walls, weapon supply depots, a rig to cap an energy rift stream, a Hawk launch pad (more on that later), a watch tower (equipped with LR-3 Rail sniper guns), shield generator, heavy tanks, sidewinder jet bikes and vulture jet packs.
That part of the action alone makes for quite a stressed-out mission as timers count down to signal the arrival of enemies while the player quickly makes decisions on how to fortify an area and keep feeding on rift energy orbs.
Further complicating the battle is access to a flying vehicle called the Hawk. This innovative piece of mech-ware taps into Japanese sc-fi anime roots and is a close relative to the Transformers' Starscream. With Emmett aboard, it can move as a hulking bot or take flight on command.
I usually hate games involving dogfights, but the sheer beauty of the mechanics tied to easily landing on a rig (to stomp on foes) or a spaceport and taking off to engage Outcast air and spacecraft with missiles and lasers is pretty impressive.
While the campaign mode never delivers a compelling story even with a bunch of comic cut scenes it does attempt to prepare the player for the chaotic online multiplayer aspects of Starhawk.
I'll say "attempt" because a "build and battle" for all with up to 31 other players (16-versus-16 insanity) creates an overwhelming amount of disorder as they fight on some massive and impressive landscapes.
Teaming up with coherent humans certainly helps, but that many folks without a plan trying to lead via dropping objects rather than using headsets to communicate got old really fast.
The sessions did offer endless variations of war across 10 maps with equipment constantly being destroyed or littering battlefields. The chance to crush an opponent while targeting the drop pod was an irresistible moment.
After the last wall is built, Starhawk won't be remembered for its hybrid hero, but will exist forever as one of the more entertaining variations of multiplayer combat in the PlayStation 3 universe.
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