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'Build and Battle,' multiplayer action shine in 'Starhawk'

Unique mechanics and strong multiplayer action more than make up for weak characters and story in
Unique mechanics and strong multiplayer action more than make up for weak characters and story in "Starhawk."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Unique "Build and Battle" mechanic sets "Starhawk" apart from other shooters
  • Players can select buildings, vehicles and other tools to place and use in fights
  • Multiplayer action gets intense, with up to 32 players at a time
  • The game is an offshoot of the 2007 game "Warhawk"

(CNN) -- Using a new "Build and Battle" game mechanic, "Starhawk" offers more than your typical third-person shooter, tapping ino the player's strategic thinking while creating an enjoyable ride.

Lightbox Interactive founder Dylan Jobe wanted to take one of their old titles, "Warhawk," and make it into something more enjoyable and more complete. "Warhawk," released in 2007, was widely praised for its multiplayer action, but it had no single-player campaign.

Jobe and his team took the best ideas from "Warhawk," combined them with a new setting and single-player campaign, then added his a new mechanic that effectively creates what can be considered a new way to think about shooters.

"Build and Battle" allows players to call down hardware from a ship circling high above the planet. When I say hardware, I don't mean a weapons cache full of ammo and guns. I mean large, physical structures and buildings that allow players to defend, attack and punish the enemy.

Walls with turrets on top, garages with jet cycles inside, buggies, tanks and tall sniper towers complete with rifles -- all are at the players' command. These items and many more can be called down and placed on the battlefield for maximum damage or protection.

Ground and air vehicles can also be called down and used. Jet bikes and Razorbacks (three-player combat buggies) handle a lot of the ground transportation. Ox Tanks can bring the pain with artillery shells and cannons. (As their name implies, they can take a lot of punishment but are slow to move).

If you are looking for more speed and maneuverability, the Hawk is a transformer-like vehicle that switches from armored robot to nimble aircraft quickly. On the ground, a "mech stomp" wipes out scores of troops, while in the air, the jet has a range of specialized missiles and bombs at its disposal.

Each one of these vehicles can be spawned from a garage summoned with the "Battle and Build" mechanic. As with the other buildings, planning must be utilized to determine prime placement as well as how each garage can be defended.

The "Build and Battle" concept works seamlessley within combat and adds a strategic element to each battle. No longer do players have to think only about conserving ammunition. Now, they need create the environment around themselves while taking on waves of enemies.

Do you use walls to block routes into your area? Or do you arrange them to funnel the enemy into a gauntlet of beam turrets? It is this flexibility of gameplay that makes "Starhawk" enjoyable and interesting.

Plus, if a particularly large group of scabs (the enemy grunts) are headed your way, you can always just drop a building on them. Each structure costs "rift energy," a universal source of power harvested from different planets, much like oil on Earth.

Indeed, the single-player campaign has a Wild West feel and motif that could remind gamers of the great Oil Rush in the United States. Rifters want to capture the rift energy to sell it, while Outcasts believe the rift energy to be their lifeblood and want to destroy all who would take it. Emmitt Graves, the main character in the campaign, goes into the disputed areas to reclaim the rift from the Outcasts.

The storyline is told through cinematic videos rather than actual gameplay and merely acts as rather weak glue between the combat set pieces. Despite trying to inject some connection between Emmitt and the leader of the Outcasts, characters in the story come across as emotionless and uncaring about anything other than getting the job done.

But it's multiplayer mode where the game really shines. Up to 32 players can battle in four different scenarios and five different environments across two maps. More maps are planned as downloadable content (DLC), which Jobe says will be free to all.

The "Build and Battle" mechanic is at its best in the Capture The Flag and Zones modes. Teammates work together to build walls, turrets and repair arms to defend their areas while others take vehicles out to seek and destroy the opposing side.

Coordination is key and many battles have been won due to the combined efforts of teammates defending or attacking en masse. The more players per side, the more action and organized chaos there is across the battlefield. It truly is some of the best and most enjoyable gameplay I've experienced on the PlayStation 3.

Overall, the combat in "Starhawk" is refreshing, thoughtful and very well done. The environments are as beautiful as the "Build and Battle" mechanic is unique. The breadth of weapons, vehicles and buildings make each playthrough different, and the multiplayer highlights the best of all that is available.

While the campaign story is disappointing, "Starhawk" ends up being a game that shines in spite of its weak characters. In some ways, the "Build and Battle" system is the true star of the action, and that's just fine for gamers who enjoy thinking their way through a battle as much, if not more, than shooting their way through one.

"Starhawk" is available now worldwide exclusively for the PlayStation 3. It is rated T for Teens due to blood, language, and violence. This review was done with a provided copy for the PlayStation 3 and multiplayer action done on public servers.

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