I picked up a Starhawk beta code when I bought Uncharted 3 and it's finally time to use it. I've spent a fair amount of time with the game the last couple of days so far it's looking like a solid game. The game combines the base building mechanics of an RTS game with the run and gun shooting of a multiplayer third person shooter. There are several types of building available, from simple walls, to bunkers that house weapon refills, to launch pads for Starhawks, to two types defensive turrets, and sniper towers. You can also put up a small shield around key buildings that enemies have to physically penetrate to be able to do any damage to the people and buildings inside of it.
Each structure costs a certain number of energy bars. You start each round with three bars, and they regenerate slowly from an energy dispensing tower at your base. You also earn energy bars from kills, captures and other battlefield feats. There are also storage barrels that you have to destroy before they give up the goods located at certain locations on the map. These areas are a good place to build secondary bases. You also use energy to spawn vehicles at their respective buildings. There are three total at the moment, Starhawks (mechs that can transform into jets), Razorbacks (jeep like vehicles with a mounted turret on the back that can be operated by a second person), and jetpacks (basically, what the name says).
As to secondary bases, it can be fairly useful to build them. You can only deploy after dying in a base that you control. If you can set up a base nearby the enemies main area, it gives you fairly significant advantage. Map control can be key to keeping the other side penned in, and makes it much easier to assault their main base. One neat thing, something that doesn't really fit in anywhere specifically, is the way you respawn. You drop into the map in a drop pod that can only land in an area you control, but you can pick where it lands as well steer it a bit on the way down. This means that if there are enemies assaulting your base, you can land on and kill them. It's not easy, but it is fun.
For the shooting, there aren't very many weapons to pick from right now, just an assault rifle, shotgun, rocker launcher and sniper rifle. There are also grenades, and a quick knife attack for up close kills. There may not be much variation, but it gets the job done, though I feel that people are bit too much of a bullet sponge at times. Unloading a full clip into someone before they die is a bit annoying.
Things are actually fairly balanced between the vehicles and the run and gun gameplay. Starhawks are fast in the air, but can't penetrate shields with their weapons, so you have to get in close and transform to mech mode to really do damage to bases. They also only take a couple shots from a rocket launcher to destroy, and in mech mode the pilot sticks out the top of the machine and makes a great target for snipers. Not to mention they take damage from a pretty decent distance from the larger of two types of turret.
Jetpacks give great mobility to those that like to stick their feet, though they only have so much fuel and take a few seconds to regenerate it. You can move around fairly quickly, but are prime target while in the air for missile attacks. There are a number tall structures on the maps that can be used as sniper perches that can only be reached by jetpack or Starhawk.
Razorbacks are great for moving around quickly, but are easily destroyed, and unless you have a gunner, there is no way to attack beyond running people over. I've used them more as disposable transport than anything else. Though I've seen people use them in convoys to fairly good effect.
My two biggest complaints are that the game suffers from short matches, and the default controls for the Starhawk. A match length of fifteen minutes is barely enough time to set up a decent base and starting raiding. I can count on one hand the number of matches I've been in that were actually won or lost before the timer ran out. Secondly, the default controls for the Starhawk make it very easy to fly, but also incredibly difficult to stay alive. You really don't stand a chance against someone using one of the more difficult to use controls schemes. You just can't maneuver as well as they can. Granted, this is something that can be easily fixed by going to the options menu, but the game gives no hints that there is any other way to fly. It's a minor gripe, but it did affect my gameplay.
Overall, it's fun and effective twist on the standard multiplayer shooter. I'd like to see more weapons made available, and the game desperately needs longer matches.
Edited, Feb 5th 2012 10:18pm by Turin