Starhawk is already shaping up to be one of the premier titles on the Playstation 3, building upon the success of the game to which it is a spiritual successor; Warhawk. While plenty of information has already been revealed, head of Lightbox Interactive Dylan Jobe stopped by Gamescom to present some Q&A sessions, providing the press with an update on the upcoming title, as well as reveal some new information.
It began with Dylan giving a quick overview of the title, which would feature a fully-fledged single player campaign as well as the multiplayer madness. Taking place in the distant future in the frontier of space, groups of humans now mine for a new power source known as rift energy, a highly potent but unstable element. It is this unstable nature of rift energy that eventually turns those exposed to it into outcasts, pushing their skeletal structure to the outside of their body, and turning their eyes and veins a bright blue. These outcasts then devote their existence to worshiping the rift energy, and slaughter anyone who would dare to try and harvest it.
Enter Emmitt Graves, a rift miner who along with his brother Logan are exposed to the rift energy thanks to an Outcast warband attack on their mining camp. While Logan is mutated fully by the incident, Emmitt is saved from a similar fate thanks to a procedure that implants a device into his spine, stopping him for being completely turned. Unable to continue with his mining operation, or even return to normal civilization, Emmitt becomes a gun for hire, a gunlinger protecting rift mining claims from Outcast attacks. Of course, this conflict is personal for our hero, as the Outcasts are being led by his now mutated brother Logan.
This provides the backdrop to the single player campaign. Mr Jobe went on to explain the mentality behind the gameplay of Starhawk whilst showing a video of one of the missions, titled Echo, in which the aim was to defend a rift generator from Outcast onslaught. Gone are the static bases to capture across the battlefield of from the days of Warhawk, and instead the focus has been put on a sandbox experience where players can build up their own bases across the landscape. This is the heart of the new RTS-esque Build n’ Battle system which is strongly reminiscent of the rebooted Battlezone games of yesteryear. Players will be able to place up to sixteen structures on a map, ranging from turrets, to sniper towers, to command posts. Dylan explained that in doing so it created a sense of freedom for the player to approach each mission with whatever tactics they wish.
All buildings and vehicles require Rift Energy to build, which can be collected from enemies and their structures. Indicated in a bar at the top of the screen, players can clearly see how much energy they have to spend without intruding on the action, which has been a major focus of the development of Battle and Build. Using a green outline of the proposed building, players can decide the placement of their new construction before committing to it. This leads to said construction being dropped from orbit, crashing down to the ground below and killing any enemies that are unlucky enough to be in the vicinity at the time. However, friendly player will just be nudged out of the way should they not get out of the way in time.
Each building provides a unique function in for players in Starhawk. For example, the Comm Centre provides a forward spawn point, while the Sniper Tower provides a sniper rifle, but lose these buildings and you lose the benefits. Jobe described this process as “kill to build and build to kill.”
There was also mention on the new use of AI for both allies and enemies. To further move away from the idea of static gameplay Jobe spoke of the inclusion of “spawn regions that create different unit types that overlap and had different tempos” which would allow for different encounters each time you played through a mission. Of course, if you know the maps and are able to create choke points with the deployable walls fighting the enemy would be an easier task he admitted. Also promised were friendly AI that could capably use turrets or drive vehicles, as well as being fully aware of any changes you might make to the battlefield.
Dylan was keen to stress that even though a lot of work had been put into the single player campaign, the multiplayer “remained absolutely key” to Starhawk. As such, he moved onto a presentation of a Capture The Flag map called Acid. It was here that Dylan revealed how he ensures the playtests between the developers were played to their full potential; the winning team are given $100 each, the added incentive ensuring to emulate the competitiveness of online player among gamers (as well as hunt out exploits.) It was at that this point that it was explained that falling wreckage could be deadly, and were it your destroyed vehicle that caused the death you would get credit for the kill.
The next reveal was a world first look at the long awaited space combat maps for Starhawk. Taking place on orbiting platforms similar to that in Starcraft, players can fight their way through the game as normal, but with the added peril of rotating asteroids to deal with. The other new reveal to emerge from the session was the inclusion of Jetpacks at launch as a core vehicle. This comes as big news to the Warhawk fans who had to pay for DLC to get the chance to use them, and should provide some interesting tactical plays during multiplayer games. Additionally, players who fall off the platforms (or fly too low with the jetpack) run the risk of being pulled towards the nearby planet and burning up in a little ball of fire.
Traditional spawning has been revamped, with drop pods bringing you back into the action. These pods not only can be aimed anywhere on the battlefield, but can also be steerable. With some careful aim you can kill an opponent, and Jobe admitted that it was actually one of the most powerful moves in the game, if used effectively. It was explained that it was a feature implemented to stop spawn camping from happening.
Also shown were the Starhawks themselves, in all their soaring and morphing glory. The streamlined controls that made air combat in Warhawk a smooth experience remains mostly unchanged, although there was no mention of motion sensing thrown into the mix this time around. As a push of a button, the hawks can transform from deadly flying jets into walking mechs of pain, as well as doing the reverse. Jobe emphasised that dogfighting remains a core element of the gameplay, especially in the space levels where the floating asteroids will provide an exciting backdrop to the action, as well as aim to ruin your day.
Briefly touched upon were the enhanced community features. While Warhawk had clan options and online statistics for players, Starhawk will boast clan management options to help organise play sessions or set up matches easily. This will also appear via apps on smartphones, allowing for clan management and stat tracking on the go.
With a limit of sixteen structures, the issue of bad placement or intentional griefing was addressed. If certain players place items in bad places they can be reported and given demerits, getting enough of which will ultimately remove building privileges for a period of time. It was pointed out fairly quickly that there will always be an option to delete anything that is placed on the battlefield. It was at this point that the Q&A session ended.
Overall, the action both on the ground and in the air, as well as the new Battle n’ Build features, are looking very slick indeed, and the fast-paced combat transferred from Warhawk bodes well for the title from Lightbox. There is still several months until the alleged release date in February next year, meaning plenty of time for Dylan Jobe and co. to fine tune the game even more to make it an incredible experience.