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Starhawk: More than meets the eye?

Hands-on with long-requested sequel...

It might fly under the radar these days, but Warhawk remains one of the better PS3 multiplayer experiences. It started off as one of Sony's riskier projects: a multiplayer-only, third-person shooter that focused on a mixture of ground level troop combat and dogfights in the air.

Its mainstream hopes weren't helped by the fact it was initially only available through the PlayStation Store, carrying the same price tag as a full retail title to boot; a bold move at a time when publishers were still only just starting to explore digital delivery.

On paper it seemed like a recipe for failure, but Warhawk's gameplay shone through. Its sales and critical reception might not have been 'blockbuster' but over time it's managed to develop the kind of devoted, borderline fanatical fanbase that many modern shooters are desperately trying to etch out.

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Four years later and Sony's once again strapping itself in for another flight, except this time it's headed into the cold clutches of outer space with Starhawk.

FLY ME TO THE MOON
Starhawk builds on the tried-and-true multiplayer gameplay of Warhawk by creating a new universe and introducing a full single-player campaign as well as a new gameplay feature creator Lightbox is calling 'Build and Battle'.

The game is set in an area of the galaxy known as The Frontier, which itself contains a number of smaller systems occupied by various planets. Colonies are built by miners who explore the galaxy and gather a valuable energy known as 'Rift', which serves as the lifeblood of the universe's economy.

However, after a rush exhausts the availability of the energy, miners are forced into venturing out into the deeper, darker corners of the galaxy in hopes of uncovering Rift geysers. Although these geysers offer an abundance of Rift energy they come with significant risks attached. Exposure to Rift has terrible effects on humans; melting the skin off muscles, exposing the skeleton and causing the victims to go insane.

The Frontier is home to two warring factions; along with the Rifters are a warband of former Rifters, exiled after being transformed into hellish ghouls as a result of exposure. The fanatical Outcasts have become utterly obsessed with the Rift energy, worshipping it and taking umbrage with Rifter activities.

Starhawk's protagonist is a Rifter named Emmet Graves, a man who was hit with rift energy on the side of his body but hasn't succumbed to the full effects of the mutation - yet. Although the majority of Emmet is still human he has been partially mutated, Rift energy can be seen coursing through his right arm his Rift filled veins are visible through his skin and snake up his body to his eyes, engulfing them and emitting a neon blue mist.

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Hidden underneath his flowing kiffiyeh scarf is a Rift regulator designed by Emmet's partner and fellow miner Cutter. The device keeps Emmet's infection in stasis, while not completely curing him the regulator halts the contamination process but leaves Emmet as somewhat of a ticking time bomb.

Together the duo spends their careers traveling the galaxy and defending the Rift geysers throughout the systems from the Outcasts and their mysterious leader. This informs the structure of the game, which involves traveling from moon to moon while protecting or liberating the Rift planes from the obsessive outcast warbands.

SPACE WARFARE
Our play session begins on a moon called Echo, which serves as a postal relay. The planet is a vast desert lined with canyons and brimming with muties. The distant horizon is dominated by a green Rift geyser, which the Outcasts look to have completely surrounded.

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