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Starhawk review: Campaign is a missed opportunity, but multiplayer shines

Lightbox builds, and improves, one of the PS3's best...

While it's not mentioned in the same breath as other PS3 heavyweights such as the Uncharted, God Of War and Resistance franchises, Warhawk has always been something of a cult favourite among Sony shooter fanboys.

Yes, it borrowed a little in terms of inspiration from the Battlefield franchise, and its lack of a campaign struck some as a sore point for a full priced boxed title. But Warhawk succeeded in the areas that counted; its 32-player battles caused no lag, its controls were easy to get to grips with and, for the entire time you played it, Warhawk remained rambunctious, chaotic and gleeful fun.

Starhawk takes Warhawk's solid foundations and builds impressively on them, as one would expect from a title that Lightbox are touting as their 2007 release's spiritual successor. It keeps everything that drew players to the original IP - fast-paced arcade-based shooter combat and air and ground vehicles - and then piles on the mechanics, content and combat options. The result is a far more satisfying package than Warhawk ever was, and a game that'll keep online warriors raging long into the night.

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FIREFLY

Lightbox has also changed the setting of their shooter, dumping the over familiar theatre of modern warfare for an aesthetic that isn't used enough in gaming - the space western. This has allowed them to replace Warhawk's drab battlefields with environments that are far more exciting and colourful, such sun-bleached canyons, derricks straddling an acid sea and orbital platforms in space. The game's gorgeous score, courtesy of Christopher Lennertz is also a highlight; as the action moves from dustbowls, to mountain ranges to outer space, cracked slide-guitars and harmonicas give way to thundering orchestral menace without stepping away from the game's central space-cowboy themes.

The events in both the single-player and co-op campaigns take place after a mass colonisation of formerly ignored worlds known as The Rush. During this time, players are told, Earth Union prospectors - or Rifters, as they're called - struck out in their droves to lay claim the universe's new power source, Rift Energy (RE). As they soon found out, the outer reaches of the galaxy are a violent and lawless place, where antagonists who are known as Outcasts - and who are called Scabs by the Union workers - are an imminent danger to any prospector or trading outpost.

This is where the player comes in. They take on the role of a Rift Salavager called Emmett, who specialises in defending claims. Due to mining accident that took the life of his brother as the pair of them worked a claim, Emmett has become partially mutated by Rift Energy, and but for his partner, Cutter, he's pretty much despised and mistrusted by most of the folks he encounters. As the campaign kicks off, Emmett has returned with Cutter to his old stamping grounds in White Sands, an outpost that's currently under attack from Outcasts.

The plot is pure space opera; while the missions never bore and some of the dialogue is as sharp as a tack, the game's protagonist is pretty bland and its story contains few surprises. It's not really the sort of yarn that players are likely to become too invested in, and is more a mesh-mash of Western genre tropes than a bona fide piece of dramatic art. Still, it's a worthy way to spend six to eight hours, and, as has been mentioned, parcels of its dialogue are very well written. Most of the best lines go to Emmet's pal, Cutter, an 'ornery old cuss who spouts some of the snarkiest one-lines we've heard since Joss Whedon banged out his last episode of Firefly.

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Starhawk's campaign is mainly aimed at familiarising players with its controls before letting them loose online. To that end, it does a superb job, introducing new units, weapons and structures as the campaign's difficulty increases incrementally. The game's shooter mechanics haven't changed much from Warhawk and a lot of the weapons in Starhawk are sci-fi riffs on standard shooter equipment. The player's movement feels a little lightweight at times and occasionally they may lose their bearings, but on the whole, the interface and in-game physics are solid.

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