By the end of our short hands-on, we were flying over a huge changing battlefield, tailing enemy Warhawks desperately trying to assume a lock-on. Unfortunately, we didn't get enough time with the game to truly get a grasp on how the gameplay will be structured.
Playing as protagonist Emmett Graves, our demo opened in a vast dusty environment. Visually Starhawk looks stunning, with our character's scarf flowing in the wind, and the loom of distant planets, stars and constellations peaking over the horizon.
The narrative in Starhawk centres on an energy source known as Rift. Dishevelled blue-collar men are tasked with harvesting the Rift Energy, but over-exposure to the source sends them crazy — transforming them into Outcast and forcing them to protect the matter they once harvested.
Of course this is all context for some good old fashioned shooting, but Starhawk is much more than a traditional third-person shooter. The game's innovative build-and-battle system is pivotal to its gameplay, channelling inspiration from the real-time strategy genre and conjuring up something wholly unique.
Our demo replaces the corridor shootouts common-place in other third-person shooters for an enormous circular arena. Here Graves must face off against frequently spawning waves of enemies, completing objectives within the environment and managing resources as he goes.
Because it's so different from everything that's come before it, Starhawk took us a considerable amount of time to adapt to. Graves can collect Rift energy from fallen enemies and store it in his back-pack. This can then be spent on calling down defences hovering above orbit. Communication towers, for example, bring with them AI team-mates that will fight for your cause. Walls fortify your resources, while turrets and more help safeguard key structures. As we progressed through the demo our roster of available fortifications grew, allowing us to eventually build Warhawk landings and 4x4 garages.
The pace of the demo felt very deliberate. We started out infiltrating an enemy stronghold on our lonesome, and ended up taking out foes from the skies in our Warhawk, while chaos ensued on the ground.
The game's technically very impressive, allowing you to see the full scale of the battle from the skies. The Warhawk's too have a neat trick which allows you to transform as you near land, offering the opportunity to stomp across the ground in a mech-like machine.
Unfortunately, we felt like we were only just scratching the surface of Starhawk by the time we reached the conclusion of our demo. The game is clearly very dense, and its single-player is going to have to be perfectly conceived in order to guide players through the many mechanics on-hand.
Multiplayer of course is going to be where the longevity of Starhawk lives, and it's easy to see how the mechanics of build-and-battle could become a game-changer for more strategic and thoughtful players. Hopefully Lightbox Interactive can find a way to smooth the learning curve as players become accustomed to the game's unique gameplay style.
Starhawk is set to release exclusively on PlayStation 3 in February 2012.