It’s not every day that a game takes two genres and mashes them up, like zombie survival horror and romantic comedy. Sci -fi westerns is one of those rare genres, and except for games like Borderlands, you really don’t see a whole lot of gunslingers out in the ‘Verse. Enter Starhawk, a game that not only does a good job with this unique theme, but offers up a combination of game genres in a package that’s fun to play. Sadly though, its single player story is nowhere near the caliber of its multiplayer.

Starhawk is set in the far future, where humanity now travels the stars with the help of Rift energy, a dangerous but valuable substance that can turn you into a mindless mutant if you’re not careful. You play as a mercenary named Emmett, who travels the galaxy helping Rift miners defend their claims against the Rift-warped mutants. Emmett takes a job that brings him home to the mining colony of White Sands, which is under attack by a mutant known as the Outlaw. Turns out the Outlaw’s a bit smarter than the average mutant, and has been organizing raiding parties against White Sands, aiming to destroy their mining operations before they can reach an important mining quota.

Starhawk is a third person shooter mixed in with tower defense elements and moments of arcade-style flight simulation. Throughout the missions, you’ll be airdropping in various structures like bunkers, turrets and vehicle depots to defend White Sands, or flying around engaging in some aerial or ground combat with massive transforming mechs called Hawks. While the mix of game genres may at first seem weird or daunting, Starhawk does a good job with streamlined and simple controls. If you’ve played any other third-person shooters before you’ll be able to pick the controls up fairly easily, and when it comes to building structures, you can summon them with the push of a few buttons.

However, while Starhawk’s mechanics are sound, the story that accompanies them comes across as generic sci-fi b-movie fare. There’s a fair amount of mediocre voice acting and exaggerated dialogue from the characters you meet, and Emmett himself comes across as a stereotypical gruff anti-hero. What big reveals or plot twists are in the story there can be seen a mile away, and most often missions revolve around similar objectives of defending an area against waves of enemies for a set amount of time. The single player is an extended tutorial for Starhawk’s multiplayer component, which is a far more enjoyable an experience.

Focused on skirmishes with about a dozen players on either team, you’ll duke it out in a handful of game modes, ranging from your standard deathmatch/team deathmatch and capture the flag settings to “Zones” mode, which focuses on claiming and holding control points. While these modes aren’t that much different from what you’d see in other multiplayer shooters, what helps Starhawk stand apart is how building construction is carried over from the single player, letting you and your team have some control over the map’s layout.

Maps range from enclosed canyons to orbital platforms, and there’s enough play styles available that you won’t get bored easily. You might find that you prefer flying around in a Hawk, strafing enemies with missiles or building up chokepoints and defenses with the buildings available on a particular map. You may even find yourself sneaking around with a laser sniper rifle trying to get a few headshots or making mad dashes to capture a flag with a speeder bike.

Sadly, Starhawk’s multiplayer isn’t entirely perfect, and it has a few nagging issues that you’ll find annoying. For one, there’s a building limit that’s spread across your team, so if you’re desperately trying to call down a turret down on a vital control point and a teammate has used up all the slots building up a fortress somewhere else on the map, you’re out of luck. It would’ve been interesting to see if having a personal building limit would have promoted more teamwork or if there were bonuses for pairing up with a teammate to fortify a bunker. In addition, there’s a serious balance issue when it comes to spawn points. Sometimes a team can all but wipe out their opponent’s defenses and spend the rest of the match camping their landing zone, preventing them from getting back into the fight, or even go so far as to drop down turrets of their own inside a spawn zone. That cheap move killed the fun I was having in an otherwise tense team deathmatch.

Bottom Line: Starhawk‘s an average shooter with an engaging multiplayer element and a unique sci-fi western theme, but the single player is forgettable.

Recommendation: If transforming battle mechs and sci-fi westerns are your thing, Starhawk’s worth a shot.

[rating=3.5]

Game: Starhawk
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Lightbox Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform(s): PS3
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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