Starlink: Battle for Atlas Review
When Ubisoft announced their brand new space epic at E3 2017, nobody was sure what to expect. With the toys to life genre done and buried, Ubisoft stepped up with one last hurrah in the form of Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Taking a big risk on the declining genre, Starlink has learned from its predecessors and stayed focused on a engaging gameplay with less of an emphasis on selling a plethora of toys. This latest jaunt into space has been one of my most enjoyable experiences yet, and playing on the Switch means I don’t have to ever put it down.
In Starlink, the crew of the Equinox has arrived in the Atlas system to help the alien entity known as Judge find his people. Captain St. Grand, who developed the process for creating a powerful resource called Nova, is captured by a mysterious enemy looking to control a long-dormant army known as The Legion which requires Nova to power their forces. It’s up to the crew of the Equinox to hold The Legion at bay and rescue their beloved captain. The Atlas system houses a small handful of planets, each with its own unique ecosystem, flora and fauna, and challenging enemies. Exploring these worlds will remind many players of No Mans Sky for its bright, vivid colors and “seamless” travel from planet to space, yet instead, we get a tightly-knit experience of a star system in chaos rather than the barren vastness of space.
Each world needs your help to clear The Legion forces by destroying imp mounds, shutting down extractors, deciphering spires, and decimating Primes. You’ll be able to build observatories to scan the planet surface, armories so the planet can defend itself while you are away, refineries to increase your electrum income, and mod shops to craft specific mods for enhancing your ships’ parts. Mods are incredibly useful for enhancing stats or adding effects like reducing kickback or increasing concussive force to knock enemies around. You’ll gather mods constantly so it’s worth it to check your inventory regularly and continue to craft better gear for your ship.
Featuring only five ships – six if you have the Switch version which includes Fox and the Arwing – each one really does feel unique from the other. The Arwing is purpose-built for performance, the Zenith has high energy reserves but otherwise feels like an average vessel, the Lance is incredibly fast and lightweight etc. Wings will change the weight, handling, or energy levels of your ship with up to three wing parts able to be combined on each side as well as connecting a weapon. These can make for some strange combinations but you’ll quickly find the ones that work the best for you. If you opted to buy the digital edition of the game you’ll be able to set up to three loadouts allowing you to swap easily between three custom-built ships. Each loadout will be able to equip any part, meaning specific weapons or wings are not locked to a particular ship, however mods are shared across all three loadouts.
Each pilot brings their own unique skills to the table and each features one special ability ranging from targeted high-impact shots, to an orbital strike, or Fox calling in help from the StarFox crew. Much like the ships, each pilot feels unique yet just a little too campy in their dialogue. While the number of weapons to choose from are somewhat limited compared to other games, the combinations you can make are impressive and a lot of fun. Shooting a stasis missile to make your opponent lock up and then barraging them with ice rockets or detonating a mini vortex missile and igniting it in flames is a satisfying experience to unleash on the enemy.
The most fun I have had in the game so far is taking on Outlaw Hideouts. These are heavily guarded bases in space requiring you to take out not only bandits, but the base’s turrets and boss. These battles require serious tactics and practice flying, not to mention the most effective weapon combos you can find. The music during these encounters is by far my favorite and is one of the key reasons I love seeking out these hideouts to battle. While these encounters are incredibly fun I did notice the game struggling to keep up with textures from time to time. The exceptional lighting effects definitely distract from it, but occasionally the game felt like something from the Gamecube era.
With how much effort went into the world building and mythos, they dropped the ball on the inhabitants of Atlas. Anyone not trying to kill you is either a researcher or prospector of some kind. Whether they are out in their shuttles or sitting in their respective buildings, each and every one of them have the same female or male voice despite there being a variety of depicted intelligent species running the place. It’s enough of a small detail that it feels overlooked and makes the people I am suppose to care about feel even more like bots rather than people. In that same vein, opening any crate will trigger a few lines from Eli Arborwood yet he only has four or five lines per planet. When you are opening dozens upon dozens of chests it gets old incredibly fast to hear Eli say the same thing over and over again.
The toys to life aspect – and indeed docking the ship on your controller – has been a point of concern for some, seeing it as a huge gimmick for the game. For those who go the physical route, the ships and parts are incredibly well made and lightweight. Playing on the Switch with the pre-packaged joycon grip, I didn’t notice a difference between the weight of the grip and my PS4 controller, nor did the wings get in the way of my hands. Swapping pieces off and on the ship is easy and very satisfying to watch happen on screen, and when I’m not playing, the ship really does make for a cool model to have on display.
For those who hate the idea of owning the toys, Starlink comes as both a Digital and Digital Deluxe version, with the former offering four ships, nine pilots, and a dozen weapons and the latter unlocking everything from the start. These are great options for those who want to play the game and don’t have room for the toys, as the Digital version costs the same as a standard game and the Deluxe only a bit more. While it’s nice to have this option, there is something to be said for seeing your ship in your hands and clicking each piece into place. I hope we see more iconic characters added to the roster in the future – who wouldn’t want to fly through the Atlas system as Samus, Captain Falcon, Master Chief, or any number of third party characters?
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a fast-paced and gorgeous space adventure that offers the toys to life option for collectors and a strong digital edition for those who just want to play. With fantastic controls and epic music, the game is marred by a drop in texture from time to time and unfortunately repetitive and stale dialogue outside of the campaign. Building and leveling up ships is a lot of fun, and some of the battles can be truly epic. Starlink has quickly become a game hard to put down and I hope this is the beginning of a growing franchise.
**Nintendo Switch copy provided by the publisher**
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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Review – Toys-To-Life Isn’t Dead Yet