When I saw Starlink: Battle for Atlas at E3 2018, It seemed quite impressive. Now, after spending some time with the game I can say that it’s actually a game I’d consider owning, and a concept that I would love to see more of in gaming. The toy-to-life concept of Starlink has really sold me on the idea, and it’s something I would like to see more of in games that focus on character progression and abilities.
When I was seated and given the option to choose from a bunch of toy heroes, ships and weapons, I felt like a kid in a candy store. The developer talked me through stacking my pilot and ship onto the controller and mounting my weapons, and I have to admit that I was pretty geek’d out to see my pilot and ship projected on screen as I stacked them. Star Fox was the obvious choice for selection as I was playing the Nintendo Switch version. Using him will unlock Star Fox specific content within the game. The addition of Star Fox is a natural fit for Starlink as the gameplay is so similar to what you’d see in a Star Fox game.
Having only a limited time to play Starlink: Battle for Atlas, I didn’t get a huge understanding of the story itself. What I did pick up from it was that there’s an evil legion, led by a villain named Grax, who aims to obtain rare and unique technology. There are some nicely animated cutscene sequences that build up these story elements, but from what I can tell, most of the appeal in this game will come from flying around, exploring and completing side quests. The story elements feel aimed at the younger audience, but adult gamers will likely get most of the enjoyment from the gameplay itself.
What really stood out to me was the use of weapons in the game. You can switch out your weapons at any time by popping them off of your toy ship and replacing them with another desired weapon. This is a feature that you’re prompted in-game to take advantage of, as there will be enemies and objectives that will be easier dealt with if you have the appropriate weapons equipped. But this is where the price barrier may come into play, as acquiring all weapons will require you to spend more money on toys.
If you’re buying the game for PS4 or Xbox then you’ll get the pilot Mason, his ship Zenith and three weapons. On the Switch version you’ll get Starfox and Mason, with the Arwing ship and only two weapons. To get more weapons, you’ll be forced to purchase additional ship packs costing $25 / £25 respectively. As you can imagine, the costs will add up if you want options.
But without access to all weapons, you’ll still be able to get through the game. It’s just a case of certain battles or objectives taking more time to complete without using the recommended weapon.
The game also has an in-depth skills and abilities tree, and this makes me wonder about the possibilities of toy-to-life RPGs. I feel like this is a market that could be further expanded on. It may be costly, but I’d love to see more ability based games use toys to further tailor the experience to the gamer.
Those who enjoy the openness of space exploration won’t be disappointed with how non-restrictive Starlink: Battle for Atlas is. At any time while on a planet you can shoot into the skies and fly into orbit, with no noticeable hiccups or loading times. The Nintendo Switch version feels smooth and responsive at all times and I never noticed any framerate drops while playing.
When in orbit you can travel at faster-than-light speeds to make your way to other planets quicker. When on planets, you have access to a ship boost feature that will let you cover ground faster, but the ability is on a cooldown meter, meaning you’ll have to pay attention to the resource and know when to stop holding the boost button. Flying the ships have an arcadish feel to them with their light weight and floatiness. Controlling the ship is easy in most situations, but the one awkwardness I did notice came from fighting ships in orbit. This is because you quickly become surrounded on all sides, and with no gravity you have to swerve your ship all the way around to focus down a locked on target. In-orbit battles will no doubt push your analogue sticks to the limit.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas will without a doubt carry the mantle for the toy-to-life genre when it releases on the 16th of October. It’s also nurturing the spaceship shooter genre that we don’t see as often in recent times. My worry with this game is that the need to buy ship packs for more weaponry options will put a barrier on the enjoyment, as using the same weapons may get old after some time. But from what I played, this game is seriously appealing to those who either love them some space exploration or some Star Fox.