Ubisoft is a strange company. A lot of people like their work, however, I personally find a lot of their games to be extremely similar and lacking any real depth. They typically start off great but it’s hours down the line you realise, nothing has change. Yet as a company I don’t mind them because occasionally. Ubisoft let their team do a passion project, and it’s these passion projects that can blow you away. Child of Light, Valiant Heart, Child of Eden or the recent Mario vs Rabbids- the latter being developed by a die-hard Mario fan with a relatively small team- are all belters and stand well away from Ubisoft’s bigger titles. That’s why at EGX, armed with my Press pass, there was one and one game only I was going to try at the Ubisoft stand… Starlink: The Battle for Atlas.
Starlink is an open free roam space fighter game (comment the actual genre) that uses toys to customise your ship. Currently there are 4 types of pilots and spaceship with each ship having the ability to attach 2 guns. The game features 7 planets to explore, all free roaming and inhabited by different creatures.
Let’s start with the toys. You need a pilot, then the spaceship and then attach two guns; I’ll admit it was kind of annoying to attach to the docking area. You can upload the toys to your game -occasionally you’ll need to upload for updating- so you don’t have to have the toys everywhere. Furthermore, you can just download the toy parts in a digital format, so you don’t have to purchase the toys at all.
Luckily, I managed to try this game out on the Nintendo switch and yes, I used the Arwing. I started off in space, then flew to the planet where the mission is based, and it all transitioned seamlessly just proving that the power of the Switch is massively underrated. You can fly in the air, but you can shut your boosters off, so you can use your craft in a landspeeder. And some speed you can reach, flying through the levels is exhilarating hitting dizzying speeds. The controls are very intuitive, everything makes sense and just flows; within seconds I was bouncing around shooting like a madman and loving every second of it.
To my surprise, the guns effects work together once fired. I had ice rockets and a laser beam. Upon firing my laser, it made this beam sphere and when I followed it up by firing my ice rockets created this ice vortex for multiple damage. Curiosity will sink in with many players wanting more weapons to see the different effects when combining weapons; some enemies are immune to different weapon effects too, in my playthrough I found my ice missiles not to affect some enemies.
The demo had me check a disturbance on a planet. Arriving at the disturbance I came across a giant saw-like ship drilling into the planet. Once defeating the ship, I was told to go to another location of the planet and it was here I saw a bug like creature I had to defeat. Along the way I found various enemy bases I could fight and with the free roaming aspect I wasn’t pushed to my objectives.
Graphically the game has a cartoon aesthetic very reminiscing of the Star Wars Clone Wars series. This really suites the playful nature of the game, especially with the inclusion of toys. What I saw of the planets seemed pretty bare, only populated by the odd bit of landscape formation and foliage; this clearly makes sense for when you are hitting those high speeds.
So, what do I think? You know what, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought. When everything clicked together -which wasn’t very long- you get into that game flow, I certainly did by beating the demo a hell of a lot quicker than everyone else. The sound design is spot on too, really getting you invested into the world and gameplay. I’m a huge fan of the Starfox series -I even like zero, Assault is questionable though- and it makes perfect sense why he would be featured within the game because it has Starfox atmosphere. Whereas Starfox is on-rails this is free-roaming experience but retains that fun. Everything in the game just works well together.
I do have concerns. I fear that with it being a toy game, you won’t develop in any way within the game, limiting your capability to simply what parts you can afford. Moreover, the fact some enemies being immune to certain attacks may force you to purchase add-ons to progress through the game. These comments go back to what I mention in the first paragraph; will the game remain the same unless you purchase more pieces. Then you must ask yourself, what experience am I buying here?
My time with the game was that of joy but the concerns are too deep for me to jump on board yet, is this just a shameless money-maker or does the game have actual heart? I’m still on the fence and I’ll wait to hear the full verdict.
Starlink: A Battle for Atlas is out on Xbox, Switch and PlayStation 4 October 16th.