I'm white knuckling it through a massive asteroid field in a desperate attempt to out-gun and out-maneuver some particularly voracious space pirates. My guns are hardly making a dent and my ship's health is critically low. I quickly try a few last-ditch barrel rolls to try and survive long enough for my shields to regenerate, but it's pointless. My ship goes up in a ball of fire and just like that, it's over. Thankfully I have extra ships on hand so quickly grab one from the table in front of me and snap it onto the controller mount. I'm back boys. I quickly pull a 180 and line up the pirate leader in my sights. I squeeze the triggers, expecting a light-show of lazer fire, but nothing happens. I forgot to attach guns to the ship. I quickly rummage through the box next to me and grab the first two guns that my fingers touch. I snap them on quickly and get ready to defeat the enemy ships. Something still isn't right though. One of my guns is firing backwards. In my moment of panic, I mistakenly put one of them on the wrong way around. It still works, just not how I want it to. The fact that this can happen in the game is a very smart bit of programming and admittedly left a mammoth grin on my face. What a fun and frantic five minutes that was.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is arriving at a very unusual time. We've seen the rise and fall of the toys-to-life genre over the last few years, with brands as huge as LEGO and Disney failing to gain footing in that corner of the market. I don't know if kids are getting too much pocket money these days but the idea of paying $60 for an extra ship for my game would have shaken twelve year old me to the very core. As much as I love the idea, the price presents a bit of a roadblock to the target audience.
Before we get on to the game itself, some clarification between the different versions is definitely required. The cheapest way to play is digital, if you're not a fan of the toys. I'll break down the many different versions and add-ons below:
Digital - Starlink: Battle for Atlas - $124.95 NZD
- Starlink Game.
- Includes: 4 Starships : Zenith, Neptune, Pulse, Lance.
- 6 Pilots : Mason, Judge, Chase, Hunter, Levi, Razor.
- 12 Weapons : Flamthrower, Frost Barrage, Shredder, Levitator, Volcano, Imploder, Iron Fist, Alt. Freeze Ray, Crusher, Super Gatling, Shockwave, Alt. Gauss.
Digital - Starlink: Battle for Atlas - Deluxe Edition - $157.95 NZD
- Starlink Game.
- 5 Starships : Zenith, Neptune, Pulse, Lance, Nadir.
- 9 Pilots : Mason, Judge, Chase, Hunter, Shaid, LEvi, Razor, Eli, Kharl.
- 15 Weapons: Flame Thrower, Frost Barrage, Shredder, Levitator, Volcano, Imploder, Nullifier, Iron Fist, Alt. Freeze Ray, Crusher, Super Gatling, Shockwave, Alt. Gauss, Hailstorm, Alt. Meteor.
Digital Starlink: Battle for Atlas™ - Collection Pack - $136.95 NZD
- 4 Starships : Neptune, Pulse, Lance, Nadir.
- 8 Pilots : Levi Razor, Eli, Kharl, Chase, Hunter, Judge, Shaid.
- 12 Weapons : Levitator, Volcano, Imploder, Nullifier, Iron Fist, Alt. Freeze Ray, Crusher, Super Gatling, Shockwave, Alt. Gauss, Hailstorm, Alt. Meteor.
Digital Starship Pack - $29.95 NZD
- 1 Starship.
- 1 Pilot.
- 1 Weapon.
Digital Pilot Pack - $8.95 NZD
Digital Weapon Pack - $12.45 NZD
Physical - XB1 & PS4 Starlink: Battle for Atlas Starter Pack - $118.00 NZD
- Starlink Game.
- Controller Mount.
- Zenith Starship.
- Mason Rana Pilot.
- 3 Weapons: Flame Thrower, Frost Barrage, Shredder.
Physical - Nintendo Switch Starlink: Battle for Atlas Starter Pack- $118.00 NZD
- Starlink Game.
- Controller Mount.
- Arwing Starship.
- Digital Zenith Starship.
- Mason Rana Pilot.
- Star Fox Pilot Figure.
- 2 Weapons: Flamethrower, Frost Barrage.
Physical Single Starship Pack - $58.00 NZD
- 1 Starship.
- 1 Pilot.
- 1 Weapon.
Physical Pilot Pack - $17.99 NZD
- 12 Pilot.
Physical Weapon Pack - $29.99 NZD
- 2 Weapons.
You can grab everything for the Starlink physical versions here.
While it's possible to get through the whole game with the starter pack, it takes a lot of the fun out of the game. Playing through the entire game with only one ship (or two if you get the Switch version) and two weapons start to feel stale, even with the mod system. A huge part of the fun comes with experimenting with different pilot abilities, different weapon combos and mixing and matching a frankenstein of a ship. At one point I was cruising around in a monstrosity of a ship with 3 wings on each side, all poking out at odd angles, with a gun attached to the tip of each side.
When Ubisoft announced Starlink, it rightfully drew many comparisons to No Man's Sky, as it too enticed players with the possibilities of seamlessly flying from one planet to another with nary a loading screen in sight. Having played more hours on both than I care to admit, I can safely say these comparisons are warranted. Both games look strikingly similar. However, where No Man's Sky put players at the centre of an endless (barren) universe with countless planets to explore, Starlink instead opts for just seven pre-designed planets with a lot more to do on them. You won't be gathering resources to fuel your expeditions either. Thankfully, Starlink is a story-driven action game at heart, so the focus is instead on the ships, weapons and pilots, which make up the heart and soul of the game.
If you only purchase the base game, you'll have one ship. If that ship gets destroyed in battle, you're forced to reload at the closest safe planet and will have to painfully make your way back to the fight, only to start it from the very beginning. On the other hand, if you have other ships on hand, these function as extra lives. You simply unclip the dead ship, snap on the next and you're instantly thrust back into the centre of the fight. Just don't forget to attach weapons...
I was surprised at the amount of depth on offer throughout Starlink's systems. Your pilot, Ship and weapons each have their own upgrades or mods available. Pilots have unique perks that can turn the tide in particularly tough battles. Starfox had one of my favourites, which sees him summoning one of his crew to aid you in the fight. The remixed SNES Corneria stage music got my foot tapping along every single time. Each skill can also be upgraded several times which gives the game a satisfying sense of progression. Each ship has its own set of stats, ranging from speed and defense to handling. You'll come across mods during your journey which are applied to your ship and weapons. These all have a rarity level from grey commons to purple rares. There's definitely an overwhelming feeling when you first jump into the upgrade menus and see how deceptively deep the options are, but it quickly becomes second nature after the first couple of hours. If you're a fan of RPGs, you'll have no trouble at all.
The open world mission structure does at times lead to a fair bit of repetition. Sure, you'll be travelling between seven different planets, but the activities you do on them stay relatively the same throughout the fifteen to twenty hours it takes to wrap up the campaign. Each planet is controlled by Grax's Forgotten Legion forces and it's up to you and the rest of the Starlink squad to wrestle back control. You do this in a variety of different ways. As you explore you'll come across Imp Hives. Clearing these of enemies and destroying it will give you the option to establish an outpost in its place. These range from an Observatory, which will reveal a portion of the planet map to an Armory that sends out ships, which will protect the planet while you're exploring elsewhere. Each of these outposts can then be upgraded for a cost. On top of eliminating Imp Hives are a huge amount of side missions, ranging from freeing allies to destroying extractors. Once you've done all of that busy work, you'll be free to take on the Prime, which is a hulking beast that takes a serious amount of firepower (and lives) to take down. Each planet follows this same formula, and it's here that Starlink suffers a bit.
I would have loved to see a bit more variety in objectives and enemies, as it gets a bit tiresome taking on the same ones for the umpteenth time. Luckily the combat is an absolute blast. It's constantly satisfying to work your way through the numerous weapons, figuring out the best elemental combos. Say for instance, you have a flamethrower and another gun that creates a pulsing mass of gravity that sucks enemies into its centre. Using these in tandem will create a fire vortex that will deal increased damage to your enemies. Speaking of enemies, these guys look A LOT like some of the aliens in Destiny.
Hovering on a planets surface feels fantastic. When you're boosting across the various terrains, it feels a bit like what I would want a Star Wars pod racing game to feel like. When you slow down for combat and the occasional platforming type challenge, you can use the ships thrusters to hop and glide over obstacles and gaps. The ship feels appropriately floaty and was never too difficult to maneuver during these sections. Later in the game I picked up a mod that gave my ship a double jump which made these a breeze. You can also dash to the sides to avoid enemy fire and with a bit of practice and deft timing, you'll be hopping and barrel rolling around them as you blast them to oblivion. There are several inside parts throughout the game too. I genuinely enjoyed these and had a particularly good time whilst carrying a heavy missile head through a corridor of deadly lazer beams.
Once you head into the depths of space, you'll come across wreckage to pillage, asteroid fields to weave through and a shocking amount of aggro space pirates. Space dogfights remained a blast throughout. Thanks to some very sticky auto-aim (you can set this to varying levels of strength), and fast, responsive controls, the combat truly shines.
I obviously chose to play Starlink on the Nintendo Switch for the extra Star Fox content. The Star Fox missions were a fun diversion from the main campaign but with only a handful of missions, it's all over rather quickly. The game runs surprisingly well on the Switch in both docked and handheld mode. Resolution obviously takes a pretty big dip in handheld, but thanks to some technical wizardry, the framerate stays mostly consistent. I would love to see optional motion controls added in the future. Having your ship attached to your controller is basically begging for the extra functionality. It's unusual that this version puts you at an immediate advantage when compared to players on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The Switch version also comes with a digital version of the ship included with the PS4 and Xbox One, as well as the toy for Star Fox's Arwing. This means Switch players essentially have two lives where the others only have one. It would have been amazing if Ubisoft could have done something similar with iconic characters like Master Chief for Xbox and Ratchet & Clank for the PlayStation.
The entire game is also playable with a friend. They can jump in and out at any moment, which makes for some absolutely chaotic fun. You can't travel too far apart while playing co-op, so don't expect to fly to opposite ends of the galaxy. The fact that Ubisoft has somehow managed to make an open-world game like this playable in split-screen is yet another one of the technical marvels on display in Starlink. The tech is amazing. Now we just need a bit more mission and enemy variety to really elevate it from good to great. I'm hopeful that the Starlink we're playing now will receive a bevy of updates that continue to fill out the world and add some much needed depth to the activities on offer. Some steady foundations are already in place. Now we just need the rest of the house to be built.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas feels like the gaming equivalent of a Saturday morning cartoon. It looks wonderful and most importantly, it's a ton of fun. The story is a bit throwaway but the characters are a lovable, if a bit one-dimensional group. I enjoyed it far more than I expected to, but the cost involved with making it a complete experience will be far too high for most. For huge fans of anything space themed, it's hard not to recommend giving Starlink a go. Just make sure you look into the different options available and decide what works best for you.