Keeping The Toys-To-Life Movement Alive: Starlink: Battle For Atlas Review
It was E3 2017 when Starlink was first revealed. As the reveal trailer played, vast open worlds were explored, each uniquely different from one another. As the trailer continued it cut to a person swapping out small pieces of a spaceship which was placed on
top of a DualShock 4 controller. Then another, and another.
In two short minutes, we were given a rough idea of what Ubisoft Toronto’s game was. Starlink: Battle of Atlas was a brand new IP, tackling the toys-to-life genre, set in the stars.
I was initially hesitant. An unestablished IP getting into a market that both Disney, and LEGO had to let go of.
Flashforward to E3 2018. We received another trailer. This time, the graphics were more refined, and the action was paced out in a way that drew me in. We finally got a good look at the Starlink crew, and then he showed up. Out of the blue, Fox and his Arwing ship closed out the trailer, and the internet collectively lost their mind.
Nintendo clearly saw something in Starlink in order to allow the studio to use their character. From that moment on Starlink remained on my radar and I wanted to know more.
Starlink: Battle For Atlas, like most Ubisoft titles, in an open-world action game. What sets Starlink apart from all other Ubisoft titles is the entire game is played in a ship. No climbing obstacles. No on-foot traversal of large cities. Starlink places you in a cockpit of a ship as you explore the Atlas star system.
After stumbling across an alien life form, Victor St Grand embarks on a mission to discover the origins of this entity. St Grand establishes the Starlink Initiative to help him with this cause. Within minutes of the game’s opening, you are introduced to the quirky characters of the Starlink Initiative. Shaid instantly stuck out as one of the more memorable characters of the bunch. She brings a certain amount of grit to an overall bubbly and optimistic crew.
Starlink: Battle For Atlas quickly gets into the action. In mere minutes you are behind the controls in one of many ships available. Playing on the Switch, we are also given the introduction to Fox McCloud and the rest of the Star Fox team. After a brief scuffle with an evil warlord in the Atlas star system, known as Grax and his Legion army, you and your ship are docked on a planet.
It is during these first few hours that Starlink staggers. As your ships hyper-drive system is down, you are stranded on this planet and must repair your ship. During this time you are thrown a whole bunch of backstory, and the initial missions are a bit one-note. However, it is the first time that I was able to get a feel of the menu systems.
Once you’re able to recover your hyperdrive, the Atlas system opens up and you’re able to fly seamlessly from one planet to another. No loading screens or breaks from immersion. This is when Starlink ramps up.
Similar to No Man’s Sky, each planet is visually different and offers their unique biomes to explore. All planets are fully rendered and offer a 360 degree plain to explore. There are some beautiful vistas within Starlink. A lot of work went into the level design of this game. There are moments when the light will hit a planet just right and it enhances the deep colours of the planet and sky.
In classic Ubisoft fashion, there is a lot to explore and do on each planet. Outposts will offer rewards for completing side missions, there are enemy bases to take over to receive Electum and other resources to help upgrade your ship. Warden Towers become fast travel points upon completion of simple puzzles.
Unfortunately, some of the tasks become somewhat repetitious and the rewards don’t always make up for the time spent. Players are typically rewarded upgrade materials and weapon mods upon completion of each activity. Mods can be placed in the slots of both individual weapons and the ship itself. You can add boosts to defense, offence, or elemental damage. Once you obtain more mods you can really get into the nitty-gritty of fine-tuning your fire rate, range, etc.
As you progress through the main campaign, Legion Primes are introduced. As more time passes, the Legion's hold on a planet increases. In order to combat the effects, players must complete activities to increase their influence on the planet. Upgrading armories and observatories will also help. Or, you can bring the fight to the Legion and take out Extractors and Primes.
This mechanic involves a bit of grinding and time management. Playing on normal difficulty, everything was manageable and did not involve obsessing over each planet. The higher the difficulty, the faster the Legion’s influence spreads. So keep that in mind.
You can also spend time diving into the lore and backstory of Starlink. Throughout the game, you’ll unlock entries to the Collection tab in your menu. Each one will give you some rough history of the planets, the Legion, and characters making up the Starlink Initiative.
When I first got my hands on Starlink: Battle For Atlas during Fan Expo Toronto, it showed me exactly how deep the mechanics go. On face value, Starlink looks to be a family-friendly game, with surface level mechanics and a toys-to-life aspect thrown in for good measure.
No, it goes so much further. Each ship has its stats that can be tweaked from upgrades. Same as the two weapon slots on each wing. The most compelling aspect of this is the ability to mix and match weapons freely. Mixing two different elements such as fire and ice can result in some serious damage output. Some enemies may be weaker to a specific weapon type. When coming across a specific enemy, you can swap weapons within seconds and continue on your way.
Ship weapons can also be flipped on the ship. Meaning if you are flying between planets and you get flanked by some outlaw ships, you can turn one gun to cover your rear and use one to shoot what lies ahead. Starlink give you the tools to be as creative as you want.
As we talk about the ships and weapons, it should be known that you can play the game front to back without ever purchasing a ship peripheral. You can play the entire game digitally and have access to a suite of characters and ships. Purchasing the physical copy will grant you access to the toy, pilot, and weapons. However, players will be locked to the items they purchased and will have to buy additional sets to unlock more content.
Besides being able to play with the peripheral and mix weapons, playing with the physical toys will cut down on menu management. I played the game digitally so any time I wanted to swap weapons I had to stop the game, get into the menu screen and manually select the weapons I wanted. It became somewhat tedious initially, but muscle memory kicked in and brought down the amount of time spent.
While I played the game digitally, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the physical model toys during preview events. Each ship is built to perfection. A lot of love and care went into putting these together. Taking a look at Fox’s Arwing, so much attention to detail went into the ship. The colours are vibrant and rich.
These are not your run-of-the-mill toys. For toy enthusiasts, the ships are built so well that you may even want to show off your collection. Ubisoft has also released transparent stands for their ships so you can showcase your collection next to your desk or on a shelf.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room. It was apparent that Starlink gained a ton of buzz after the Fox reveal.
Players gain access to the titular character and his companions exclusively when playing on Switch. This drove a lot of players to purchase the game on Nintendo’s console. For good reason too. Fox and his crew received a ton of care and attention in Starlink. Ubisoft even got the original voice actors to reprise their roles for the game.
Fox is fully playable from start to finish. You can barrel roll your way through the entire game. He even receives a fair share of exclusive missions. As he crosses paths with the Starlink Initiative, he gets a helping hand in tracking down the leader of Star Wolf, Wolf O’Donnell.
Any time a Star Fox-centric mission appeared, it would instantly become my priority. Ubisoft worked hard to incorporate the Nintendo franchise into their game and treated the characters with the respect they deserved. For many, this was the selling point of Starlink. After years of disappointment, Star Fox fans finally got the game they’ve been waiting for, and it came from the most unexpected party.
Even though Fox's involvement has been the talk of the town, this is not his story. Fox will occasionally interject, but its characters like Mason, Chase, and Shaid that are pushing the story forward. These characters are really deserving of the spotlight. They're very endearing and I hope to see them fleshed out if and when a sequel is developed.
Overall, Ubisoft Toronto delivered a stellar experience. Despite having the advantage of an established Nintendo character incorporated for Switch players, this brand new IP has legs to stand on its own on other consoles.
The aspect of toys-to-life could have been a death sentence as the genre was thought to be on its way out. However, Ubisoft Toronto managed to balance it out and not make the toys a requirement for the game to succeed. Players who enjoy collecting and building can find rewarding experiences and digital players are not left in the dust.
Some of the optional content is lacking in variety and rewards. However, I firmly believe that Starlink: Battle For Atlas is a strong title. Once you get past the tutorial stages, the game opens up and completionists should get a kick from the Influence mechanics. I hope that Ubisoft Toronto has the opportunity to continue with these characters.
Any time Ubisoft launches a new IP the studio learns what works and what doesn’t to evolve their franchises. I hope that Starlink can follow in the steps of Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs. If given the chance, Starlink 2 has a lot of potential.
Available October 16th
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Switch
Ubisoft Canada provided a code for Starlink: Battle For Atlas for review purposes.