STAFF REVIEW of Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Xbox One)

Saturday, November 10, 2018.
by Kirby Yablonski

Starlink: Battle for Atlas Box art A few years ago, Ubisoft unveiled a trailer for a new IP at their annual E3 press conference, and that IP was Starlink, which is a ‘Toys to Life’ game. At the time, it was just a teaser, and a bit of gameplay to show their vision, but not much information was released to those in attendance. To know that there was a new IP in production from Ubisoft was pretty exciting, given that they are well known for their Far Cry games, Assassins Creed games, and of course Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six games. Fast forward to the present, and Ubisoft has finally released the retail version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas.

I have to admit, my experience with the game has been non-existent before I got to review it, and I was not expecting much from it. That is not to say that I didn’t have faith; however, with many Toys to Life games, like Warner Bros. LEGO franchise and Disney’s Infinity being cancelled, and Activision’s Skylanders being currently on hiatus, I was not 100% confident given the status of past games in the genre. Well, after spending about 2 weeks playing it off and on, I have to say that I am very surprised with the Starlink experience.

Let’s get something off the table right away, as this game does utilize physical toys when playing. They are not particularly cheap, as a look on shows ships are $39.99 (Cdn), weapon packs sell for around $14 (Cdn) and pilots are about $13 (Cdn) each. The toys are very well designed, and built, and putting the pilot on the included adapter (found in the starter pack), and then adding the ship, is pretty easy. That being said, the thought of having to buy new toys for a new game may turn some parents, or gamers, off, as the investment may just be too much. But don’t worry, you can buy a digital version of the game which includes many of the pilots, ships and weapons in-game already, and you actually save money doing so. With that in mind, it really does come down to how much money you want to spend and if you really want the physical toys versus using the digital versions when playing.

The story of Starlink: Battle for Atlas is not a bad one, but it is one that has been played out before in many other sci-fi games. It all about good versus evil. You are part of very rag-tag group of individuals who are on the Equinox and involved in the ‘Starlink’ initiative. You’ll learn more about the origins of all the crew, and you’ll be introduced to new characters who join you as you venture forth. You fight ‘The Legion’, and the mysterious being that controls them. Saving the Atlas universe is your main objective. The narrative plays out through various cutscenes, as well as some comic book like panels that pop up during certain instances. You also get a lot of chatter from the rest of the crew, as you explore the planets, that unveil key points or what you need to do next. You can get through the games story in few short sittings totaling about 10 hours or so, but for those who want to enjoy the ride, collect all the stuff, do all the side quests, and level everything up to the max, you’re looking at least around 18-22 hours or more. Heck, I spent over 2 hours just playing the tutorial, not knowing is was just that.

In terms of the overall gameplay, I found it to be somewhat of a mixed bag. It is by no means a bad playing game, it’s just that the deeper you go into it, the more repetitive things become. You’ll be completing fetch quests, conquering and defending various bases or areas, destroying extractors, scanning the various planetary creatures, finding minerals and resources to help upgrade the various mining hubs and observatories on each planet, and more. They are definitely fun at first, but once you get 4 to 5 planets in, it can start to feel tedious. As you progress, certain areas will incorporate more difficult enemies, so make sure you’re the right level when facing them. You’ll also experience some outer space combat above the planets too; however, there is not much variance in this specific area, given you can only fight Legion enemies so many times before it becomes something of a ‘tions’ type event.

With that being said, there are some RPG elements to the game. First off, you earn skill points that can help to level up specific skills of your pilot. It will take a while to collect the skill points required to max out each character’s skill tree, but you can focus on various areas at first as you eventually max it up. There is some thinking involved in regard to where you put the points you collect, and you can match it to your play style.

Starlink’s ship weapons are each elemental based (Fire, Ice, Gravity, Kinetic and Stasis). Both your ship, and the weapons on it, can be modded with different types of mods. You will collect a lot of mods as you explore each planet (e.g. randomly or hidden ‘chests’, or when solving warden puzzles), and they range in both rarity and effect. For example, one mod may increase your defence, where as a rarer mod will not only increase your defence, but also add a resistance buff to certain elements. You can also fuse lower level mods of the same nature (need to have 3) to make rarer ones. If you put different elemental weapons on your ship and it will cause different effects. I found that when mixing gravity and ice I somehow got electricity effects. My favourite weapon combo was a deploying a gravity bubble, which would surround an enemy (or bunch of enemies), and then I’d fire another element into it causing various elemental effects to surround those who I wanted to defeat.

It’s amazing how quick one can upgrade any of their favourite weapons and place it on the ship’s wings. You can do it physically with the toys, or digitally with the digital version. You can even ‘flip’ a weapon to face a different way, so while one weapon may fire forward, another weapon can fire in another direction, such as having one that covers your back.

Oh, and one more thing, you can upgrade the Equinox as well. This is an important feature as you are able to level up 9 different areas, including the ability to create high level mods, the ability to open spots for more mod slots for your ship and weapons, the ability to carry more planetary resources, and more. It is interesting that they allow you to level up these types of areas, as it gives you incentive to explore more, earn more resources, and level up the specific areas of the Equinox once all the required resources or XP is met.

Starlink controls buttery smooth. The assigned functions of the analog sticks and buttons are very easy to learn, and the control you have on your in-game ship is quite good. You’ll be able to zip across a planet’s surface, jump over obstacles or enemy attacks, use your shield or boost without missing a beat, and head back to space with a press of the RB and pointing the ship skyward. Space combat is also smooth, if not simple, as you don’t have to be super accurate as many weapons track your enemy. Spaceship pilot candidates of all ages will enjoy what the game has to offer in this area.

Starlink offers a ‘drop-in/drop-out’ multiplayer experience for 2 players. When you buy a physical ship, it opens up a digital copy for a second player to use it along side you. There is no online multiplayer, which I think is a missed opportunity, as an online cooperative PvE experience is something that this game could have even shined more with.

The visuals in the game really did surprise me. I don’t know what I expected, but what I experienced was a fairly eye popping universe that is powered by Ubisoft’s Snowdrop Engine. The different planets do manage to separate themselves from one another in terms of their environments. For example, one planet is very sandy and has what is best described as ancient bones of previous inhabitants scattered throughout, even structures are made of such, while another planet has alien looking vegetation, lakes of super-cooled liquid, and a blue hue to it. There are different forms of creatures on each planet too and the various types are excusive to each planet you visit. You’ll also come across wreckages of different types of ships, you will battle different types of alien life, or the Legion of course, and you’ll see different structures as you progress from planet to planet. Adding further to the visuals are the little things, like the way water, or any water like substance, ripples as you skim across the top with your ship.

On a slightly negative note, you may come across some muddy textures, but they are far from being a game changing experience and I didn’t notice many of them. The frame rate is steady though and it runs with nary a hiccup. I was playing on the Xbox One X, but I was also sent the Nintendo Switch version to check out the Nintendo exclusive Starfox content. In terms of any visual differences between the Xbox One X and Switch, there is, what I believe, a resolution boost on the Xbox One X, but the game does not particularly look like it was ‘optimized’ for Microsoft’s mid-gen upgrade.

As for the sound, I was using a sound bar and a set of high end gaming headphones at different times. In terms of the latter, I felt that I was indeed in the middle of the action. From enemy attacks, launching into space, to just flying around the planet collecting planetary resources, scanning creatures and exploring the various structures. Everything sounded balanced and it helped the gaming experience. Using the sound bar was pretty good too, as there was ample bass and everything was well mixed, you just don’t get that surround sound feeling. Along with a fairly good library of sound effects, the music is just as good if not better. What was evident to me was how well it melded with the on-screen action, and it was not overpowering nor was it annoying. Finally, there is a lot of voice acting during the gameplay itself, as well as in the cutscenes that tell the game’s story. Each character has a personality of some sort, and as much as it is fairly well acted, don’t expect an Academy Award performance.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a solid game, and one that could be the start of a franchise that could, and should, get a sequel or two. The toys aren’t necessary to play, but they are great looking and solid models that are very functional given how easy it is to add or swap out weapons. The problem here is that the toys will add up in term of dollars spent if you want to collect them all. And yes, Starlink can feel repetitive at times, but the control, visuals and sound, and the RPG-lite features make for a pretty good gaming experience. I really did enjoy my time with Starlink: Battle for Atlas and I have no problem recommending it to any gamer out there.

Overall: 8.1 / 10
Gameplay: 8.1 / 10
Visuals: 8.2 / 10
Sound: 8.1 / 10


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