Flying through space and believing that you can go anywhere and discover anything imaginable is a hard thing for a game to capture. Similarly, the prospect of finding something completely new in an uncharted location, that feels natural and not placed by a human is just as tough to accomplish. Starlink: Battle For Atlas accomplishes this and a lot more.
Starlink: Battle For Atlas Review – Characters Galore
Starlink opens with your Crew’s base of operations, the spaceship ‘The Equinox’, arriving in the Atlas Star System. Upon arriving they are attacked by a nefarious, mask-wearing cult who kidnap St. Grand (The Equinox’s captain) and send The Equinox crashing into the nearby planet of Kirite.
With St. Grand gone it comes down to the rest of your crew to rebuild The Equinox, rescue your captain and uncover the motives of the cult. Starlink’s plot and narrative beats are predictable and simplistic. The story ends where I thought it would and there are no major twists or turns that caught me off guard.
However, what truly shines are the characters that are a part of that story. The Equinox’s crew consists of a varied cast of characters both in personality and look. Almost everyone is likeable, with the Exception of Levi, who is your stereotypical teenager who takes selfies and thinks farts are funny and explosions are cool.
His dialogue is terrible, such as when he talked about a plant that emitted gas, “They’re filled with putrid gas? Hahaha! More like a fart balloon, am I right?” This, along with basically everything he did, made me roll my eyes or groan. He doesn’t even have a purpose in the game, making him feel largely pointless.
Beside Levi, all the other characters personalities and backgrounds are interesting, despite them being mostly one-dimensional. I particularly enjoyed Shaid’s reserved and introspective personality, only speaking her mind when she had something valuable to say. Chase’s history was also a favourite of mine, with her shooting to fame as a street-racer in the Favelas of Brazil and continuing on, despite crashing and injuring herself. These backstories are learnt in a side mission during the game and It was nice to learn a bit about the people I had spent five hours with.
Most characters are humans but as you travel to the seven planets in the Atlas Star System, you meet characters with wacky and inventive designs. A highlight is the character of Eli who is a tree that has a typical Gunslinger personality. But what really stands out is how instead of a hat he uses the flower on his head. This looks particularly cool in cutscenes.
In fact, I have to praise Ubisoft Toronto for creating some gorgeous looking cutscenes with unique character designs, that are on par with something you would see in a Disney Pixar movie.
Starlink: Battle For Atlas Review – Discovery Is The Key
A sense of discovery is integral to every space adventure game and Ubisoft Toronto nailed it. The open world of the Atlas Star System is fully explorable at the very beginning of the game. I was able to go anywhere and visit the seven planets in any order I wanted. These planets do vary in difficulty; however, the option is always there to visit one of the higher level planets in The Dark Sector of the system. There is a main campaign that carries you through the planets in a set order, but that added sense of freedom was a nice addition, making the game feel liberating and not as if it was restricting me to a single path.
The planets that you visit in the Atlas Star System are all varied and have their own unique identifiers and feel. Kirite is marked by barren deserts and tall rock structures. Haven’s red tropical forests look beautiful. And, Necrom’s devoid atmosphere, barren of all life is a haunting and challenging place.
The variety in the game’s planets helps add to that feeling of discovery as each one feels unique and unlike the last. They also all look visually gorgeous with plants flowing in the breeze. The varied colours really add to this visual appeal with Haven’s red landscape being a standout.
When I landed on a planet I was greeted with a wealth of side activities to complete. Some, like discovering and scanning wildlife, were fun, as I consistently wanted to discover the next wacky creation Ubisoft Toronto had brought to life. However, the majority of things to do on a planet were repetitive and largely unmemorable. The options are limited in variety as well.
Wreckages required me to defend a crashed ship for around a minute. Ruins asked me to pluck the same door off a building over and over to open a crate inside. Even the activities that are less frequent grew stale over time. Spires asked me to solve an ostensibly cryptic puzzle, in order to gain some loot, but it quickly devolved into matching the colour of the orb with your weapon, not entirely engaging to say the least.
Completing these activities will reward you with mods for your Starship and Weapons that grant buffs to various statistics, like boosting frost armor or increasing XP gained. On top of that, there are pilot skills that grant larger upgrades tailored to each specific Pilot, such as increasing all damage dealt and improving accuracy.
Each Pilot also has their own Pilot Ability which acts as an ultimate. This can vary from granting an unlimited boost to turning invisible for an amount of time. These can also be upgraded. However, if you are focusing on the main story, you will likely never see the full potential of these abilities as upgrade points are earned slowly.
The activities are one of the weakest aspects of Starlink, they are largely uninspired and feel outdated. Especially seeing as some of these activities are repeated on a planet fifteen times. That is the same for all seven planets in the game, leading to 90 of the same activity for me to complete.
Thankfully, Starlink rarely forces you to complete these activities, with the option to solely play through the main campaign. Although in the third act, completing some side activities on a planet does become necessary.
Starlink: Battle For Atlas Review – Dogfights and Dodging
When not exploring the planets of Atlas, the majority of my time was spent fighting off one of the game’s two enemy factions. The major faction is The Forgotten Legion who are a race of sleek looking robots, led by the game’s main antagonist Grax. The Forgotten Legion varied and fun to fight, with various combatant types, wielding a number of different elements.
The Imps are small and quick and come in a large group, requiring frequent dodging and close range weaponry. Giants, on the other hand, are large, hulking beasts that deal an immense amount of damage, and required me to keep my distance and hit them with precision weaponry.
The other faction is The Outlaws who are pirates and attack you in their ships. They are less interesting overall as their ships almost all look the same, apart from some minor differences. However, they still offer a nice bit of variation, considering the game tendency to repeatedly use the same few enemy types.
Combat in Starlink is surprisingly engaging and enjoyable. Dodging incoming blasts and jumping over attacks feels incredibly satisfying. Adding to the fun is the game’s arsenal of weaponry. With fifteen different options and five different elements, I constantly found myself switching between weapons to pick the right loadout for the right battle.
For example, the Flamethrower was incredibly effective against the fast-moving, sporadic Imps. Switching weapons and taking advantage of an enemy’s weakness is also key to maximising your damage output, with Fire Giants being weak to Ice damage and vice versa. Similarly combining elements is massively rewarding, combining a Stasis Rocket and a fire weapon causes a combo to occur increasing the damage dealt.
Space combat is less engaging with less varied enemies. However, it adds a nice bit of variety. It also is not that prevalent within the game, a lot more of the combat takes place on the surface of the planets.
There is a caveat when it comes to the weaponry in Starlink. Two of the game’s elements are locked behind additional purchases if you buy the physical edition of the game. Stasis and Gravity come in an additional Weapons Pack that can only be purchased separately. All additional packs are available to purchase digitally, so you do not have to worry about a limited stock of the toys. I talk more about the toys and the various ways to buy the game further on.
The final note I have to make about the game’s combat is that the Prime boss battles are really good. Consisting of multiple phases, the feeling of taking on this giant foe and dodging its attacks never got old. These boss battles are tough, but they are some of the best moments of the game. The music also adds to these battles with some great orchestral and synthesized pieces placed throughout the game.
Starlink Battle For Atlas Review – Toys-To-Life Turbulence
Starlink: Battle For Atlas also features a wide range of toys that can be used with the game. At launch, there is the starter pack, four starship packs, four weapons packs, and four pilot packs. These can all be purchased as physical toys or as digital purchases via the PS Store. Surprisingly, having the ship mounted on my controller did not cause any discomfort and to be frank it felt as if I was just holding a normal controller. So, if you do want to buy the physical toys you do not have to worry about any discomfort.
Although, the toys are relatively pointless. With all the packs being available digitally, I would highly recommend making a digital purchase over a physical one for a number of reasons. When playing digitally, ships, weapons, and pilots can all be changed within the game’s menu, meaning you do not have to faff around unplugging and swapping different parts of your ship, whilst trying to balance the controller and not break anything.
On top of that, the Standard Digital Edition of the game comes with more ships, more weapons and more pilots than the Physical Starter Pack, meaning that you get more of the game’s content for the exact same price. This also negates the issue of two of the game’s elements being locked behind an additional purchase. Therefore, the toys are largely a visual novelty and actually cause you to spend more money than if you were to buy the game digitally.
For children, I understand the choice to purchase the physical toys, but if you are an adult, the toys are more hassle than their worth. Whilst on the subject of children, the game features split-screen co-op which is a nice addition if a parent and child want to play together. It works well and made for some fun moments when I tested it out.
You also do not have to worry about buying more toys as the second player can use the same ship, pilot and weapons as the first. However, the reduced field of view can make it a little tricky to figure out what is going on occasionally.
Starlink surprised me with an engaging narrative and a likeable cast of characters. Its combat is both fun and addictive. The various planets offer a sense of discovery as I explored the gorgeous landscapes and fought off challenging and tough foes.
Despite, the game’s side activities being repetitive and bland, Ubisoft Toronto has crafted a gorgeous looking game, with a charming main campaign. If your looking for a good open-world space sim, then Starlink should be your next stop. Although I wouldn’t buy the toys, they are a ripoff.