Perhaps you’ll find this amusing, and it once again illustrates just how little attention I pay to gaming news. I saw a short video of Starlink: Battle for Atlas a while ago and thought, huh, that looks pretty cool. Maybe I’ll buy it when it comes out.
I then proceeded to forget about it until it showed up in the Switch’s eShop. I bough the deluxe digital version, waited for it to download and then fired it up. The first thing it told me to do is attach one of my Starlink toys to my special contoller, and there’s me, like, wait, what now? Yes, I admit it, I didn’t know Starlink was a “toys to life” game, as they call them – and I swear, the Nintendo eShop doesn’t say a damn thing about it, go and look for yourselves.
So, if you’re under twelve years old or just a mad person, you can buy the full collection of toys and swappable parts for Starlink and then attach them to the special controller mount, recombining them in real life and have it instantly reflected in the game. I have no intention of doing this and can’t imagine why anyone would want to – thankfully, it’s completely optional. You can play the game “digitally”, as the option says, using in-game menus to swap ships and parts.
Unfortunately, this relief was marred by an awful realisation that I wouldn’t be unlocking any cool weapons or ship parts as gameplay rewards – if it doesn’t have a corresponding model in real life, it’s not in the game. And because I bought the deluxe edition, I essentially had everything right away. A bit of a downer, realising that there aren’t any cool weapons or ships to be earned.
Now that the embarrassing story is out of the way, the thing that appealed to me about Starlink was the same thing that appealed to me about No Man’s Sky, a comparison I’m sure has been made by other reviewers. Seamless transitions between space flight and planet surface flight was something I wanted since the DOS days, when I used to play games like Wing Commander, X-Wing, and TIE Fighter. No Man’s Sky gave me that – unfortunately it gave me almost nothing else. The game was boring and there was nothing to do, although I heard it received a fair number of content updates, so maybe I should check it out again.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas avoids falling into that same trap, and there are missions and activities galore littered all over the planets and even a few in space. Okay, Starlink only has a single solar system to fly in as opposed to No Man’s Sky’s entire galaxy – but I’d rather have a small area with lots to do than an incomprehensibly massive one with bugger-all to do.
In case you were wondering, Starlink refers to a technology in the game’s story, allowing the characters to instantly warp new ships and weapons to themselves, even in mid combat. This technology was developed by one of the crew members of the Equinox, an intergalactic starship from Earth. The crew and their leader came to the Atlas star system trying to find the homeworld of their alien pal, Judge. Shortly after arriving, their leader is abducted by a crazy warlord and they have to mount a rescue mission and eventually rally the inhabitants of several planets to fight the warlord’s regime.
You may have noticed I didn’t use any of their names, and it’s because I can’t remember any of them. The characters are a multiracial, multicultural cast designed by checklist to be as safely inclusive as possible, even at the expense of nuance. None of them are even remotely interesting, so I chose the DLC maniac cat character, Startail. She was obviously designed to be the loud, annoying one, but I found her much less grating than the committee-designed core cast and one or two of her outbursts made me almost consider giving the game a courtesy chuckle.
Each character has a special attack they can unleash once they’ve charged up enough energy by shooting enemies. These attacks can be things like calling in air strikes from the Equinox, going invisible, slowing time and, in Startail’s case, bombarding an area with a sustained missile barrage.
You can create a unique ship by clipping together different bodies, wings and weapons, either via menus or using the physical toys. There are also mod slots on the ship and weapons, and these make the biggest difference, allowing you to dramatically increase your capabilities, and farming these mods is a huge part of the game. They’re randomly generated and come in coloured tiers. Uh-oh, sounds like the perfect opportunity for microtransactions, doesn’t it? But strangely, there aren’t any – at least, none that I could find. Maybe Ubisoft thought they were already pushing their luck making us buy physical toys.
The combat is fast and satisfying, whether you’re fighting in space or strafing around on the surface of a planet. Some enemies have elemental weaknesses you must exploit and some of the big enemies have quite an involved process in bringing them down. Once you’ve progressed far enough in the story, the enemies tie into each other in a hierarchy. You must destroy the extractor structures to weaken the Primes (sort of like mini-bosses), destroy the Primes to weaken the Dreadnoughts (space bosses), and destroy the Dreadnoughts to make the final boss easier.
You can also help out the planets’ inhabitants by building and upgrading structures to increase each planet’s defence rating, meaning they’ll be able to fight off the occasional invasion by the bad guys. These side missions are largely of the busy-work variety, but Ubisoft tried to add in some modifiers to make them unique. One derelict ship you explore might have mines while another might be guarded by pirates waiting in ambush. Some of them also require you to solve a low-brainpower puzzle.
The main story mission is a bit on the short side, if you gun through it, but there are lots of side missions and completionist stuff – and it’s just fun to blast into space and zoom over the surfaces of the game various beautiful planets. Well, I certainly find it fun.