When you see games like Starlink: Battle for Atlas that have handfuls of extra toys and physical accessories you can buy to enhance your gameplay, it's easy to assume that the game is a gimmick and simply a cash grab for the company that made it. In this instance though, Ubisoft has managed to create a fun spacefaring game that is not dependent on players buying into the clutter of toys-to-life.
The first and most important thing to say about Starlink is that you do not have to buy all of the extra accessories to play the game, or even any of the physical parts for that matter. The game can be completely played and enjoyed to its fullest without spending a single penny on physical extras, and downloading the game digitally allows you the same freedom as buying it physically. This is a definite plus for the game and means that anyone interested but wary of the shelf space needed for toy spaceships and heroes need not be so worried. Obviously playing without the physical part takes away from the gimmick of the game for those who may like that aspect of it, but additional weapons, pilots and ships are still available as digital add-ons if you want them.
The game takes place across the Atlas Star System and follows a team of pilots exploring the stars. Earth has made contact with aliens, particularly with one that they have named Judge, and are now curious as to where Judge has come from. During this exploration, your main ship, the Equinox, is attacked and the captain kidnapped by unknown forces. It's your job to explore these planets, take down these forces and find out what happened to your ship's captain. The story gradually pushes you along through various planets, each with their own flora and fauna, but you can spend as much time as you want on each one before leaving, and can easily fly in and out of any of the places at any time too.
Within these planets, you'll have main story missions you can complete, as well as a whole bunch of side quests and miscellaneous activities to keep you entertained too, all presented in a classic Ubisoft fashion. You'll have fetch quests to complete for outposts which uncover more of the map and allow you to sell things that you'll find on the planets too, such as minerals, plant life and spaceship parts, which you must pluck out of the ground or carry using your ship. You're free to do this as you're flying about, and doing so will earn you extra in-game money, which can be put towards various upgrades from your ships, pilots and weapons. The quests and tasks begin to get somewhat repetitive after a while like with most games, but there is enough variety here to keep you entertained for a significant amount of time.
The first time you meet an enemy, the game suggests which weapons you should use for the quickest kill and the most damage. You can combine whichever weapons you like the most though, and they will do special elemental damage, for example combining fire and ice weapons can create an attack which freezes and shatters enemies. The weapons cover a lot of ground, including both real-life and sci-fi options like black holes, flamethrowers, and shotguns. There's enough weapon variety for you to find a playstyle that suits you best, and even the supposedly weaker ones can be used to your advantage with upgrade mods.
Fighting enemies and flying around can be done down on the planets, or you can fly out of the planet and up into space. Whilst shooting and flying is quite easy to do and control on the planets, out in space things get a little trickier. Enemies tend to fly around you at some speed, and because your ship can enter hyperdrive in space too, bringing yourself to a stop and manoeuvring yourself round an enemy can be harder than it sounds. Things definitely handle better down on the planets, and you can switch between flying hovering and boosting your ship quite easily.
Things can be made easier for you with upgrades to your ships, weapons and pilots, with each one of your pilots able to be upgraded uniquely, and each ship and weapon have mods added to them. Pilots skills can improve XP gain and manage amongst other things, and your ships and weapons can be modded to be improved. These mods can be found in the planets, in space, or you can combine your lower mods to make more powerful ones, which means collecting them is still worth it as they can still have uses even if you have out-leveled them. Pilot skills can improve the individual as well as having team benefits, such as improved XP gains for everyone, so these are worth sinking some time into upgrading. The equinox also has upgrades which improve your ship and the world around you, so taking that bit of extra time to explore and find hidden caches is worth it, and your exploration time is always rewarded.
The world you'll be exploring is a beautiful one, and the cartoon-like setting feels soft, warm and welcoming. There are animals and plants to discover, each more unusual looking than the last, and a lot of the fun from the game comes from finding these weird and wonderful things. There's a rainbow of colours wherever you look in the game, making each space rock an attractive world to discover. Altogether, the customization aspect and the overall more family-friendly style to the game make it stand out among a growing field of space exploration games.
When it comes to the game's achievements, there are 41 here to earn but be wary, as there have been many reported issues of people's achievements not unlocking when they should. I experienced this with a few of my achievements, but they did unlock eventually so hopefully this is an issue that will be sorted. Playing through the game's story will earn you several achievements, as will killing enemies in certain ways and completing set tasks on the planets. There is nothing too taxing in this list, and nothing which requires you to purchase any of the extra items in order to complete it.
SummaryStarlink learns from the graveyard of toys-to-life games by offering digital versions of its accessories to save you the shelf space, though the physical toys are still available too. Either way, there's the freedom to buy the extra bits or not and still enjoy the game as much as the next person as the game's array of Ubisoftian open-world objectives are not partitioned off by these additional accessories. The game makes for a fun adventure with a bit of a family-friendly leaning, and allows you the freedom to chase mission markers or just slow down and explore. A good variety of missions will please any players who haven't yet grown weary of the developer-publisher's oft-seen open-world design, making Ubisoft's risky project a game that shoots for the stars and in many ways manages to get there.
- Digital options mean you don't need to save the space for physical toys
- Fun combinations of different weapons and skills to match your playstyle
- Freedom to explore at your own pace
- Variety in quests, side quests and miscellaneous tasks to complete
- Bright and colourful worlds to explore
- Ship handling in space can be difficult
- Maybe too familiar for those who have had their fill of Ubisoft's design philosophies
EthicsThe reviewer spent approximately 10 hours exploring space and different planets, unlocking 19 of the game's 41 achievements. A download code was provided for the purpose of this review, along with the starter pack and four extra packs of additional ships and weapons.
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