Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Switch) Review
It feels really weird to be reviewing a toys-to-life game in 2018, with Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions all wrapped up, Skylanders in limbo everyone was ready to give the genre a break – except Ubisoft. The key difference here with Starlink, however, is that you can completely avoid having the toys for this one, the entire game is playable digitally, but a lot of the game is still focused around the idea.
Starlink tells the tale of the crew of the Equinox, a rag-tag bunch of people collected from all over the galaxy. They’re up against Grax who has awoken an army of alien robots to take over the universe. The story is presented in great looking cutscenes, and with fully voiced chatter throughout the game. The characters are interesting, but there’s a lot of them to keep track of as well.
So where do Starfox and his crew fit into this? Fox and his crew appear in cutscenes if you chose to play with him, they take over the “protagonist” with the non-Switch main character put on the back burner. Ubisoft have done really well with the characters and although they do feel ‘alien’ to the world, they actually are integrated quite well and you won’t even doubt that Starfox should be in the game. Alongside the main Atlas story in the game is a Starfox specific one, and of course, it’s exclusive to the Nintendo Switch version. Neither the main story, nor the Starfox one is overly long, but it still took around 15 hours to get to the end, it could be done a lot quicker if you don’t explore or take in everything the game has to offer.
Starlink is an open-world sandbox title, which probably sounds really boring but, there are some really neat things going on here and it feels like you can affect the entire galaxy with just your actions. Aside from the just taking down the bad guys, there’s an entire solar system here just trying to live its life. The ever-expanding Legion are taking over these nice worlds and it’s up to you to help get them back until controller. You can fly from planet to planet through hyperspace to do this, there are no loading screens you’ll go from space right down to the ground without a single loading screen. This helps make the game world really connected and it’s just plain cool. On the planets, there are no big cities, just pockets of settlements, ancient ruins and outposts to explore. These settlements need your help, and once you’ve got them on your side they will help you out by opening up the map of the planet, refining the mineral you need to power up your ships and weapons, a mod workshop and eventually planetary defence.
Battling these enemies, taking down extractors eventually brings out the Prime. The main big bipedal bad guy on the planet, take it down to get your planets under control is a whole lot easier, it also makes taking down the enemy flagships floating around in space a lot easier as well. There’s a whole bunch of other scanning and exploring to do on each planet as well, but as you’ll soon find this can get repetitive.
Each planet, although very pretty and definitely unique looking all play out mostly the same. Take over the hives, take out the extractors, kill the primes, it’s a grind and eventually, you’ll reach a point where you don’t have to do this anymore and the game and your alliance work for themselves. There’s a tipping point that you’ll hit where you’re so powerful there’s no much of a challenge and the grind takes over.
Taking down the Legion and Grax is done of course with all the great and unique ships in the game. Whether you buy them physically or digitally, they all the same, but each ship has different attributes. You can just stick the Arwing as well, but having everything available or ones that suit your play style makes the game more enjoyable. I stuck with the Arwing for most of the game only using the other ships when getting stuck and needing to try a new tactic. Not only do all of the ships have different stats and abilities, so the pilots. You can also mix and match all of the ships and pilots, actually, you can mix and match a lot. Whether you’re in space, on a planet in both hover and flight mode the game’s controls are nimble and responsive. It’s really to fly around and get to your ship to what you want and not get lost rotating around finding enemies.
Just quietly, having a member of the Starfox team warp down, lay down some massive cover fire while the theme is blaring doesn’t get old. For that reason alone you might not want any other pilot.
There’s a number of different types of weapons in the game, Fire based ones, Ice based ones, Gravity, Kinetic and more. You’ll mix and match them throughout the game as there’s no single gun that can handle every enemy the game throws at you. The customisation goes further, you can put any wings you own on any ship, as well as the weapons in any direction. If you’ve got the physical toys you can switch them out on the fly with included Joy-Con holder or ‘Play Digitally’ and the toys go on a timer. Eventually, you’ll need to reconnect the toys, so no sharing them around for the long term. Digital players will have all the ships and weapons unlocked indefinitely if you’ve bought them.
The game just throws a lot at you, the weapons on top of being mixed and matched can be upgraded, as can the ships with modifiers. You can fuse and upgrade these modifiers to make them better and attach them to different weapons to have a greater rate of fire, give more damage or more XP – there’s so many I and I kept finding more. Modifiers can also be attached to ships to make them faster or more resilient.
There are plusses and minuses for buying this game digitally and physically. Digitally you don’t have to worry about any toys and you’ll always have your full arsenal with you. Physically its great to snap on and off weapons on the fly, but at the same time carrying around the toys isn’t practical. The game will unlock them for a certain amount of time, but you will need to resync them eventually. Given that the game costs the same digitally, the toys may seem a little unnecessary.
Starlink is a great looking game on the Switch, and it has given the complexity of the worlds on offer its great to see it running so smooth. The art style is clearly influenced by that other space exploration game, but it fits. The game’s soundtrack is terrific (especially the Starfox stuff) and feels like you’re listening to a sci-fi show that’s been around a while. It’s familiar but new.
Starlink Battle for Atlas surprised me from the first time I saw it, and now having played and completed it I’ve been surprised again. Even without the great Star Fox inclusions the Switch version you’ve still got a great open world game, a fun story and a ship and weapon customisation and upgrade system – with or without toys – that makes you feel like a space pilot. It’s a little rough around the edges, and get repetitive – but in the end, you’ll have a blast way before it gets there. Bring on the next one, I’ve already got my fleet.
- Great universe to explore with interesting characters
- Starfox story and characters integrated nicely
- Fun ship mechanics and combat
- Digital version same price as physical for no reason
- Toys ultimately are completely optional digitally
- The game gets repetitive