Consoles Available: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Console Played on for Review: Xbox One
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Space has always been a fruitful setting for video games, and while various different games have taken a number of different routes to exploring the stars, the new action-adventure game Starlink: Battle for Atlas attempts to bring a sandbox-like quality to an entire star system. Players are able to roam from planet to planet using hyperspace travel, encountering outlaws and enemies along the way, and while a toys-to-life component offers an even more hands-on opportunity for gameplay, the digital version of the game works just fine without the added expense. But does Starlink bring anything new to the space genre we haven’t seen before? Is the game able to take full advantage of its sweeping scope? Well, yes and no.
Starlink is set in the Atlas star system and kicks into gear when the player’s mothership Equinox is ambushed by an antagonistic force known as the Forgotten Legion. They take the captain of the Equinox hostage for reasons unknown, and it’s up to the protagonist and the rest of the crew members to search the Atlas star system for answers. In a bit of a surprise, much of the story hinges on control of (or the ability to create) limited resources.
This is a ship-based game and as a player, you control all movements from within your starship. Combat is the main course of action, but on the various planets you also have the ability to help bulk up various refineries by delivering goods or elements needed for said upgrades. Performing tasks such as these allow you to upgrade your own mods on your starship, resulting in better weaponry, shielding, and overall ship abilities that will help you during interstellar battle.
There’s also the aforementioned toys-to-life component. These are optional, but with a quick plug-and-snap you’re able to attach a physical starship to your controller. Moreover, whatever changes you make to the physical starship manifest instantly inside the game. I will say I played the game digitally, without the toys-to-life component, and don’t really think it’s a necessity to get the full gaming experience, but if that’s the kind of thing you’re into, go for it.
While Starlink is technically available for all ages, gamers used to more complex gameplay, decision-making, or even more intense shooter scenarios may find it a bit… boring? It’s definitely fun to pilot your own starship and travel from planet to planet, but the scenarios do start to become repetitive after awhile. Despite unique visuals for each planet, the tasks and gameplay on said planets are remarkably similar—right down to the major boss fights. There are differences when it comes to specifics to be sure—the antagonists on one planet may be cold resistant, while the antagonists on another are heat resistant. But when it comes down to it, after a few hours it’s hard to shake the feeling you’re just doing the same thing over and over, just in a slightly different setting.
The tone of the story and characters are also pretty young-skewing, which leads me to believe the perfect audience for a game like Starlink is going to be fairly young. That explains the toys-to-life component, and while the game may be a bit rote for someone like myself, I could certainly see some younger gamers getting extremely invested in the gameplay and storytelling and digging pretty deep into this one.
Each pilot has his or her own upgrade tree, and the mods are seemingly endless, so there’s a lot of tinkering that can be done to your specific ship, as well as plenty of activities to keep you busy on each planet if you’re a completionist. So there’s always something to do, but your mileage may vary depending on what type of gameplay most keeps you engaged. If you’re looking for dynamic, intricate missions like Assassin’s Creed, this probably isn’t for you. But if you love to really hone in one a specific mode of gameplay or build mods, you’ll find a lot to keep you engaged with Starlink: Battle for Atlas.
Again, not every gamer is built the same, and diversity is what makes video games so fun and fruitful in the first place. Starlink won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of open worlds but dialed-in gameplay, or if you have kids who are interested in gaming but maybe not old enough for the violence in some other games, Starlink: Battle for Atlas should be a swell play.