I wasn’t prepared to like Starlink: Battle for Atlas as much as I did.
All I really knew of Ubisoft Toronto’s title is that it was a toys-to-life game set in space. While the latter element appeals to me, the former – and rather decidedly – does not. I’m an old man; the idea of having to get off the couch to swap toys on a receiver isn’t one I endorse. More importantly, I’ve better things to spend my hard-earned on than expansion toy pack after expansion toy pack.
Though to simply call Starlink a toys-to-life game does it a major disservice; it’s about far more than plastic peripherals. My 45 minutes with the title showcased a robust shooter, as compelling in mid-atmosphere as it was in deep space or skimming across a planet’s surface. Across Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, I used my hyperdrive to leave space for the dangerous landscape of a nearby planet, shooting at challenging enemies, uncovering unique ruins that were shrouded in mystery (and puzzles, too) and scanning nearby fauna to add to my personal journal.
In short, I did all the things in an E3 demo that I was expecting from the original retail release of No Man’s Sky.
Better yet, that toys-to-life element is actually quite neat, offering up a modular space ship building system that allows you to create your own unique craft. Want a handful of different boost-giving wings? You can do that, arranging them in any order or angle, left-to-right or reaching for the skies instead. Over on Nintendo Switch, where Star Fox’s Arwing takes centre stage, you can still modify the craft so that it’s part Fox McCloud’s and part your own.
That same modular approach goes for weaponry; you can place forward-facing cannons on your craft, but you can also mix it up so your ship has one weapon that shoots forward and another that shoots backward.
“Oh, you can stack it all up,” Producer Matthew Rose told Stevivor before explaining how the modular system can further affect gameplay. “Of course, the more wings you stack on the heavier your ship gets, both physically and in-game. And if your ship gets too heavy in-game, it will become grounded, eventually. It will change your handling and eventually it will become so heavy that it will ground – though that’s a totally valid strategy.”
The game’s Starter pack will include the Zenith high-energy ship on Xbox One and PS4, alongside pilot Mason Roundup. That combination, as you might imply with Mason’s surname, is a rather balanced one. Three different weapons — the Shredder, Frost Barrage and Flame Thrower — are also included. The Nintendo Switch Starter Pack comes with the Arwing, Fox McCloud and Mason Roundup alongside “a couple different weapons to play with,” Rose confirmed.
The Switch version also comes with a digital version of the game for those who intend to play on the go. Thankfully, digital versions of the game — including its Starter Pack and all additional weapon, pilot and ship expansions, are also available on Xbox and PlayStation.
“All the things that you can buy physically, you can also collect digitally,” Rose confirmed.
For those worrying about what all those extra expansions will do to your bank balance, Rose stressed that the Starter Pack is all that’s required to complete the game.
“It was very, very important for us… [that] you can complete absolutely the entire game — the entire campaign — with just the Starter Pack.”
It may be a little harder without extra weapon- and ship-based DLC, Rose admitted, but still possible; in place of optional, potential puzzle-solving elemental weaponry, players will be able to grab objects in the game world that will replace, say, a flamethrower or ice-projectile shooter.
Granted, I’m not a fan of toys-to-life, but I much prefer the idea of Starlink as a digital game. Physically, your player character and his or her ship (and all its bits) sit quite high up on an Xbox One controller, changing its centre of gravity. It’s not overly heavy, or hard to get used to, but I’d imaging children may find the setup a bit weighty after a short time.
On Nintendo Switch, things fare worse. The narrow Arwing, paired with a relatively small Joy-Con controller holder was simply too small for me; the Arwing’s wings bit into my hands as I tried to play the game. Thankfully, I could fix this pretty easily by adding on some additional wing bits between the Arwing’s main body and its regular wings. I think things would fare much better on a Pro Controller, but I think I’d still much prefer going the digital route.
The important thing to take away from this, though, is that you shouldn’t discount Starlink: Battle for Atlas.
“We wanted to make a triple-A, open-world HD experience for kids. But the cool side effect of that is that lots of people like triple-A, open-world HD experience sci-fi epic games,” Rose said, “so what we found is that we’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how broad of a reach that’s had, and the kind of positive reactions we’ve had.”
How right he is.
Expect Starlink: Battle for Atlas on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch from 16 October.
Correction: Stevivor had mistakenly credited quotes to another Ubisoft Toronto employee rather than Producer Matthew Rose. This story has been amended to correct this.
Steve Wright traveled to Los Angeles to cover Odyssey as a guest of Ubisoft. The arrangement does not impact our Ubisoft coverage, nor limit additional E3 2018 coverage.