STARLINK: BATTLE FOR ATLAS
Developer/publisher Ubisoft (Toronto) Format PS4, Switch, Xbox One Release 2018
Ubisoft may have given Beyond Good & Evil 2 the closing, one-more-thing showstopper slot at its E3 press conference, but Starlink was the most pleasant surprise of the publisher’s show, and arguably of E3 as a whole. It marks Ubisoft’s belated entry into the toys-to-life sector – which, previously, had been widely assumed to be on the way out. Starlink might just be its second wind.
The toys-to-life genre has two persistent problems. First, its collectible figurines play a single, specific role; you can always buy more, but the differences between them are rarely transformative, simply variations on a theme. Second, the genre is still waiting for its first real classic, for an end to truly justify the means. It has, as a result, struggled to shake off the perception that it is a vehicle for selling toys first, and a videogame genre second.
Until now, that is. Starlink: Battle For Atlas solves both problems with playful, elegant class. First, the shelf-life of its toys is greatly extended by making everything modular. Ships are mounted directly
onto your controller for an ease of access that is woven into the fabric of the game, since you’ll need to change things around a lot. Remove a gun from one craft, and replace it with a weapon from another, and the change is replicated on screen in an instant. Stick a couple of extra wings on there too, if you like, or stack guns on top of guns if the notion takes you. Lift the entire ship off and you reveal a pilot with a unique ability that can similarly be swapped in and out. Craft have base stats – slow but heavily armoured, fast but weedy, and so on – but by mixing and matching, you can customise your ship to suit your playstyle. Experimenting with guns yields similar results: using an icy weapon to freeze and slow enemies is powerful, but follow it up with a volley of fire-type ordnance and an enemy’s health bar simply melts.
Crucially, on the evidence of our demo, the game itself is more than up to snuff. Dogfights are light, pacey fun; later we head planetside to rescue a downed friendly transport ship, and the feeling is like piloting a Destiny sparrow that’s equipped with elementally powered guns. Enemies move slowly enough to allow you to make quick weapon and armour changes, but pack a punch – and during the climactic boss battle, things quickly get hectic.
We have concerns, of course: pricing will be key, and so will balance, since Starlink is one overpowered gun away from being forever written off as the physical manifestation of the concept of pay to win. But it’s a rare game indeed that comes out of nowhere and breathes new life into a dying genre. If Ubisoft gets the finer details right, it could be onto something very special indeed.
Starlink is the work of a tiny team by Ubisoft’s normal standards. An early prototype was made of Lego and the innards of a Wii Remote