STAR­LINK: BAT­TLE FOR AT­LAS

De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Ubisoft (Toronto) For­mat PS4, Switch, Xbox One Re­lease 2018

EDGE - - MULTIFORMAT+PC@E3 -

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

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