Star­link: Bat­tle for At­las

The con­tin­ued ad­ven­tures of Star Fox? Don’t toy with us

Games Master - - Contents -

Ubisoft mashes up Des­tiny, Dis­ney In­fin­ity, Star Fox, and No Man’s Sky into a spicy dog­fight­ing mélange.

It’s hard to talk about Star­link: Bat­tle For At­las with­out men­tion­ing all the games it bor­rows from. Play­ing it, you can prac­ti­cally smell the white­board in Ubisoft’s Toronto of­fice, marker-pen lines link­ing ‘No Man’s Sky’ with ‘Des­tiny’, and a big cir­cle drawn around the words ‘toys to life’. Be­cause, yes, like Sky­lan­ders and Dis­ney In­fin­ity be­fore it, this is one of those games that comes with plas­tic mod­els – in this case, con­troller-sized space­ships and their tiny pi­lots – which can be con­nected to un­lock their dig­i­tal coun­ter­parts. Let’s talk about those toys first, be­cause they are re­ally lovely. Each of the six ships has a dis­tinc­tive and eye-catch­ing de­sign, rang­ing from a bul­bous alien craft to the sharp speedy an­gles of what is ba­si­cally an X-wing with the se­rial num­bers filed off.

When you’re han­dling them, the mod­els have a pleas­ingly chunky qual­ity that brings to mind an­other word which surely ap­peared on that imag­i­nary white­board: Lego. While you don’t ac­tu­ally build the ships, they are deeply cus­tomis­able. Each craft is made up of a chas­sis and two re­mov­able wings.

This means you can snap the wings off one model and ap­ply them to an­other – back­wards or up­side down or even on top of the ex­ist­ing wing, if you like. Then you choose your weapons, and stick those on in a sim­i­lar fash­ion. As long as it’s all at­tached to the con­troller mount, Star­link will recog­nise the changes and in­stantly up­date your ride in-game.

Want to cre­ate some­thing that has three mis­matched wings piled on top of an­other on one side, and a sin­gle gun, point­ing back­wards, on the other? The re­sult might not look es­pe­cially aero­dy­namic, but you will be able to fly your per­son­alised un­wieldy mon­stros­ity around the gal­axy.

Click­ing a new weapon onto the mount and see­ing it im­me­di­ately ap­pear on screen has a nov­elty that takes a long while to wear off. But what about the game be­neath it all?

Foxy un­box­ing

Like its space­ship mod­els, Star­link is made up of com­po­nents that snap neatly to­gether. The game opens among the stars, in­tro­duc­ing it­self as a space dog­fight­ing game that re­calls Nin­tendo’s Star Fox se­ries. Not least be­cause, if you’re play­ing on Switch, the starter pack in­cludes mod­els of both an Ar­wing and Fox McCloud him­self. With no of­fi­cial Star Fox game made for Switch – and ar­guably, no wor­thy in­stal­ments since the N64 days – Star­link is the next best thing. Bet­ter, in fact.

These are some of the best dog­fights ever to grace con­soles, per­fectly cap­tur­ing that X-wing fan­tasy we’ve all har­boured since child­hood. The sen­sa­tion of con­nect­ing a bright­ly­coloured laser beam with an en­emy ship, caus­ing it to spi­ral into space and even­tu­ally ex­plode (con­cepts like

“Like its space­ships, Star­link is made up of com­po­nents that snap neatly to­gether”

‘re­al­ism’ and ‘physics are thank­fully cast aside) is bril­liant.

To keep space com­bat feel­ing fresh, there are plenty of lit­tle tricks to dis­cover. In­com­ing fire can be bounced back us­ing your ship’s re­flec­tive shields or dodged with a va­ri­ety of evasive ma­noeu­vres. Each pilot also has their own grad­u­ally-charg­ing spe­cial abil­ity, which might call in an or­bital strike, slow down time or, in Fox’s case, sum­mon one of his wing­mates to help out in the fight.

No Man’s Sky­lan­ders

It’s not all dog­fights, though. Be­tween com­bat en­coun­ters, you’re free to ex­plore the gal­axy, vis­it­ing any planet you can see. It’s hard not to think of No Man’s Sky, es­pe­cially when you ar­rive on a new world and are greeted with that fa­mil­iar colour pal­ette, seem­ingly lifted off the cover of a 1970s sci-fi pa­per­back.

The best mo­ment of ex­plo­ration is un­doubt­edly pick­ing out a strange shape on a planet’s sur­face, big enough to be vis­i­ble from space, and burn­ing down through its at­mos­phere to find out what it ac­tu­ally is. The worst is the travel that con­nects these mo­ments, long stretches of empty starfield punc­tu­ated only by the odd as­ter­oid field. You’ll find your­self wish­ing for the hy­per­space traps that space pi­rates lay down for you, just to break up the monotony.

Like No Man’s Sky, each planet has its own dis­tinc­tive flora and fauna to dis­cover, and re­sources to mine. There’s a neat lit­tle DNA scan­ning minigame, where you have to do a full 360° around a crea­ture – of­ten while try­ing to keep up with it as it tries to flee, or avoid­ing the sweep of its gar­gan­tuan tail.

Un­like No Man’s Sky, though, you never dis­em­bark from your space­craft. You can fly through the skies or switch into a mode that’s more po­dracer than X-wing. There’s a re­mark­able sense of speed as you skim across the sur­face, and a pleas­ant float­i­ness to the way any bumps or ramps carry you into the sky. Un­for­tu­nately, this makes for a strange fit with some of the ground-level ac­tiv­i­ties, such as open­ing crates and dis­cov­er­ing se­cret en­trances, which feel like they’ve been plucked from games like Des­tiny. Games that fea­ture player char­ac­ters who can ac­tu­ally stand still for a sec­ond.

It’s a sim­i­lar story with earth­bound com­bat. This uses the same solid fun­da­men­tals as dog­fight­ing, but they’re not as well suited to en­coun­ters where your en­e­mies have legs. Be­cause your tar­gets aren’t as mo­bile, there’s not the same chal­lenge of lin­ing up a sin­gle shot. To ac­count for that, the game ei­ther mobs you with bad­dies or makes them bul­let sponges, which robs your weapons of any im­pact.

Star­link tries its hard­est to over­come this, through a me­chanic rooted in its toy-con­nected de­sign. Each weapon deals a cer­tain type of el­e­men­tal dam­age – fire, ice, grav­ity and so on – that has a Poké­mon-style matchup with en­emy types. Try­ing to freeze an ice gi­ant, for ex­am­ple, might only make them stronger, but hit­ting them with a flamethrower should be su­per-ef­fec­tive. It’s a smart way of en­cour­ag­ing you to con­stantly change tac­tics by snap­ping a new gun onto your ship mid-com­bat – and, cyn­i­cally, of en­cour­ag­ing you to buy a new pack to get the right weapon for the sit­u­a­tion – but it still feels like it’s play­ing sec­ond fid­dle to the dog­fights.

This, ul­ti­mately, is the down side of con­struct­ing a game out of bor­rowed parts. There’s a def­i­nite nov­elty to see­ing un­likely com­po­nents mixed and matched, and they might even click to­gether neatly. But un­less each part is care­fully con­sid­ered, you risk end­ing up with some­thing slightly un­wieldy.

Each planet is made up of var­i­ous colour­ful biomes, which blend to­gether smoothly, if not es­pe­cially seam­lessly.

The non-ag­gres­sive life­forms you en­counter have charm­ingly alien de­signs. This is a Vi­brosaur.

The crew is based out of the Equinox, which looks like some­one tipped the USS En­ter­prise over on its side.

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