A confusing toys-to-life proposition
Pitching Starlink as a brand new toys-tolife adventure feels like an odd choice. It has arrived in a time where the entire genre has pretty much been killed off, relegated to not much more than a bargain aisle purchase in the pre-Christmas rush. LEGO Dimensions,
Skylanders and Disney Infinity have all come and gone, and yet here comes Starlink: Battle For Atlas.
But, although it might seem almost blasphemous to suggest that a toysto-life game would be better without the toys, in Starlink’s case that’s absolutely true. It’s a bit of an odd proposition. You can buy Starlink either as part of a Starter Pack, complete with your first ship, pilot, and a couple of weapons, or just as a standalone game. If you choose to go toy-free, you’ll have access to all the game’s ships, weapons, pilots and be able to upgrade them all, while if you want to play with toys, you’re limited to what you’ve paid for. However, frustratingly, you’ll be able to see everything you could have won in the menus, you just won’t be able to access them. That’s particularly infuriating when you die, because you’ll be informed you have five ships remaining, but you won’t be able to use any of them. Cue howls from children (both young and old) confused by the promise of more ships and thus more lives; all you need to do is fork out another 25 quid or so to get another physical vehicle.
So although the toys are utterly brilliant, it’s better to treat Starlink:
Battle For Atlas as the straightforward space opera it really is underneath the suggested toys-to-life genre. That is an utter shame though, because the toys are brilliant, modular things that’ll have you swapping out wings, weapons and pilots in real life, only to see all your changes reflected in-game, even if you fancy sticking the wings on upside down. It all works wonderfully. But we fear once people realise that everything in Starlink’s arsenal is accessible if you don’t use the toys, they’re all going to be found years down the line covered in dust, and forgotten.
What won’t be forgotten is the actual gameplay on offer with Starlink. You play as a variety of members of the Starlink Alliance, who have all been sent to Atlas to recover an artefact. But, of course, as these things tend to go, it turns out that Nova, the stuff that’s powering their ship, is a much more precious commodity in this new galaxy. Your captain gets kidnapped by an alien being, and the rest of the game is all about taking him, and his cronies, down. That might all sound fairly straightforward, but when the space combat, both in the cosmos and on the planets’ surface is so good, it’s easy to get caught up in the space opera of it all. Whether you’re working your way through a Prime’s huge healthbar, engaging in dogfights among the stars with outlaws, or just protecting a researcher at one of your outposts,
there’s plenty of action to be found, playing out like a lightweight Destiny that everyone in the family can get involved with.
Peace it together
In between all the fighting though, there are moments of glorious tranquillity that you’ll find as you explore the surface of Atlas’ seven planets. Pinching colour palettes and creature influences right out of No Man’s Sky, there’s an entire encyclopedia of things to scan, discover and marvel at. There are, among other things to do, minerals to trade, plants to pick, Legion blights to pluck from the native fauna. Strange temples will rise from the horizon offering puzzles for you to solve, while a wonderful backstory involving finding artefacts will let you discover more about each character in a way that plays out like a comic book. All of this helps to almost eternally perpetuate that gameplay loop that keeps you questioning “I wonder what’s over that horizon”.
It does feel a little strange at first that you can’t get out of your ship – unlike in No Man’s Sky – but the way the ships handle does make it an incredibly enjoyable experience, particularly when you can feel the pull and tug of a plant’s roots as you pluck it from the ground. It also makes sense because you’re constantly working to upgrade your ship, its weapons and the pilots within, enabling you to take on higher-level foes. You’ll also have to work out which weapons work against what enemies. Ice Giants for example, are only powered up by using an ice-based weapon, while that flamethrower you’ve got in your arsenal is a much better fit. That’s very much just the basis of the combat though, with kinetic weapons coming in, along with other types, as you progress through the story.
It’s such a shame then, that some may miss out on Starlink because of a fear of its toys-to-life promise. But actually, this is a brilliant game in its own right – particularly if you skip the toy part. Starlink:
Battle For Atlas is a beautiful space exploration game with fast, reactive combat that’s wonderfully family friendly.
“A beautiful space exploration game with fast, reactive combat”
Left Each planet is unique, and utterly stunning, although there are times you’ll feel like you’re secretly playing No Man’s Sky.
Fa r Left When you’re facing enemies like these, it benefits to have levelled up different weapon types and classes.
right Each pilot has a unique ability that you can whip out.