Every so often, there comes along a game you don’t think is going to capture your attention. Then you play it, and several hours later, you realize that you’ve been completely sucked in. That’s Starlink: Battle for Atlas, from Ubisoft. Due out this week on just about every platform, I’ve been playing the sci-fi open-universe epic and loving every minute of it.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas may seem like a gimmicky product at first - its built around the idea of buying and collecting toys that you can use in-game. But it doesn’t take long to see that this is no Disney Infinity or Skylanders. The toy part of Starlink is icing on the cake of what basically is the best and most robust Starfox game in years.
Yes, Ubisoft and Nintendo once again partner up as they did with last year’s fantastic Mario + Rabbids crossover. Fox McCloud, Slippy, Falco, and the gang are all here in what’s more than a simple guest appearance. Fox and the characters from Corelia are woven right into the story and cinematics in a way that seems perfectly natural. Mind you, the other console versions don’t get Fox or his story missions. He, and his Arwing, are only available on the Nintendo Switch.
The biggest hurdle for people to get over with Starlink is that you have to buy (digitally or physically) the extra ships, weapons, and pilots you want to use. While the base game comes with a ship, a pilot, and a set of weapons, if you want more you need to buy them - either as physical toys you scan into the game or as digital items on each system’s respective marketplace. At $75 for the base game, plus between $9.99 and $25 for weapon packs and new ships, the whole experience is pretty costly. This is precisely why even big IPs like Disney and LEGO couldn’t keep the toys-as-games business going, and I worry that Starlink will have less success without a big IP to push behind it.
That would be a shame, mainly because Starlink is a very good game when all is said and done. A huge, sweeping Sci-Fi epic that’s reminiscent of Titan AE in style, a brand new Starfox story to play, and tons of interplanetary content to play through - Starlink is a big and ambitious game. I’ve only spent about 5 hours with it so far during my brief family vacation, but it’s both addictive from a mechanics standpoint and engaging from a narrative one.
Swapping out weapons and mods on your ship to make the best of every combat situation feels great, but I worry how I’d feel if the review code for the Switch we were given didn’t have every single weapon, ship, and pilot unlocked. I’ve literally got hundreds of dollars of free stuff to play with, and if I were coming into the game with less options I don’t know how I’d feel. I worry that Ubisoft is shooting themselves in the foot by making so much of the game basically extra DLC, and we’re in a market where that may not fly.
The toys themselves are fantastic, and having an Arwing, with Fox himself, to display is never a bad thing. But the Joy-Con controller that holds the ship and weapon parts is cumbersome at best. My son digs it, because he’s five, but I’d much rather just use the digital counterparts, and I’m glad Ubisoft saw fit to allow that. You can use the toys or not, purchase the toys or not.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the game so far, but Starlink’s unique blend of planet-surface combat, open world exploring, and space opera story make for an extremely good time so far. Here’s hoping it continues to be as interesting the further I dig in. Look for a full review later this week.