As I said earlier in the week, Starlink is the Starfox 64 sequel we never really got. Not only that, but it gives birth to a fantastic new sci-fi franchise from Ubisoft. It’s filled with deep lore, satisfying combat and travel, loads of content, and a great narrative. Starlink: Battle for Atlas gets derailed a bit by repetition and an expensive monetization model, but the overall game is still a success and one that should be experienced.
The Toys to Life business model seems to be only viable for Amiibos these days, as Disney Infinity is gone, LEGO Dimensions is gone, and even Skylanders is on hiatus. So it’s definitely odd that Ubisoft chose to attach the toys to life idea to their new Sci-Fi and family friendly IP, Starlink. The good thing is that you don’t have to buy a single toy to enjoy the game. If you just want the game, you can get that. You’ll get a ship, a pilot, and guns to arm the thing.
But here’s the rub – if you fall in battle with one ship only, you have to respawn and try combat again from sometimes far away from your objective. If, on the other hand, you’ve bought toys or digital ships, you can respawn as many times as there are ships in your “garage” (six). The digital codes Ubisoft sent us give us everything available to purchase in the game, and the digital versions of pilots, weapons, and ships are about half the price of the physical versions. But you can’t earn them in-game, you have to spend real money on them.
Do you need them? No, but it does make the game better, and that’s why I can’t quite give Starlink the higher score I want to give it. The fact that it’s so fun and so refreshing is hampered by how expensive buying all of its content is. If you’re hoping they’ll bring Starlink to the PC before buying it, I pray for you that when they do they just make an “All Content” version for $60.
I’d imagine the Starfox Arwing and Fox himself are going to sell like gangbusters, but I’d be surprised if any of the other figures and ships do. They’re really quality toys, and I’m grateful to have them, but they’re not the fun and light kid-friendly Skylanders, and they don’t have the brand recognition of Disney or LEGO. I want Starlink the game to sell so well that the next chapter focuses entirely on unlockable heroes, ships, and weapons – and leaves the extra paid content for more planets, story, and game modes as DLC.
Now that the bad stuff is out of the way, let me tell you something great – Starlink is just plain fun. Imagine a seamlessly open universe Starfox game. Imagine No Man’s Sky meets Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s a space faring adventure with directed content at its heart. Between main missions, you can (with the press of a button) hail your home base for a new mission, and the intelligent content director will guide you to something happening on your current planet.
There are seven massive planets in the game, and each of them is quite different from the last in terms of looks, even if the basic systems and ecosystems are similar. There are animals all over to be scanned and catalogued, refineries to be built, armories to be upgraded, and observatories to help map each globe. In between all this, after a certain point in the main story, you’ll be fighting back the mysterious and malignant Legion on each planet. Depending on the difficulty you choose, they’ll even retake planets you’ve saved from their grasp.
This gives you the option to go back and drive them away to ensure your factories are still working and sending you goods, or you can instead focus onward with the story campaign to defeat them once and for all. Completionists are likely to feel the repetitive nature of freeing planets from the Legion more than those who are merely trying to see the story through. Each planet and region of space has its own level bracket, and the story and main objectives are pretty good about keeping you at the right level to tackle each new main mission as they come.
Nintendo Switch owners are treated to the ultimate version of the game though, as they get a whole new Starfox story to play through, along with the main game campaign. Fox and the whole crew are seamlessly added to the cast of characters in the game, even in the cut-scenes, and it’s entirely possible to play the whole game as Fox (though Peppy and the others are merely cameo/supporting cast). I’ve got access to all the other cool pilots, but I haven’t even tried them. Come on, I mean – it’s FOX MCCLOUD.
After about 15 hours in the game, I’m still progressing through all seven of the planets, and while the core gameplay loop of taking down boss “Primes” and repeating the same handful of objectives on each planet can be repetitive, the story and sheer vastness of what’s available to do keeps me coming back for more. Controls planetside feel like the Batmobile in Arkham Knight, while in space and the sky, flight combat is almost exactly like Starfox or another arcade dogfighter you might be familiar with. They nailed the feeling of both, and the fact that you can seamless swap between the two and go from planet to space is just icing on the cake.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a thrilling debut for a fantastic new franchise. The toys are a nice touch, but entirely unneeded, and the cost of rounding out all the ships, guns, and pilots is a bit too steep for most. That said, there’s little doubt in my mind that Ubisoft has created an excellent new universe and one I hope they add to for years to come. Hopefully, PC users will get their own taste of what it’s all about in the near future.
- Excellent story and universe building
- Great combat
- Huge open universe
- Solid progression systems
- Can be repetitive
- Expensive to own everything