The toys to life genre of games that swept across the industry in the past half a decade burned out quicker than taking a flamethrower to the plastic toys themselves. However, in 2018, Ubisoft have decided to jump into the seemingly barren landscape with Starlink: Battle for Atlas. While other entries from other companies all relied upon people buying the adding to their plastic collection, Ubisoft have instead opted to make the physical aspect completely optional which can beg the question as to why they decided to keep it. However, despite this half-step into the genre, both the game and the peripherals are well-made and enjoyable to toy around with making it one of the surprise hits of this Holiday season.
In Starlink: Battle for Atlas, you are part of a crew that will explore multiple planets as you aim to find the origins of an alien that landed on Earth. In their endeavour, however, they are attacked by The Fallen Legion who leave you stranded in a star system. You then take to the air, land, and space itself to fight them off and reclaim each planet for Atlas.
While this may seem like standard fare, it’s simply a foundation that will let you freely explore multiple planets, each distinctly different in terms of visuals and obstacles to overcome. Exploring the planet is simple enough. As you freely explore, you will find buildings, outposts, primes, and a whole lot more that will help you see more of the planet and what lies where. It’s standard Ubisoft design approach as you essentially discover towers that will point out more locations on the map for you to explore and overcome objectives.
The game touches on many genres but only taking enough inspiration from each to keep the game from feeling too bloated. You will explore planets, scanning animals for currency, gathering resources that will help with upgrading both your ship and weapons, as well as armories, observatories, and a lot more that will offer you more in order to improve and progress.
But you may think the star of Starlink is the physical figures you get with the Starter Pack that aims to revitalise the toys to life genre. You would be wrong. The figures themselves are well made, and fun in a variety of ways but Ubisoft were smart to make the accessories optional; allowing you to truly just enjoy the game if you please. And there’s a lot to like about the bass game. Should you want to obtain new weapons, commanders, and ships, you can, of course, buy them for a fee but from my 15-20 hours playtime, I never felt like there was a need to expand my arsenal, as limited as it may be.
What’s most surprising about Starlink is the production quality of this title. In some ways, the plastic peripherals add an excitingly secondary element with it but it also brings with it a reputation of maybe a somewhat sub-par game or, at the very least, a barebones title. This is something you will not find with Starlink. From the visuals created on Ubisoft’s proprietary Snowdrop Engine to the satisfying gameplay, Starlink is a thoroughly enjoyable game to look at and play, especially on Xbox One X.
While there is a story, it doesn’t get in the way a whole lot and merely can only exist to give some more background and context to the characters. It works but nothing that either steals your attention away nor does it make it worthy for any extra attention.
You’ll spend the vast majority of your time meeting aliens on planets and completing quests in order to obtain resources which are then used to level up not only your ship but the replaceable components. As you explore the star system, should you go off the beaten path, you’ll find a ton of simple side activities to complete. Doing so will net you experience as well as components to improve your ship and weapons as well as mods which can be applied to your weapons to increase their stats or apply buffs to certain elements, critical hits, and a lot more.
As you complete objectives, you will reduce the Legion’s hold on that planet and bring it slowly back into the hands of Atlas. You can take out massive structures called primes as well as bosses in order to gain a bigger reward.
Combat is fast a fluid whether you are in the air or on the ground, both equally offering a different feel of play but also equally enjoyable to engage with. You learn the different enemy types and their resistances and weaknesses meaning swapping weapons mid-fight can almost feel necessary of the game wasn’t as easy as it is.
Despite all that, it definitely feels as though exploration is key as you visit multiple stunning looking planets with their own distinct colour palettes. I spent so much time, long after I had completed the main mission on the planet and was tasked with going elsewhere, just hanging around, seeing what else this stunning world had to offer. There was always something to discover, something to explore and even use the ship’s jump to complete somewhat frustrating platforming puzzles. Regardless, there always felt like the adventure was waiting beyond the horizon.
It feels like Starlink half shoots itself in the foot with it’s toys to life approach. However, the figures themselves are well produced and toying around with swapping parts during gameplay was always fun. But making the game not require them makes it the best decision and one that will possibly harm it the most. You’ve got a game that is excellent by itself but beholden to its original vision, and one that people know it for. But buried underneath is arguably the biggest surprise of the year. Don’t let the dead genre put you off because Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a really enjoyable space exploration title that’s easy on the eye.