Review – Starlink: Battle for Atlas

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Starlink exists, or that it released for any consoles other than the Switch. The game left little impact on audiences when it was first announced last year and only gained attention because of the reveal of a Star Fox collaboration. Unfortunately leading people to believe it was Star Fox game only to be disappointed. There’s a great game to be discovered here so it’s a shame it didn’t get more attention, and for Switch owners it’s as close to a new Star Fox game as we’re going to get.

First off, and most importantly, do not buy a physical copy. I know the Arwing toy is irresistible, but wait for a sale if that’s what you really want. This may seem strange as this is a toys-to-life game, but digital copies, either base or deluxe, is the definitive way to go. Not only is the base price cheaper ($60 vs $75), you get three additional ships, five more pilots, and ten more weapons for less than the cost of a physical copy. You won’t be disadvantaged with just the starter set, as the game is balanced around it, but you will lose out on some of the subtleties of combat that come with the additional weapons.

Ship Customization

Ship customization goes beyond simply choosing a ship and features, weapon and ship mods bring a wide range of bonuses and effects.

Once you’ve gotten passed the headache of purchasing the game, you can jump right in and and enjoy.  It’s a blast right from the start. While there’s nothing particularly innovative or game-changing here, the sum of its parts are better than the individual mechanics would lead you to believe. Although, to be fair, seamless ground to air travel continues to amaze me in every game I play.

Skill Trees

Of course there’s a skill tree, but it isn’t game-breaking. Player skill always outranks unlocked abilities.

The most important part of any space game is how your ship controls in and out of combat. Fortunately, Ubisoft more than delivers on this front. Your starship is capable of  many maneuvers in space, from zipping around pirate space stations, dodging turret fire, vaporizing enemy fighters, and pulling off quick u-turns to bulls-eye fighters behind you. Starlink makes great use of controller rumble, helping you feel your ship taking fire, dinging obstacles, and turbulence when you’re ripped out of hyperspace. It’s a great space game and would have felt complete on those merits alone, but Ubisoft decided to go bigger.

Elements

Each element isn’t just a status effect, but can stack with others for additional special effects.

Ever since Star Citizen successfully raised millions on the promise of a seamless ground to space simulator, many have tried to beat them to delivery. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is the latest to do so and succeeds in being one of the best. Surpassing No Man’s Sky in how you can use your ship, and Elite: Dangerous in the variety of locations to land. You can descend onto any of the seven planets at will and fly right down to the surface. You don’t have to land if you don’t want to and can engage in some air to ground combat instead. It’s all up to you, just as it should be.

Ground combat and traversal is just as well executed as the space portion is. You have vertical movement in the form of a small jump from which you can pull off dodges and barrel rolls at your discretion. If you use your boost off of ridges to gain some real height, there’s a trick system for pulling off as many in a row as you can, making travel fun.

Reputation

Every action you take against the Legion lowers their power, while assisting allies increases their power and influence.

Exploration is just as much a part of the game both on ground and in space. Plenty of shipwrecks to explore, life to scan and catalog, resources to collect, and allies to make from the factions who make the Atlas system their home. There are also Legion nests and outposts to clear out and claim for the Initiative.

Sadly the narrative isn’t as strong as the rest of the game. It’s fitting that the enemy forces are called The Forgotten Legion, because they are as forgettable and generic as they come without being outright bad. The big bad, Grax, used an ancient power source to raise an ancient robotic army in order to take over the system of Atlas, and then the universe. The noble pilots of Starlink, the noble explorers of the Expedition, and the pioneers of the Prospectors must all unite against this threat, with you to lead.

Kewl Wolf

A Star Fox focused sequel featuring Wolf or other baddies in a main role would be just what those tired of Star Fox 64 remake after remake asked for.

The most interesting part of the story is easily Star Fox (all of which is exclusive to the Switch). The prestigious unit has traveled from the Lylat system in pursuit of Wolf. You ally with Starlink and help them with their robot problems, in exchange for assistance with your canine issue. The banter between the whole Star Fox gang is as great as you expect, as well as their interactions with everyone else. Fox fits right in as the main character, integrated right in with the entire game. It almost feels like Ubisoft just wanted to work with Star Fox and this was the only way they’d be able to do it.

Just Stop

The whole team periodically appears for their trademark brand of humor, and to advise on the proper use of combat evasion maneuvers.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an incredibly fun game. A solid combat system, seamless ground to air travel, and a wide world to explore more than makes up for an underwhelming narrative. Especially on the Switch with the flawlessly integrated Star Fox content, this is a must play for any fans of classic arcade space games, as well as anyone interested a Star Citizen that doesn’t cost ten thousand dollars to not play.

Graphics: 6.5

While it doesn’t look abysmal on Switch, it’s certainly no looker. It fares much better in handheld mode, but still suffers from muddy textures and low resolution. Still, there’s consistently strong art design throughout each planet, and Fox and crew look better then ever.

Gameplay: 9.0

Ubisoft not only nails the space combat, but manages to make ground combat and traversal just as fun. With a variety of enemy types, elemental weapons to play with, and a seamless blend of space and ground exploration Starlink Battle for Atlas has plenty of variety.

Sound: 7.5

The soundtrack is not particularly memorable, voice acting is nothing special, but the sound effects from the ship’s engines and weapons makes up for it. The metallic crunching sound of ramming an asteroid head-on is glorious.

Fun Factor: 10

This game is just so much fun. Dodging asteroids and pirates at light-speed never gets old. The integration of Star Fox is just an extra cherry on top.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Reviewed on Switch.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.

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