The dream that many have, namely to transfer real objects into a video game, already exists as long as there are video games. This started noticeably with R.O.B. for the Nintendo Entertainment System and started to flourish with Skylander. Whether Nintendo with its Amiibo characters, Disney with its Infinity series or even LEGO with Dimension, many have tried it and with at least as many the planned success failed. All these series are currently in a creative break or have even been finished and just in this collapsing market comes Ubisoft with its latest work Starlink: Battle for Atlas around the corner.
The reasons why these “Games with Toys” are no longer so successful can probably be traced back to two things: On the one hand, the games always tend to be on a lower level in terms of complexity, which also means that the target group is younger, and on the other hand, the mass of almost necessary accessories is so large that the whole thing is priced in an area that is far above the pocket money budget. One thing is already revealed: Starlink: Battle for Atlas stands out from the crowd here.
Welcome to the Starlink Initiative
Everything starts with a spaceship crashing on a fictitious future Earth. The surviving alien, a swarm intelligence, is found by the scientist St. Grand and is given a protective suit and the name Judge by him. With Judge and the knowledge from the crashed spaceship it is possible to build a new vehicle for the earth, the Equinox. With the help of Nova Kern, the energy source from Judges spaceship, a gate is pushed into the solar system Atlas. Thus St. Grand explores Atlas together with Judge and penetrates ever further into the secrets of these worlds. To speed up the exploration, he creates the Starlink Initiative, a group of human pilots, but when they are in full strength for the first time in the Atlas Sector to meet humanoid alien woman Shaid, who wants to deliver an artifact to St. Grand, they are suddenly attacked by the Legion. The Starlink pilots try to ward off this attack with their spaceships, but the Legion is after St. Grand and the Nova core of the Equinox – and manages to capture them. Struck by a huge EMP wave, the pilots’ space ships and the Equinox crash on the planet Kirite. Once there, the Equinox must first be brought back into space to free St. Grand, who is now in the hands of the evil and mysterious leader of the Legion, Grax.
New friends, old enemies!
The Legion is widespread on the planets of the Atlas system, even on the planet Kirite, which seems to be peaceful at first. You’ll also quickly realize that while your team is motivated, you’re in a foreign sector with no knowledge of the environment and solar system, making it almost impossible to save St. Grand. But luckily you know Shaid now, so you have access to some insider information and can make new friends in the ranks of expedition scientists to help you explore new techniques. But the Prospector Group, with its electron refineries, is also an important ally in obtaining the necessary financial resources. However, you and the sector also have a lot of enemies, because not only the ancient Legion protectors, under the control of Grax, are turning against everyone, no, there are also nasty outlaws who want to make life difficult for you. So you will explore the different planets of Atlas, free the worlds from their oppressors, make friends, get to know the fauna better and be on the trail of a big secret around Grax and St. Grand.
Now it’s gonna be real!
Until here would be Starlink: Battle for Atlas an almost normal space adventure with beautiful worlds, exciting story and a good portion of fun, but stop – there was still something with real toys. Exactly, because Starlink: Battle for Atlas lets you “teleport” a complete physical spaceship into the game. Such spaceships always consist of one pilot figure, one hull, one left and one right wing each, as well as one weapon on each wing. Alternatively, the wings can also be omitted, i.e. a complete spaceship consists of a maximum of six parts. These can be combined and attached at will, so that you can put together your personal dream spaceship from the available parts according to your wishes. Attention: The fuselage and wings have no special abilities, but the pilots and weapons do. So each of the fighters has special special attacks, and with the weapons it becomes even more tricky: Besides the fact that there are different types like guided missiles, laser beams, which have to be charged, laser cannons etc., these are also one of five elements assigned.
Now everyone who has already dealt with Games with Toys will scream and say, so here the money will be taken out of your pocket. And yes, you can buy a lot of accessories, but it is not a must to buy new weapons or spaceships. The whole game, as we played it, can only be played and finished with the Starter Kit. But let’s say right away: Some things are easier if you have the right weapons at your disposal.
A nice feature is also that weapons and spaceship parts can be exchanged at any time – this is very pleasant especially in the hectic of combat. If you can’t get any further with the current setup, simply pull off the current weapon, put the new one on it, and it’s ready to go. You can set the settings to pause the game every time you switch, but this slows down the action and is not necessary.
How does the whole spaceship come into play?
Ubisoft has designed a special adapter for this purpose, which is attached to the controller – and here the first little disappointment also beckons: While players on the Xbox One simply connect it to the port on the controller or switch players get a specially designed JoyCon mount, PS4 players are left alone. You’ll also get a mount that connects to the controller, but unlike the other two systems, it requires a USB connection to the console, restricting your freedom of movement. After all, the permanently installed cable is correspondingly long and since the attachment is not dependent on the controller, it can also be stored separately and does not always have to be carried along as with the other systems. One thing you notice quite quickly: The very detailed models of pilot and spaceship are indeed beautiful, but also an additional weight on the controller and worsen the handling of the same noticeable.
A little role play is in everything
It’s no secret that your pilots, the spaceship, your weapons and even the Equinox have their own level, which you can upgrade during the course of the game or equip with modifications you have won or found, but contrary to the usual variants, you don’t have to level up every weapon, every pilot or every ship, but instead have one level per unit. That means, if you have your left weapon on level 5 and you replace it with another weapon, it won’t start again at level 1, but has the same status as level 5. Only modifications are directly mounted on the weapon; however, these can be mounted on a new one at any time or you get enough during the game, so that you don’t have to fear a bottleneck here. The situation is similar with ships and pilots, so you can change the pilot figure at any time without having to fear a disadvantage. Ubisoft has come up with a nice gimmick for respawn: Your spaceship can of course be destroyed in battle. If this happens, the player has the choice of simply resurrecting his ship at the last safe point, or simply latching on to another spaceship and continuing directly in combat. Unfortunately you still have to respawn the destroyed ship, but this is much more liberating after a won battle than if you have to start the current battle again after the repair.
The light and dark side of toys
Now switch players are asking themselves the question: Can I now Starlink: Don’t play Battle for Atlas in handheld mode, or rather, do I always have to carry the spaceships with me? The answer is no. Ubisoft has come up with a very pragmatic solution for all versions, namely the possibility of the digital game. Behind this is nothing else than that you have your spaceship parts digitally available in your game and can then build them virtual. There are some funny things like the choice of the orientation of the wings or the orientation of the weapons, but a game without physical accessories is possible. There are two ways to use this mode: The first is simple; you have physically bought the part and just plug it into your spaceship – and it’s available digitally. This must be done again at regular intervals so that it remains activated. Alternatively, all parts can be purchased in a purely digital version; and here we are already at the dark side of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, because really all updates have to be bought with real money, and at a very high price. Thus pilots in their figure version cost about 8€, digital 4€; weapon packs, consisting of two weapons, cost 12€ as real parts, 7€ as digital version; and spaceship packs, consisting of a weapon, a ship with two wings and a pilot as model, cost about 30€ physically and 15€ as digital version. These are now considered individually still justifiable prices, but if one wants everything, the whole adds up to approximately 350€, which burdens the budget additionally. In addition, you can do everything in the Koop multiplayer, but if your friend does not have an adapter, you get another 20€ on top here.
Leater than that, Ubisoft has also left a few possibilities behind. So everything can be combined, but there is no memory like the one found in the Skylander characters, so you can’t just take your ship level with you to your friends to actively support them. Although this is understandable in terms of sales, it is still unsatisfactory in many respects. So it would be great if you could support your friends more effectively, and also a common progress in the campaign could have been reflected in your own progress. In the current form, you simply have a common score and your own single player score, which is wasted co-op potential.
The version confusion
Yes, the different versions are often a dilemma for such series and do not make it easy for the customer to decide what to buy. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is no exception: While the PS4 and Xbox One variants are almost identical (apart from the dock already mentioned), the Switch variant offers some special features. Instead of Mason’s Zenith the Arwing from Star Fox is there and you get Fox McCloud as second pilot figure. Instead, you don’t have three weapons like the other versions, but only two weapon attachments; however, it’s already pointed out on the packaging that the Arwing always has a laser cannon when no weapons are mounted. This can be compared to the third weapon from the other packs. But not only that, you also get special Star Fox missions, which are Switch-exclusive, in addition to the actual story, into which the crew of Star Fox was integrated. If you now think you can use the Arwing on the PS4 or Xbox One version, you will be disappointed, because neither pilot nor spaceship parts are recognized by these versions. Another disappointment for switch players is the first time they start, because this is not possible out of the box, but requires a 6 GB download. Unfortunately, this procedure is nothing new for switch games, but still clouds the overall picture.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas has a clear advantage compared to its direct competitors or predecessors: It’s a game that really challenges us, with high complexity, great story, nice graphics and good sound, which would have liked to get along well without all the trick-or-treat with the spaceships. Nevertheless one has to say that the spaceships hit the play instinct of a more mature audience far better than the competition has been able to, and so I wanted to have more and more models and pilots after a short time – after all, they also do well in the showcase and who knows what we will expect in the future.
What is Starlink: Battle for Atlas? An Open World 3rd person spaceship shooter with real toy spaceships.
Platforms: PS4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch
Tested: Playstation 4 / Nintendo Switch
Developer / Publisher: Ubisoft Toronto/ Ubisoft
Release: October 28, 2018
Link: Official Website