November 03, 2018

Starlink: Battle for Atlas - Review

When Starlink: Battle for Atlas was first announced, it grabbed my attention as I love both open exploration and space flying games, but now that the full release is here, did all the pieces come together, or is a piece or two missing?

Starlink, as I shall call it from now on, tells the story of a group of humans, who are venturing into the galaxy of Atlas, with a mission to help an alien lifeform called Judge, by finding his people and returning him home. Not long after they arrive, they notice a ship is being chased by outlaws, and after receiving a distress call, they jump in their ships and go to help, but whilst the pilots are away, a hidden ship crashes into the Equinox and the boarding party kidnap the expedition leader, St Grand and steal the ships main energy device, powered by Nova. Without a power source, the ship soon plummets down to the nearby planet and the crew decide to try and location their missing leader and recover him, but before that they need more power and new allies.

After meeting a few of the locals, who become members of the crew, they begin to search the planet for resources, but once they move onto the nearby planet, they discover the Legion is causing more trouble than previously thought. The Legion are lead by a mysterious fellow by the name of Grax and he is seeding planets with Primes, to harvest Electrum, which can be converted to Nova, they do that by planting extractors. As you move onto the other planets, the number of extractors increases, but as do the level of the enemies protecting them, as well as the Primes that are seeding them. After taking down your first Prime, a ship is discovered that belongs to the Legion when a mysterious pilot shadows you back to the main ship and passes on a video message from St Grand, with things ready, the rescue mission begins, however I won’t say anymore on that subject.

All of the story is told either via cutscenes, or little overlays on the screen, where your character and the ships crew interact with each other. The problem with both is that you never feel fully connected to the world, there is no sequence to show you leaving your ship when your return to the Equinox and the radio chatter, is just that chatter. The characters themselves are nice and interesting enough, though one is sure to get on many players nerves, but because of the disconnect, it is hard to connect with them, even the little logs that St Grand made, help sell that connection, which is a shame, because the alien friends you make, seem like they would have some great stories to tell. The rest of the aliens you meet though, are just presented through single images and radio chatter, plus with the voices repeating a lot, there is never a reason to invest in those working at the sites you find them at.

The sites however, are worthy of your time, as you can build what you need, letting you take a planet and turn it into a mining machine or outfitting it with countless defence outposts, to help keep it safe while you are away. As you clear out Imp hives, you can build over them, with the base of your choice, as long as you have the resources and finding the right balance of what you build is a little tricky, but worth it in the long run. Resources are your way of upgrading almost everything, so earning them is very important, the quickest way is to help refineries on the various factories, but you can also mine, or extract some yourself. The ruins that you can explore on various planets can yield some cool items, that you can exchange for more resources as well, so no matter how you go, you are sure to earn them. The other resource is Nova, which is harder to acquire but far and away much more important, some bases upgrades, builds and more require Nova over Electrum so getting a nice reserve of that is important. As you clear more of each planet from the Legion, you will be able to use more locations for building, of course, clearing Legion away is easier said than done.

Each planet has escalating enemies, Imps are the easiest to kill, but they move around in large numbers, the standard enemies come in the form of the Cyclops and while they start easy, they soon start coming equipped with elemental effects, which require you to equip the corresponding weapon to deal massive amounts of damage. There are more advanced versions of them that will come down, called Giants, they have significant amount of health and are usually a level or two ahead of you, but the biggest threat, at least on planet are the Primes. Each time a Prime lands on a planet, it begins to seed it with extractors, with the more that it has left around, the stronger it is, so taking those out is critical to your success. Each extractor is guarded by a series of enemies, and sentry orbs, and while you can take out most orbs with little difficulty, they eventually require you to rip off some armour first.

This rinse and repeat pattern though is the games biggest weakness, while its great to have the game level with you, somewhat, if you ever return to the earlier planets, they are generally pretty easy to blow through. Sometimes the Primes that you will encounter will be of a higher level and offer some more offensive options, but they are rare and even when you do encounter one, there is no denying that the right weapon combination can take them down with ease and that is where Starlink shines. As a toys-to-life game, to succeed, you must be willing to adapt, now I went for the pure digital version, so no physical toys for me, but even then, swapping weapons and ships was key. Each of the ships you can unlock has a weight to it, it also has base stats, like movement speed and so on and then once you start equipping weapons, things get interesting, thankfully the game lets you save a few presets on each ship, so no worries about undoing your hard work.

Both the ships and the weapons are able to be modded, with mod upgrades that you can get form missions, larger enemies and even Warden spires and with the right weapon mods, you can transform into something pretty awesome. The mods you acquire can also be upgraded, once you have enough of them. As with most open world rpg’s these days, the mods are colour coded, so white is basic and then blue, green and so on and they can always be improved. The more you mod, the more powerful you will become and the easier the game will become in the long run, that is not to say its an easy game, there are still times when, after encountering a new enemy for the first time, I was totally destroyed, even taking on extractors without a plan, or the right weapons, resulted in my death far more times that I would have liked.

From a visual point of view, the game has a look that is part No Man’s Sky, blended with some Avatar and then given a Nickelodeon effect to complete it, the result is a hyper stylised set of visuals. Enemy design has a unique look to it, with a mix of both man-made and biological parts, the larger enemies look especially intimidating for it. Each planet has a host of wildlife to discover and while they are, for the most part, similar to some creatures we have on our own planet, just with a little twist on them, some though are quite extraordinary. As for the planets themselves, they are mostly sparse of anything to exciting, sure the Warden spires are cool to explore and by that I mean navigate to get into, but nothing is really around you, even the refineries and other locations you can trade with are pretty much in their open, which makes them easy to spot.

For audio, the games musical score is cool, though it only kicks in when the action does, which helps elevates the encounters that you will have. The cast though, is perhaps the weakest link of things, the voices match the characters fine, but there are so based in stereotypes, that even getting a look at a character, before you hear them speak, will give you enough to know them. Sadly, the lines tend to repeat, just with a different voice or two down the line and while the performances are decent and it all comes together well enough, there is just not enough variety in how the total of what is presented.

That is perhaps the biggest issue with Starlink, lack of variety, the games core revolves around a simple concept and works really well, but even by the time you have left the first planet, very little changes, just more of the same. The games modding system is interesting and for those that delve into it, they will get a lot from it, but those who ignore it, will find themselves stuck in a pretty boring loop.

Review copy provided by Ubisoft

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