Starlink: Battle for Atlas Analysis
Time Played: 5 hours
Platform: PS4 (no accessories)
Written by: Sabrina Yam
What do you think of when you imagine an intergalactic, epic adventure? Is it the swell of orchestral music to accompany you as you peel away from planets and asteroids at the speed of light? Or is it the neon flashes of a fierce dogfight, lasers firing carelessly, exploding enemies and cleaving passing debris in half? Or is it the hearty quips of your rag-tag crew as you guys cross into gulfs unknown and skim the stratosphere of undiscovered planets?
Ubisoft’s new game, Starlink: Battle for Atlas claims all of the above.
This game speaks to the space geek in me. I love the fact that there are different planets out there, waiting to be explored. I love the jolt of surprise at the occasional bandit ambush, signaling an ensuing chase in the weightlessness of deep space. Personally, I think Ubisoft’s Starlink hits just the right notes for the audience it was going for. The sincerity of the crew and an overall thrilling sci-fi storyline ensures that Starlink promises a family friendly adventure like no other.
As a game writer and designer, here’s a closer look at some elements that I thought were done particularly well, and some that left a little more to be desired.
One thing that definitely stands out is the characters. Though the story starts off formulaic for a space adventure (a la a mysterious power core, space-pirates and mysterious deliveries, and the wreckage of the mother ship), much of Starlink’s narrative strengths come from the relatable and sincere personalities of the cast. I chose to play as Levi: a hoodie-wearing, backpack-toting slip of a kid with an explosive enthusiasm for adventure… and I was absolutely stoked to find out that he’s from the ‘SoCal streets’, and spoke with the slang of a typical Californian surfer dude. Other characters are equally likeable or memorable in their own way, and though the dialogue skirts the edges of cliché at times, their bantering has enough heart to keep me invested in their adventures.
Narrative pacing has its ups and downs. On the one hand, the game moves you on from one planet to the next, giving you just enough of a tantalizing glimpse at what lies on the horizon before ushering literally onto a whole new world. While that might prove frustrating to completionist players who prefer to complete planets one at a time, I personally found it motivating. The promise of seeing a new landscape kept me pushing my joystick forward.
Combat is where Starlink shines. The game introduces enemies in a way that’s thrilling but also gradual, first throwing you into a dogfight in space where you practice aiming, and then letting you scrap with some smaller imp-like aliens to teach you to equip the right weaponry. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching a well calculated attack land, causing your robotic enemy to blow up with much drama and flair.
The combat is balanced in that it’s user-friendly but not too much of a pushover; all weapons are one of three elemental models (ice versus fire, for example), and players get a pop-up that recommends equipping different guns for various enemies. The game allows for an astonishing amount of customization that strikes just the right chord between variety and overwhelmingness, ultimately allowing players to gain quick mastery of their favorite weapons and build themselves souped-up spaceships without much fuss.
One of the best things about being in space is, well, being in space! But also coming across all manner of alien life forms. The first time I saw a Razorbeak, ambling along with its weird, bird-like face and stout oxen-ish body, I gasped in delight. And what made it even more exciting was that these creatures (and most of the ones I encountered) were peaceful! They didn’t immediately charge at me and scare me off before I even knew how to engage in combat. Instead, they just went on with their business and let me fly circles around them to scan them for data.
Having said that, the actual scanning and collecting data could become monotonous by nature. In order to collect the Fauna scan of a species (e.g. the Razorbeak), you have to find and scan three individual creatures from the group to get a complete analysis. It was exciting the first time, but not so much the second or third time, and sometimes the animals move in clusters, which made it all the more difficult to maneuver between them.
Likewise, collecting resources from the environment involves a mechanic where you have to pull to a certain degree (tilting back your left joystick) to hit a very specific margin before the resource is picked up. While I appreciate that they put a spin on simply pressing a button to interact with an object, it does get tedious after a while to keep making sure I’m adjusting the joystick to the right angle.
So while there are moments in the game that really flourished, and some that fell on the clunky side, the whole Starlink: Battle for Atlas was a much-needed galactic adventure that rekindled my love for space exploration games. The controls were smooth, the combat was interesting, and I had a lot of time enjoying the different planets I landed on.
And if I absolutely had to choose one thing that could’ve added to my experience?
It would be playing it on the Switch with Star Fox.