Starlink: Battle for Atlas is the Open-World Space Shooter I’ve Been Waiting For
Ubisoft's open-world shooter Starlink: Battle for Atlas brings the toys-to-life genre back in a fantastic way. Also, you can play as Fox McCloud!
At the very young age of four, I got my first gaming device, the Gameboy. The first game my parents gave me was Arcade Classics 3: Galaga/Galaxian forever influencing my taste in video games. Since then, games like Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, Resogun, Star Fox 64, and other space shooters have become some of my favorite games of all time.
In particular, Star Fox is a series I have an odd fascination with. As a franchise, Fox McCloud and the Star Fox team have one fantastic game and a slew of okay to subpar games. Maybe it’s the potential for a great story. Perhaps it is the series’ art direction that just draws me in. Maybe I just think Arwings look cool. Whatever it is, anything Star Fox related really gets me excited. So when Ubisoft surprised us with Fox McCloud as a playable character and the Arwing as a playable ship in its new toys-to-life space shooter Starlink: Battle for Atlas during its E3 Press Conference, no game mattered to me more.
Since I had some free time to check out one game on the floor, I rushed Nintendo’s booth on the E3 show floor to get some hands-on time with Starlink: Battle for Atlas to play as my favorite anthropomorphic fox. Unfortunately, I did not get to play as Fox McCloud or use the Arwing. One of our other staff writers, Logan Moore, did get to try out the Arwing though and told me the following. Despite that, Ubisoft’s space shooter was my favorite game I played at E3 earning my staff pick award.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas’ main gimmick is the toy spaceships you’ll use to bring the ship to the television screen. An adapter will allow you to mount a pilot and a ship on top of your controller. Upon first glance, it does look cumbersome. The ships are larger than I anticipated — from eyeballing it, they were about 6 to 8 inches in length — but they don’t add too much weight to the controller. It was a bit awkward at first, but once I started playing, I hardly noticed it was just a few inches from my fingers. If you don’t want a toy weighing down your controller, you can play without the accessories.
The figures do more than just sit on your controller. The pilot you use will dictate your special ability, while different ships will offer distinct statistical advantages and can be modded on the fly. While I was playing, I started with two automatic turrets. The loadout got the job done, but I wanted to diversify my strategy. In-combat, I was able to physically take off one of the turrets and add some missiles to my arsenal. You don’t have to pause the game either, once you take off any piece of your ship or even the ship itself, the game will automatically pause the game. While I was playing, I was told enemies may be weak to certain types of damage. Allowing you to change your loadout on the fly doesn’t force you to use weapons that may be less effective for an entire mission.
The demo began in space with a few planets in view with a waypoint on the nearest world indicating where my next objective was. The game’s open solar system is made up of seven planets and, according to the game’s FAQ, is Ubisoft’s biggest open-world to date. You’ll be free to fly in and out of planets seamlessly as you go from mission to mission. I wasn’t really expecting the open-world and it was a pleasant surprise.
The visuals of that first frame are nothing special. To be perfectly blunt, the Switch version doesn’t look great. It’s not that it’s so bad and ugly that it’s unplayable. I’m just saying if Star Fox isn’t a selling point for you, maybe check it out on any other system.
Gameplay is split into two different play styles. The first is similar to other 3D space shooters — the best way I can describe it is like Star Fox 64’s all-range mode — while the second brings your ship to a hover and controls more like a third-person shooter. At first, it seemed natural to use the flying mode to travel and the hover mode during combat. However, when I fought the boss, I found that using the flying mode allowed me to dodge some of the enemies attacks until I’d see an opening, then switch to the hover mode and go in for the attack. Switching between the two flight modes, as well as changing ship parts or pilots on the fly gives the combat a bit more diversity letting you approach challenges the way you’d like.
Even though I didn’t get to play as my beloved Fox McCloud during my demo of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, one of our other writers, Logan Moore, did have the chance to go hands-on with the Arwing. He played the same demo as I did but was able to experience it with the Arwing instead. Here is what he thought about it:
The Arwing in Starlink controlled like a dream and made me remember why I used to adore Star Fox games in the first place. Unlike the other ships in the game, the Arwing comes naturally equipped with its own iconic laser canons. You can still equip some of Starlink’s other available weapons to the Arwing, but I found the demo to be much more fun using its standard green laserbeams.
Additionally, you can hold each of your triggers in to load up the classic charge-shot from Star Fox. While these shots don’t lock on to enemies like in the Star Fox games, it definitely gave me that nostalgia hit that I didn’t know I was looking for. This nostalgia mixed with the fantastic controls that each Starlink ship has made for the most fluid and enjoyable experience I’ve probably had with Fox McCloud since Star Fox 64.
The Arwing feels right at home in Starlink: Battle for Atlas and I now can’t imagine any other way to play the game. I’ll absolutely be picking up the Switch version of the game when it launches. If you have any love for past Star Fox games, I’d highly suggest that you do the same.
There are a ton of great games releasing this year. Somehow, a toys-to-life game for the Nintendo Switch became my most anticipated of them all. Although my time was brief, Starlink: Battle for Atlas has a lot of depth as you find a ship combination and pilot that fits your play style. Switching between ground and air combat brings variety and strategy to its gameplay that I wasn’t expecting. The Switch version was not the prettiest game but its a small detriment in an overall satisfying experience. From what I played, Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an unbelievable take on the toys-to-life genre.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas will be available for Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One on October 16, 2018; you can grab the game early on Amazon so you don’t miss any of the Arwing bundles.
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