Toys-to-life games are on the way out, and yet one of the most surprising and enjoyable titles that I played at E3 2018 was sitting squarely in this seemingly dying genre. Starlink: Battle for Atlas debuted last year with a reveal that skewed toward a younger audience. But after getting some hands-on time with the game this year, it’s clear that Starlink is aiming for a much more mature crowd, and they seem to be poised to hit it.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas essentially takes the toys-to-life genre to the next level. No longer do you just buy a toy, scan it in and move on. The captains, ships, and weapons are all interchangeable and customizable here. Your captain controls your special ability, such as slowing down time or gaining a massive speed boost. Your ship is most of your other properties, such as maneuverability, durability, and speed. Attached to the ship are wings that can be mixed, matched, and combined in any way you want, stacking three on top of each other if you wish, to create a bulky, but powerful machine. And on the end of those wings will be your two weapons, which again can be mixed around however you want.
Already you can see how Starlink is evolving the toys-to-life formula
Already you can see how Starlink is evolving the toys-to-life formula, and yet the team has gone further. Playing the game brings back all the hope that No Man’s Sky once offered, in a smaller, more believable package of course. You explore the available system, which consists of seven different planets, as you wish. While in space you might be ravaged by pirates, but it’s the only way to get from planet to planet, so you’d better be prepared.
Those planets, or at least the one I explored in my hands-on demo with Ubisoft at E3 2018, are lush, and full of interesting things. There are enemies of course, which consisted of large creatures who flung energy at my ship. There was also a massive boss, and it was a tough one. While the aesthetics and general vibe of the game might make you think it skews young, the gameplay was all serious, as evidenced by my ship’s destruction during the boss battle. No big deal though, I just popped another ship on and kept going.
Fighting the boss utilized all my weapons and abilities in different ways. My captain allowed me to slow down time, which was useful whenever the weak spot was available for attack. While I’d been using a machine gun and rocket combo against smaller enemies, I swapped to a railgun and some sort of black hole generator for the boss, allowing large damage in small amounts of time. There were multiple stages, including one where the boss fled and I had to chase him down, but eventually he fell.
After fighting the massive beast, I got to explore the wilderness on and surrounding the planet. Animals could be scanned, adding them and their info to my menu. The surrounding space could be explored at regular or hyper speed, with pirates swarming the further I got from the planet surface. I couldn’t visit any of the other worlds during the demo, but they hung there in space, taunting me with their mysteries.
No Man’s Sky has come up often (including earlier in this article) in reference to Starlink, and it’s for good reason. The game feels very much like what that title was aiming for, only on a smaller scale and with toys-to-life mechanics added on top. If that sounds interesting to you then Starlink should be near the top of your most-wanted list. This is especially true since the worlds aren’t procedural, at least not as a whole. Areas were hand crafted to deliver the experience the developer wanted, with procedural areas used to fill in the gaps.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas’ biggest hurdle will be the cost. The game itself will run $75 for the base set on any system. Extra ships, captains, and weapons add cost on top of that. If you don’t want the physical goodies, you can buy the upgrades digitally at a discount, which is where most adults might go. Even with that, the price for this game will run high, but if it delivers on the promising demo I experienced then it could break through this hurdle.
It’s still too early to say whether Starlink: Battle for Atlas will be worth the money, but I’ve been thoroughly impressed so far. What really blew me away was just how deep the game ended up being, after initially writing it off as a game aimed at a younger crowd. It seems like the team understood that and worked over the last year to mature it up quite a bit, and they’ve certainly succeeded there.