Starlink: Battle for Atlas hands-on preview: No Man’s Skylanders

Adam Mathew 5 October 2018 NEWS

Engage thrusters, deploy wallet.

No Man's Skylanders. I'm probably not the first person to call Starlink this, but it's a pretty apt portmanteau of game titles. Half the equation here is the Toys to Life shtick, only this time you're physically collecting starships and their paraphernalia, not Spyro and his company of freaks. The remainder: interplanetary exploration, towering alien creatures and some good old-fashioned pew pew. Basically, I strapped in for some Starlink hands-on knowing more or less nothing about it, an hour later I was eyeing the catalogue for which ships to buy come launch day.

However, there is a proviso to that recommendation. Yes, I'm a grown-ass man with hardcore gaming tastes, but I'm also the father. My offspring (ages six and nine) lost their collective crap over the Skylanders range and Disney Infinity – two franchises that have been put to pasture (much to their disappointment). Excuse the astro-pun, but I think Starlink can capably fill the vacuum of space left behind by those jettisoned franchises.

I'll not bore you with too much of the plot as it's not going to win any BAFTAs at this point. After making contact with an alien that crashed on Earth, Judge astrophysicist Victor St. Grand secretly recruited a team of pilots to explore the stars. So yeah. Plot-wise, it's essentially Mass Effect Andromeda for kids. Originality isn't Starlink's strongest suit.

I exit hyperspace at the start of the game. Our NOVA powered mothership enters an alien solar system called Atlas in order to find out more about Judge. Your crew is Chase, a soul sister pilot with mad shooting skills; Mason, a square-jawed Flash Gordon type; Razor, an edgy tech with body-piercings aplenty; and Levi, the token annoying scatterbrain. They're all well voiced (even though the script is a touch hammy) and are rendered in slightly caricatured art style that put me in the mind of Beyond Good & Evil. Not a bad thing at all.

The action kicks off for me when I have to leap into my ship and mount a rescue of Shaid, a vaguely humanoid bounty hunter. She's trying to deliver us a mysterious artefact but is being pursued by a squadron of laser-happy enemies called Legion Drakes. Looking to the “portal clip” attached to my controller, I slot in a pilot (Mason) then on top of that I click on a ship (a “Zenith” which essentially looks like an elongated, snub-nosed Jedi Starfighter). At this point, I'd like to note that my controller became quite a bit heavier than I was used to, though not distractingly so.

A starfighter is no good without things to fight in the stars with, and so I clip weapon pods onto the two contact points on my toy ship. I select a Frost Barrage that homing blasts enemies, like a charged special attack in Panzer Dragoon. I complement this with a Shredder minigun on RT. Thus armed, I proceed to get my Top Gun on in a series of surprisingly decent dogfights. That old bullet ballet of fluctuating your speed, tracking HUD arrows and lining up gnat-like enemies in your sights for the kill. It's no X-Wing versus TIE Fighter, but solid nonetheless.

Despite my Luke “Red 5” Skywalker skills, St Grand is captured by our antagonist (think: a bird thing who walked into his local barber and said “give me the Majora's Mask, fam”). I'm also sent tumbling down to a planet that's as alien as it is technicolour. With flight power on the fritz, Starlink shifts into a different style of shooter. Strafing and the ability to “jump” become enabled and you effectively skate across the surface of a planet like a hover car.

It's a refreshing change of pace that rewards skilful circle-strafing, a close eye on your radar and matching enemy elemental weakness to weaponry. For the latter, I bolt on a Flamethrower and an Imploder (a close-range solution and charge-up crowd-controller), respectively. Once again, the blasting is pretty damn satisfying, plus using these gun pods unlocks a range of cool perks. I also dug how using two specific weapons could deliver bonus effects (eg Frost Blast and Flame Thrower cause enemies to become statues in a Thermal Lock state).

I'll not spoil much else with my time with Starlink (the attached video should do all that for me). What I will say is that while Starlink lacks the quadrillion universe scope of No Man's Sky, this more modest solar system still comes with that wow-factor – that indefinable endorphin you feel whenever you breach some clouds, shake off the surly bonds of gravity and enter space. Couple that with rock solid combat, plus a host of well-built toys, and Starlink may just have what it takes to boldly go beyond your expectations.

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