As a concept, it feels like Starlink: Battle for Atlas is three years late to the party. The toys to life fad died out a long time ago, and so to see a title basing itself around the act of collecting weapons and ships out in the real world in the year 2018 almost seems like a foolish business decision to us. We got a chance to sample this blend between reality and videogame at EGX 2018, and while results in the gameplay department were fairly promising, we still can't shake the fact that this is all too much, far too late.
In terms of the actual game playing side of things, the title appears to be a combination of No Man's Sky's space exploration, and the ship combat that you'd find in the likes of Elite Dangerous. The demo we got hands on time with kicked things off with a warp speed powered flight through space, before eventually clearing as we approached the planet our objective was tied to. First things first, take out a large structure by targeting its weak points in order to reveal the core. It was simple stuff, but the enemies that spawned there began to reveal the positivities behind the idea of reconstructing the ship attached to your controller.
We were given two different ships and four weapons to choose from, and once we saw foes spawning that leaned towards an icy type, we immediately unequipped our machine gun in the real world and slapped on the flamethrower. This switch up pauses the action on-screen so there's no downside to having to take your eyes away from the action. It's pretty cool to see your actions immediately effect weaponry in-game as you take the fight to the enemy, but it's probably something you'll tire of doing after the 30th time.
The 20 minute demo concluded with a boss fight against a combatant that wouldn't look too out of place in Destiny, which again had us targeting weak points in order to deal large damage. Looking back on it all, the sequence of events was fairly impressive as a set-piece to show off the title, but we're still not entirely sure how it fits into the overall structure of the game. Is the game completely open-world, allowing us to visit planets, coming and going as we please? Will we ever be able to leave our ships to scope out a new area for example? Are you at a disadvantage if you haven't purchased the correct weapons? These are all questions we more than likely won't have an answer to until the full game launches.
One issue we did encounter during our hands on time was the act of respawning, which took us back to space and asked us to fly back onto the planet we were just on and find the creature we were doing battle with all over again. It feels particularly brutal on the player. Editor Sammy Barker, who also took the demo, had the same thing happen to him, but noticed an option that seemed to suggest that you could actually respawn in the same spot if you were to de-construct the ship attached to your controller and slap on a new one. You'd be swapping ships in the midst of battle as such, but it also highlights probably the biggest issue with the game.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas' starter pack comes in at a whopping £69.99, and that's just the entry price. The demo we took gave us access to everything you'd receive in that pack as well as an extra ship and another weapon on top, so could the quick respawn mechanic be tied to buying a further £24.99 priced ship separately? We don't know, but it's clear what we're getting at. The game portion of Starlink seems perfectly adequate, it's everything else on the sides that has us worried. With the idea of buying toys to supplement a game's structure and mechanics in the distant past, we really don't know if this will take off. It's a shame that something potentially so good could be marred and forgotten about thanks to something it can't even control.
Honestly, we're still struggling to define what Starlink: Battle for Atlas exactly is as a whole, and that fascinates us. This scribe is genuinely really interested in seeing what shape the game takes as a final product next month, warts and all. It could prove to be the kick in the teeth the toys to life gimmick needs to kick start it all back up again, or it could be the final nail in the coffin. Only time will tell.
Are you interested in checking out Starlink: Battle for Atlas next month? Does its pricing structure concern you? Fly into the comments below.