Star Wars Squadrons – The Glory of the Dogfight Returns
PC, Xbox One, PS4
Speak to any old PC gamer about Star Wars and you are likely to get tales of a series of games that redefined what space-based dogfighting meant. That series was the X-wing/Tie Fighter line of games and over four main entries, they captured the dreams of anyone who wanted to relive the epic space battle sequences from the original Star Wars trilogy. These were deep, sim-style experiences that skipped over arcade action for a more genuine experience and were loved because of that. But then, space fighting games, especially those on the complicated side of things, became a fading trend and gamers everywhere slowly became resigned to the fact that their days of blasting Tie Fighters out of the sky were behind them.
But, like a Phoneix rising from the ashes, EA released Star Wars Squadrons, a game that comes with the promise of the accessibility of a modern game, but with the feel of the classic space fighting titles. Like many, I was sceptical, but the good news is that goal has been achieved and we once again have a reason to pull our flights sticks out of our cupboards.
Let me be clear, Squadrons isn’t as deep as the classic games from the ’90s. It is infinitely more accessible and there is no reason why any gamer couldn’t pick up the game and have a blast. That said Motive have included a lot of systems that wouldn’t be present in a purely arcade-styled experience. This is much, much more than the starfighter sections in Battlefront 2. I guess the best analogy I can come up with is Forza Horizon. It sits smack bang between arcade and full-sim experiences, offering something for fans of both sides of the scale. It was a smart move by EA as it means they avoid the disappointment of the old brigade without scaring off new players and limiting their player pool.
Set in the time period just after the fall of the second Death Star, the campaign for Squadrons runs at about the 7-hour mark on normal difficulty and focuses on two squadrons of fighter pilots, one from the failing Empire and one from the New Republic. Players take charge of a customisable character in each of the squadrons and follow the groups as they fight towards their specific goals. The story is told through cutscenes and non-interactive conversations which means that everything tends to be very exposition-heavy and wordy, but despite that I found myself enjoying the overall story along with the smaller details like individual pilot’s motivations and desires. It was a nice little peak into something that Star Wars has ignored in other mediums. The campaign features quite a variety of objectives and missions too, meaning that it never gets stale. This is important as the AI isn’t exactly pushing limits, especially at normal difficulty, so the mission variety keeps things interesting.
The most important part of the game is the flying and Motive have nailed it. Everything feels just right with the various spacecraft all feeling significantly different, forcing players to master their unique traits to become a good pilot. The ships fall into four basic categories, Standard, Assault, Bomber and Support and can be modified by players with varying different loadouts to suit the upcoming mission. Getting to know these classes and which ones suit which situations is especially important in the later missions where you often have your choice of fighter. Pick the wrong class and your task becomes much more difficult. The other important factor in becoming an ace behind the stick is managing power. Depending on which ship you are flying there are two or three power meters. One for engines, one for lasers and, if the ship has them, one for shields. Manging the power levels between these three meters is key to succeeding in different situations. Assaulting a capital class ship, cranks those shields up. Trailing an enemy in a dogfight, boost lasers to finish him quickly. In trouble and need to escape, send power to your engines and hightail it out of there. All this is achieved with simple presses on the d-pad making it easy to use, but no less important in the scheme of things.
On the multiplayer side of things, it must be said what is here is a little bare-bones, with only two modes, but considering the price of the game that is understandable. The first of the two is simply a dogfight mode, essentially Team Deathmatch with space ships. 5 v 5 dogfighting in a range of different locations, basic but entertaining and put together well. The second mode, Fleet Battles, is a bit more interesting. Two teams are involved in a large scale, multi-stage battle that switches between attacking the opposition’s capital ships to defending your own depending on the flow of the battle. The morale of the two sides is increased and decreased through the loss of ships and once the morale reaches a certain point, the attacking and defending roles switch. I had a blast in this mode with each match lasting about 30 minutes and great matchmaking ensuring everything was fair. You can even play this mode against different levels of AI to improve your skills or simply to play solo. As you level up in multiplayer activities you unlock a host of different ship customisations, both cosmetic and game-affecting, and are able to tailor ships to your personal style. It isn’t anything groundbreaking but offers a nice incentive to keep playing.
Graphically, on my PC at least, the game is stunning. Some truly awe-inspiring skyscapes to behold and the level of detail shown in all of the starships is impressive. Everything ran super smooth for me, never dropping below 60fps, even in the most intense of space battles. The sound design is also wonderful, with all the familiar sounds from the Star Wars universe present and correct. Due to the nature of the game, I can highly recommend getting your hands on a good headset, because there is nothing quite like the sound of starfighters zipping past you in glorious surround sound. It is also worth noting that the game can be played in VR, which sadly I cannot test out but I can say that this game is making it really hard not to head out and purchase a VR set for my PC.
In all, Star Wars Squadrons is the type of game I never thought I would see again and as a result, I am more than willing to look past its minor problems. Sure the multiplayer is a bit bare-bones and the story is heavy on exposition, but the moment-to-moment gameplay more than makes up for it. I hope this is a huge success and Motive get the chance to build on this for an even better sequel because a world where I can strap into an X-wing is much better than a world where all I have is fond memories of past victories.
Star Wars Squadrons was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by EA Australia
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