It definitely feels weird putting game publisher Electronic Arts and the Star Wars franchise together in a sentence that even hints at a touch of positivity, but with EA Motive’s handling of the starfighter simulation that is Star Wars: Squadrons, fans have undoubtedly been exposed to a fantastic offering that is every part a fantasy fulfillment that does not compromise on the quality of the experience.
Set after the events of Return of the Jedi, players find themselves straddling between the Empire and the Rebels in the aftermath of the destruction of the second Death Star. Not only is the period ripe for plenty of conflict, it also allows us to sit in the cockpits on the awesome starfighters of the era.
Whether you are in the cockpit of an A-Wing, Y-Wing, TIE fighter, Interceptor, or more, you will get an experience that is distinctly unique to each pilot, as each one presents a different flying experience that makes every combat conflict a concert of destruction. For fans of a galaxy far, far away, flying these machines will feel like a dream as it shows why living out the Star Wars fantasy can never truly get old.
The artificial intelligence in Star Wars: Squadrons can certainly put up a fight at the higher difficulties, but nothing beats the thrill of combat against another human pilot. The duels are never the same, but always intense and exhilarating. Hunting down an enemy throughout space can be challenging enough, but add in deft maneuvers, space debris, and countermeasures, the possibilities are quite endless.
Of course, you can never count out the fact that the tables might turn. And while the subpar single-player content may be disappointing, it paves the way for the true meat of the experience, the masterful multiplayer dogfighting that awaits.
The cacophony of lasers, missiles, emergency repairs, and speedy evasive maneuvers are a joy to behold, especially in the well designed environments that EA Motive has provided. Be it open space or the more cluttered arenas, there is always room for the hotshot pilot to succeed, and even more so for a coordinated team.
This is especially important for the two multiplayer 5v5 modes of Dogfight and Fleet Battles. The former is all about the kill count, and is always good fun. The latter, which is the best way to experience Star Wars: Squadrons, is all about outlasting the opposition and rewarding teamwork.
The push and pull of the ever-evolving conflict will test your offensive and defensive prowess. Win the smaller scale conflicts and you will open up opportunities to deal damage to the opposing flagship. This is not about short-term gains, and having the foresight to know when to advance and defend will be key to winning these closely fought battles.
While Dogfight works perfectly with the 10-player count, perhaps more should be considered for the larger Fleet Battles. At least, the combination of players as well as the AI ships contributes to the proceedings in magnifying the scale of the conflicts. Enjoyable dogfights, the wonderful expanse of the battlefields, and iconic music and sound effects make for a constant stream of Star Wars goodness.
It is not just the gameplay that is rewarding. After every match, players can look to accrue experience points as well as in-game currency. This opens up the path to the many cosmetic items that await for both pilots and ships.
Ship components, on the other hand, require another currency to unlock and open up some freedom in how you loadout your ships. There is a certain amount of depth to be had here, allowing pilots to decide how they want to maximise the performance of the various ships. Rapid fire lasers may be more useful to the more accurate pilot, while some may prefer more shields as opposed to a tough hull, it is all up to the player.
While EA Motive’s approach to no microtransactions or DLC is to be commended, the selection available is not exactly a top draw. Palette swaps can only bring you that far, even though the time needed to unlock the cosmetics are not taxing. Star Wars: Squadrons’ multiplayer is awesome, but it can be made a tad more enticing if the rewards matched the fun.
The same can be said for the singe-player portion of the game. The plot may not be the most engaging, but it fits the lore and styling of what one expects from a Star Wars game. The mysterious Starhawk project allows players to have a reveal to chase, while the variety of supporting characters is interesting additions to the canon. The delivery, however, can be improved from the cycle of table briefings and narrative chime-ins from characters standing around.
The AI in the story also detracts from the single-player portion, putting up little fight that would make you a better pilot. Much of the single-player experience feels like an extended tutorial section, and the consolation is that it gets you up to speed with what you need to know about the basics in Star Wars: Squadrons.
All of the game is played through a first-person perspective in the cockpit. The design choice does not present an opportunity for fans to inspect these fan-favourite ships in detail, but it is fitting for a game like Star Wars: Squadrons. The number of systems you need to keep an eye on, especially if you turn off all the on-screen indicators to immerse yourself, are a handful, but makes sense no matter which ship you choose.
At a glance, you know how much ammo you have, showing your surroundings via the radar, and how power is being managed for the ship. The various situations call for different applications, toggling between maximum power for your weapons, shields, or engine is done at an instant with no fuss.
In fact, everything is made better by the fact you can enjoy Star Wars: Squadrons entirely in virtual reality, which is the other definitive way you need to enjoy this game. Rather than relying on moving your ship’s view to get the lay of the land, you can simply look at where you need to. You can turn around to witness an enemy fighter just narrowly missing you, or witness your perfectly timed bombing run shredding the enemy’s defenses. Pair that VR headset up with a flight stick setup, and you are looking at hours of immersive fun.
The flight stick support elevates the experience beyond just a wonderful rendition of the Star Wars dogfights. For those of us old enough to remember, Squadrons is the modern take on what many consider a PC classic – Star Wars: X-Wing. Released for the PC back in 1993, it set the gold standard for flight simulators in a familiar world, and a flight stick setup was the only way to go. To navigate like an ace pilot in a galaxy far, far away, the right equipment puts you right at the tip of the spear.
EA Motive may not have pushed the messaging, but Star Wars: Squadrons was built for such a setup. The way your craft pivots in space as it soars across gap between objects, as you blast your way through the squadrons of tiny fighters – this game is a lesser experience when played with thumbs and fingers. While not sacrificing complexity for enjoyment, you will have a great time using a controller, and the best time with flight stick controls.
Despite the fact that Star Wars: Squadrons has a lacklustre go at the single-player experience, the real draw here is the stellar multiplayer action that awaits. Coordinating attacks, flying in formation, and seeing all the ships that you remember so well from the movies buzzing around just warms the heart. Not to mention the intense action, the strategy, and skill required to outwit your opponents, and you are looking at a game that will keep you coming back for more. Even in today’s competitive landscape, there is always room for something like Star Wars: Squadrons.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Delivering the big thrills in the multiplayer arena, Star Wars: Squadrons makes the less enjoyable single-player portions worth slogging through to master the ropes.
Gameplay - 9/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 8/10