Also On: PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Motive Studios
Screaming through space, just above the hull of a Star Destroyer in a Tie Fighter, anticipating the drift you are going to hit as you clear the rear of the ship to shoot you out behind the X-Wing quarry you are hunting is an exhilarating experience unlike anything else I have ever played. Star Wars: Squadrons is one of the best things to come out of Star Wars in the past decade. It is a bit of a one-trick pony, but it executes that one trick exceptionally well.
There are so many things that so many people love about Star Wars, and if you ask any two fans what their favorite aspects are, the odds are that you will receive two different answers. One thing that just about everyone agrees on however is the incredible space battles and dogfights. Star Wars: Squadrons manages to take that one aspect, and create a gorgeous, laser-focused experience around it. There are no frills here, no added gameplay aspects to pad out the experience, nothing thrown in unnecessarily. You cannot even walk or control a character outside of your ship. Squadrons is all about space battles, whether you choose to play campaign missions or play multiplayer PvP.
The campaign tries to bring some depth and meaning to the game and to Star Wars as a whole but ultimately ends up being little more than a tutorial vehicle setting you up for the real game, which is the multiplayer PvP. The campaign succeeds best when it is not trying to shoehorn in a story or needless dialogue and backstory. I am all in favor of fully realized NPC characters and worlds, but Star Wars: Squadrons has very little to care about, and I do not think that is a bad thing. The focus of this game is almost entirely on incredibly fast-paced, dynamic dogfights in space, as it should be. As I mentioned before, the player character is not able to walk around at all or do anything really outside of the cockpit. There is dialogue, but it is not interactive, it is all just directed at you, the player. Your character never responds or engages at all. This leaves the few, stationary interactions feeling flat and somewhat forced. Luckily, it seems that the developers at Motive Studios knew this, and leaned into the actual gameplay way more.
Across the 6-8 hours you will spend with the campaign, Squadrons has you play opposing sides, with missions switching back and forth between the remnants of the Empire and the New Republic. I personally prefer playing as the Empire, solely for the fact that I LOVE Tie Fighters. I love the way they look, I love the way they handle, the shieldless approach caters to my reckless playstyle, and by God do I love the way that they sound. Next to the sound of a lightsaber igniting, I think the scream of a Tie Fighter is the most quintessential ?Star Wars? sound to me. These missions all serve as an introduction to the 4 different ships each side has available to them, as well as ease you into the different capabilities and loadouts each has.
Combat is generally the same across the modes, with the campaign presenting a relatively easy challenge on the default difficulty to help prepare you for the multiplayer. Playing online is a mixed bag, as most online multiplayer games are. Some games feel fantastic, whereas sometimes you find yourself against a team that outmatches you by so much, there is no hope from the start. Flying in combat is a dance that has you balancing power to your weapons, your engines, and your shields (if you have them). Knowing when and how to divert your power makes a huge difference, and will make or break your experience online against more experienced players.
Unfortunately, this is where Squadrons starts to lose some steam. Once you get through the short campaign, which does not offer any reasons to play again, and dive into the multiplayer, you have seen it all. The two multiplayer modes, Dog Fight and Fleet Battle are simple and easy to grasp. Dog Fight is a standard Team Deathmatch mode, while Fleet Battle is an objective-based game mode that requires more coordination and cooperation among the players. If this hooks you, and you fall in love, you will get endless hours of enjoyment out of Squadrons. If you are more of a solo player and are looking for more things to do by yourself, you may find yourself sorely disappointed.
Finally, the biggest disappointment, at least for me, the VR mode. I am playing on PC, running through Origin. I have a Valve Index that runs off of Steam VR. I was unable to get the two systems to ever communicate with each other well enough to really experience the game in VR. From other folks that I have spoken with, if you own the game on Steam and launch it through Steam VR, it works wonderfully, but owning it on Origin causes Steam VR to freak out and it just doesn?t work. Hopefully this ends up being resolved in the future because it would be incredible to be able to pilot a Tie Fighter in VR with the proper system communication.
Star Wars: Squadrons is a tight, laser-focused experience that knows exactly what it is and exactly what it isn?t. This focus causes it to be a little bit light on content, but with a launch price of $40, it is a much easier pill to swallow. I can say that the flight is just as enjoyable on hour 20 as it was on minute 1, and if you are looking for a gorgeous flight simulator, without the in-depth knowledge and practice that a game like Microsoft Flight Simulator demands, Star Wars: Squadrons is it.
EA provided us with a Star Wars: Squadrons PC code for review purposes.