By Josh Reilly B. and George Bate
Since 1977, it’s been the dream of many Star Wars fans to hop into the cockpit of an X-Wing or TIE Fighter and feel what it’s like to take part in a dogfight as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader did in A New Hope and so many others have since. Star Wars: Squadrons, the newest Star Wars game from EA and developed by Motive Studios, follows in the footsteps of games like Rogue Squadron and Starfighter in delivering immersive, entertaining ship gameplay in the Star Wars universe. Released on Xbox One, PS4, and PC, Squadrons is unique in that it can be played in VR, adding a whole different dimension to the flying experience. This is our review of Squadrons’ single player experience.
Squadrons’ single player campaign is a 6-8 hour adventure set after the events of Return of the Jedi, in which the New Republic is emerging from the ashes of the Empire. Players assume the role of fighters in two squadrons: the New Republic’s Vanguard Squadron and the Empire’s Titan Squadron, with missions flipping back and forth between the two sides. Avoiding spoilers, the campaign is largely centered around the New Republic’s development of a weapon and the Empire’s efforts to stop it. The plot features Javes, an Imperial defector, who, along with Vanguard Squadron, protect a new capital ship from Kerrill and Titan Squadron.
Squadrons’ story is serviceable, but doesn’t deliver anything novel to Star Wars, especially when compared to EA’s most recent effort with Jedi: Fallen Order. Unlike Cal Kestis and the other Fallen Order characters, Squadrons’ characters are more superficially developed through inconsequential backstories and conversations delivered to our protagonist. These conversations have little, if any, impact on the story itself and vary greatly in terms of their engagement and entertainment value. Several characters in the game, such as Shen, have much potential, but the game does little to make them fully fleshed out people. That being said, Squadrons is full of great references to broader canon that Star Wars fans will love, including appearances from Rae Sloane and Hera Syndulla. Tying back to the game’s story, it was a missed opportunity to not have the 2 squadrons cross paths more directly in the game, although it’s cool to see one mission with one squadron pick up where the last mission with the other squadron left off.
Squadrons still delivers an entertaining, somewhat mediocre story that is made better by flipping back and forth between control of the New Republic and immersive, nuanced gameplay.
Indeed, relative to its narrative, Squadrons excels when it comes to its ship combat. Considerably more nuanced than Battlefront 2’s ship gameplay, but purposefully not as detailed as something like Microsoft Flight Simulator, Squadrons strikes a healthy balance between an arcade style game and a flight sim game. In large part, Squadron’s single player mode really feels like a training exercise in preparation for the game’s multiplayer mode, orienting players to the complex mechanics of flight combat. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily as the basics are relatively straightforward to master, but undertaking some of the more subtle maneuvers of ship combat require more practice and skill.
Players on each side are given the choice of four ships, each of which have unique abilities, but, intelligently, were designed to have similar cockpit controls, which makes trying different ships to be a smoother process. A really neat feature of the game is the ability to disable the HUD entirely, forcing players to rely solely on the cockpit buttons and switches before them. This sort of option, while making the game considerably more difficult, makes an already immersive game even more immersive. Speaking of immersive, Squadrons is exclusively played in first-person, which may be an issue for some fans of Battlefront 2 used to playing ship combat in third-person. However, this option really cements the developers’ efforts to situate players in the cockpit of these iconic Star Wars ships and make players feel like they’re actually in the dogfight, an experience that is furthered by playing the game in VR. That may be an understatement – Squadrons goes to a whole other level of entertainment and immersion when playing with VR technology. The visuals are stunning and the scope of view is jaw dropping, making you really feel like you’re in a Star Wars movie. The game also supports joystick controllers, but we were not able to try this option yet.
Squadrons’ missions are largely repetitive, but there’s enough variability to keep things engaging throughout the duration of the campaign. Also, the ship combat is just that much fun (and difficult) that it makes the campaign enjoyable and challenging throughout.
Due to the nature of the game’s story, Squadrons’ gameplay could make or break the game. Luckily for Star Wars fans, the gameplay is immersive, fun, and exhilarating from start to finish. The gameplay may take some getting used to, especially for those more used to arcade style games, but Squadrons’ ability to replicate the experience of being in the cockpit of a fighter is like none other. Stay tuned to our review of Squadrons’ multiplayer mode in the next week!
Images courtesy of EA & Lucasfilm