Last year we saw the release of Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, a brilliant escapade in the expanded Star Wars universe that offered players the chance to REALLY feel like they were a Jedi. It was fantastic and a much more refined experience when compared to EA’s previous efforts with Battlefront and Battlefront II, which missed the mark in more than a few places and took a bit of work before they really started to resonate with fans.
There was one thing that Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order was missing though: space battles. I mean, sure, it’s great to swoosh foes in half with your lightsaber or launch them across the room with a force push, but sometimes players just want to dive into an X-Wing or TIE Fighter and shoot down some rivals, right? Enter Star Wars: Squadrons, EA and developer MOTIVE’s 2020 foray into the Star Wars universe that sees players pilot an array of Starfighters as they battle across both an epic story-driven campaign and five-on-five battles in online showdowns.
Star Wars: Squadrons’ tale takes place after the events of Return of the Jedi but well before the Force Awakens, just in case you were wondering where it fits into the timeline. It tells its story from two perspectives: from that of the Vanguard Squadron of the New Republic that are looking to ensure that the completion of a new battleship known as ‘Project Starhawk’ is completed, and from the Titan Squadron of the Galactic Empire that want to make sure that it doesn’t see the light of day. Add to that a personal grudge between two characters from both sides and you’ll quickly find that there’s plenty going on throughout the story to keep players intrigued until the end.
I really enjoyed seeing the plot of the game unfold, with each battle followed up with interactions between the colourful cast of characters that help bring the whole experience to life. Don’t get me wrong, it was lacking a bit of cinematic flair during these sequences in-between battles thanks to the way it’s presented as a series of semi-static interactions, but seeing the plot develop and learning more about the characters still made them feel engaging and meaningful throughout.
Of course, given that Star Wars: Squadrons is a game where you get to pilot Starfighters, it’s how the space-battling feels that is most important. Thankfully, it delivers here in spades, with the dogfights not only action-packed but offering this air of authenticity in which you’ll actually FEEL like you’re in the cockpit of these iconic ships.
I’m sure plenty of gamers will be coming to Star Wars: Squadrons fresh from Microsoft Flight Simulator following its recent success, though I’m happy to report that you won’t need as much piloting prowess to handle the aircraf- I mean, spacecraft here. You’re able to manage the different facets of your ship manually such as applying throttle and shield, whilst more talented pilots will be able to pull off more trick-like manoeuvres to get the upper hand over their foes. Believe me, there’s nothing quite like dropping the throttle and making a quick turn to lose enemies that are on your tail, especially when you can pick them off with cheap laser shots in the aftermath.
That might actually sound a little intimidating, but it’s really easy to grasp and the basics are taught to you throughout the roughly seven-hour single player campaign. Whilst I have no doubt it’ll be tempting to players to dive right into Star Wars: Squadrons’ multiplayer component, doing so without fully understanding the mechanics or having the chance to blast away some AI foes beforehand isn’t really recommended… I’d DEFINITELY say it’s worth going through the campaign first. Besides, it features an enjoyable story and some wonderful action-packed set pieces across its sixteen-levels – you don’t want to miss out on that, right?
That’s not to say that anyone who has played a game like this before won’t feel comfortable, with a lot of the basic mechanics feeling like they would in any other space shooter. See an enemy ship in your sight? You can ping it down with lasers easily enough. Want to blast straight to your objective? That just takes a button press too. Need to pull off swift manoeuvres to avoid objects in your path? It’s really easy. Whilst there are definitely elements of Star Wars: Squadrons that feel more simulator-like in design, it also adopts an arcade-approach that makes it easy for just about anyone to drop into the action carefree. It really is a whole lot of fun and will certainly have Star Wars fans giggling with glee as they face off against rival pilots.
There’s a rich selection of ships spread across the New Republic and Galactic Empire to use in the game too, each of which is divided into four different classes that can play different roles when in battle. The Fighter class consists of the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter (the two most iconic ships), the Bomber class has the Y-Wing and TIE Bomber, the Interceptor class has the A-Wing and TIE Interceptor, whilst the support has the U-Wing and the TIE Reaper. Whilst I’m sure those names might not set your imagination wild if you’re unfamiliar with the Star Wars universe, those who have been invested in the film series over their lifetime will be loving how accurately re-created each ship is. When you’re in the cockpit of each one, it’ll LOOK and FEEL like it should. It’s wonderful stuff.
You can also customise your ships with different parts, with multiple components to unlock that can improve things such as your shield, engine, countermeasures, weapons, and so forth. You earn these as you work through both the single player campaign and the multiplayer modes, meaning there’s a genuine sense of progress to be felt as you fine-tune your Starfighters to best suit your playstyle. Would you rather just spice up their appearance instead? You can too do that, though I’ll admit it wasn’t something I found myself too invested in given that the game takes place from a first-person perspective.
Whilst the campaign is full of thrills and spills, it’s in the multiplayer mode that you can expect to invest most of your time with Star Wars: Squadrons. This is split across two game modes: Dogfights and Fleet Battles.
Those looking for some quick showdowns in space will want to stick with Dogfights, which are five-versus-five affairs where you’ll blast each other down across a variety of locations found across the main campaign. It’s the game’s take on the classic team-battle formula, with the team with the highest score at the end deemed the victor. Simple, but effective.
Fleet Battles on the other hand are a bit more intense and feel similar in design to the objective based game modes featured in Battlefront II such as Capital Supremacy or Galactic Assault. These multi-stage showdowns are mighty intense and tie in elements from the Dogfights initially as you start your assault on your rivals, but soon turn into strategic affairs as you work together with your team in order to utilise the strengths of each different ship class in order to take down both the Capital Ships and the Flag Ships. These battles rely on more quick-thinking and teamwork than you find in Dogfights but stand out as the highlight of the multiplayer experience. They can be played in co-op against AI enemies if you want to get used to the mode, but honestly, it’s at its best when you’re facing off against real battle-hardened foes.
Both modes are a lot of fun to play across depending on whether you’re looking for a quick thrill or a strategic showdown – I just wish that there was a bit more on offer. Whilst there are rewards to earn throughout each battle, it can get pretty formulaic with players doing the same things over and over again. Of course, this doesn’t stop it being fun because the action of Star Wars: Squadrons is full of thrills and there’s nothing quite like communicating and co-ordinating perfectly with a team of allies… I think I was just hoping for a little bit more given that the core strengths of the experience come from its multiplayer modes.
It is made a bit more forgivable given that Star Wars: Squadrons comes with a lower price tag though, with the game launching at £34.99 on the PlayStation Store (and even cheaper on Amazon). It certainly doesn’t feel like a budget release thanks to the fleshed-out piloting mechanics and it’s definitely a VERY pretty game, so the fact that it’s a lot cheaper than your typical new AAA release is a big plus. It certainly makes it easier to accept that there aren’t too many game modes on offer outside of the main campaign and the two multiplayer modes, whilst we’ll hopefully see new additions sometime in the future.
I haven’t mentioned the best part about Star Wars: Squadrons yet: itcomes with full support for PlayStation VR, meaning you can play out the entire story and the multiplayer modes with the extra immersion offered by virtual reality. Believe me, it’s REALLY epic being able to look around each Starfighter so up close and personal, whilst gazing over the enchanting sights seen throughout each battle feels magical – especially when you’re in the middle of a massive dogfight and have lasers blasting around you from left, right and centre. Add to that the extra advantage brought by being able to look behind you to see any incoming fighters and it becomes even easier to see that it’s a revolutionary way to approach the game. Believe me, this is unmissable stuff for PlayStation VR owners.
Of course, the PlayStation VR headset does have limitations so it obviously isn’t as pretty as playing the game in its normal ‘flat’ mode and has a few fuzzy edges here and there. But still, being able to feel like you’re actually piloting an X-Wing or TIE Fighter? It’s the stuff of dreams.
Star Wars: Squadrons is an absolute blast to play and offers plenty of thrills across both its single player campaign and multiplayer modes. You’ll genuinely feel like you’re right there in the heat of battle as you pilot the array of Starfighters at your disposal, whilst learning to master the intricacies of each ship and using their strengths to your advantage in each strategic showdown never stops feeling satisfying. The best part of all? You can do it all in your PlayStation VR headset, which is a Star Wars fan’s dream.
The only real downside comes with the lack of multiplayer modes, which was a little disappointing given that multiplayer component feels like the core of the experience. Still, with the game’s lower price point (and hopefully more updates to come in the future), it’s a minor flaw in what is otherwise a brilliant Star Wars experience.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PlayStation VR, PC VR