Review – Star Wars: Squadrons
Last year, I wrote a piece explaining how Star Wars was best for AA gaming, not AAA. It may have sounded a bit crazy, expecting for someone like EA to release smaller, cheaper, but more streamlined and focused Star Wars titles instead of AAA juggernauts meant to cater to all demographics at once. I even mentioned EA and other companies should even try to come up with a few Star Wars VR games, something I would have never imagined for them to consider in the foreseeable future.
Lo and behold, somehow, we actually ended up getting that. Star Wars: Squadrons is a fairly priced, AA, virtual reality-ready Star Wars game developed and published by EA. Not only is this the best Star Wars released by the company (not like the bar was that high to begin with), but this is also one of their best games ever made, even when compared to their golden age back in the mid 2000’s. This is also one of the best Star Wars games I have ever played; it’s just that good.
Before we continue, I want to clarify that the game was played in its entirety in VR. You can easily play it without a VR visor, it’s even on Xbox One, after all. However, I decided to play it at all times with a visor attached to my face, so these will be my thoughts about it. Honestly, after experiencing this game in this particular manner, I don’t think I’d ever be able to go back and play it normally, just like with Resident Evil VII.
For those expecting for Star Wars Squadrons‘ gameplay to be a simple carbon copy of the flight mechanics featured in Battlefront 2, I’m sorry (but actually glad) to announce that this is not the case. The game is entirely played in first-person, with a brand new control scheme that achieves the impossible: it’s equally simpler to play and more realistic than the flight mechanics from its predecessor. It’s the simplicity of Rogue Squadron with the first-person simulation elements from the classic X-Wing games from the 90’s.
Your ship’s movements are performed with both control sticks. In order to accelerate or brake, use the left analog stick. To do a barrel roll, move the same stick sideways. In order to actually turn around, as well as going up or down, you need to use the right analog stick. It might sound confusing, but it’s incredibly intuitive. It works like a charm and you’ll master your ship’s maneuver commands before the (excellent) tutorial mission is over.
Shooting is pretty straightforward and you also have access to a secondary weapon, just like in Rogue Squadron. Although, the real game changer in here is the ability to constantly divert your ship’s power to three distinct areas: shields, engines, and weaponry. You can do that with by pressing the d-pad. Diverting your ship’s power to your engines makes it faster, more nimble and able to evade missiles, but it also makes it more fragile. Focusing all power on your shields (be it frontal, rear, or balanced) lets you withstand more shots. Diverting all powers to your weapons makes your laser shots more powerful, as well as letting you shoot more before needing to cool your blasters down. As you can imagine, it makes you slower and more fragile as a result.
What I liked about this power system is the fact that there is no better choice between these three power “stances”, Four, if you count the neutral stance that diverts equal amounts of power to each area of your ship. If you’re going to unleash a frontal assault towards a Star Destroyer, for instance, improving your ship’s front shields is essential.
If your ship is taking heavy damage, divert power to your engines in order to run away from the fight until your astromech droid performs repairs, or another capital ship shows up to provide you with a health upgrade. Going full guns blazing is essential when you’re attacking a big cruiser after getting rid of its air support. There’s always a moment for you to use this power mechanic and I absolutely loved it.
I also loved the fact that, while you can use icons, markers and visual cues in order to figure out what’s happening outside of your ship, there is an option to turn them all off. That means that you can only guide yourself with the instruments inside your ship’s cockpit: radar, power meters, tracking computers, and so on. It’s not exactly an easy thing to get used to, as it makes the game a lot harder as a result. However, it’s unbelievably immersive if all you’ve ever wanted was to sit inside an X-Wing, Y-Wing, TIE Fighter, or any of the others present here, and just feel the thrill of flying around and destroying tons of enemy ships. It’s just like a VR Ace Combat on steroids.
For a game that’s not even being sold for a full sixty bucks, Star Wars: Squadrons features a sizeable amount of content. Sure, this is a multiplayer game first and foremost, but it does feature a nice story mode with tons of voice acting, cutscenes, and interesting missions to tackle. They feel like your standard Rogue Squadron missions from back in the day, usually revolving around protecting bigger ships and/or destroying big enemy structures, but with the added benefit of improved graphics, excellent voice acting (Dennis Lawson even reprises his role as Wedge Antilles!), and of course, VR immersion.
It’s not a long story mode, acting more as an extended tutorial at times, but I did not mind that. Considering how underwhelming both Jedi Fallen Order and Battlefront 2‘s stories were, at least in my opinion, I was pleased with the fact I actually cared about the plot in Squadrons. This is something that hasn’t been exactly common ever since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm.
The roster of new characters is varied and friendly. The returning cast of series veterans, such as Wedge Antilles and Darth Vader, add an extra spice to an already excellent setting. To top things off, the game features your typical (as in, amazing) Star Wars soundtrack, coupled with loud and realistic sound effects, all enhanced when playing it in VR.
Star Wars Squadrons features two multiplayer modes. Dogfight is your bog-standard team deathmatch, with ten fighters being divided in two groups. Just select a ship class, hop in and join the fight. There’s not a lot that needs to be said about this mode given how straightforward it is, but it gets the job done with honors.
The real star of the show is the Fleet Battles mode, which acts like a more detailed version of Dogfight, with objectives and goals. It plays like the space battles featured in the original Star Wars: Battlefront 2, the one by Lucasarts released in 2005, that is. Your objective is to destroy the opposing team’s capital ships and flagship. There is a bit of strategy involved in this mode, but not a lot that can overwhelm a player. It mostly revolves choosing the right kind of ship to counter the opposing team, as well as the aforementioned power distribution system.
There are four kinds of ships to choose from. Fighters are your traditional balanced ship, featuring decent speed, attack and defenses. They are represented by the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter, respectively. Interceptors (A-Wing and TIE Interceptor) are the fast-but-frail kind of of ship that’s best suited for expert players, since it prioritizes hit-and-run techniques and a good knowledge of maneuvering through missiles and laser shots. Bombers (Y-Wing and TIE Bomber) are slow but bulky, and support ships (U-Wing and TIE Reaper) aren’t as fun to play, but are essential to the maintenance of your team’s overall health. They can dish out health and ammo packs to teammates.
Considering the fact this is a game published by Electronic Arts, you would expect for Star Wars Squadrons to feature a “but”, a caveat. It sounds too good to be true. Weirdly enough, I can’t think of a business-centered flaw included in here. There aren’t microtransactions or loot boxes. All unlockables can be acquired through normal gameplay, all of them being cosmetics. Let me also remind you that Star Wars Squadrons isn’t even a full-priced game. It goes for the typical price of a AA release, going for forty bucks. It offers a ton of bang for your buck, considering the price tag.
I still cannot believe this game was developed and published by EA. Star Wars Squadrons is downright amazing. It’s a phenomenal VR experience, an addictive multiplayer title, and most importantly, a freaking fantastic Star Wars game. It’s something that could easily rival Lucasarts’ best titles from back in the day. If you own a VR set, be it a PSVR or one of the various PC-compatible visors available in the market, you need this game. You may not think you do, but trust me, you do. If piloting an X-Wing or TIE Fighter in virtual reality doesn’t sound like one the coolest experiences of all time to you, you might be dead on the inside.
The resolution is noticeably lower when playing the game in VR, most likely in order to achieve a constant 60 frames per second. The game still looks gorgeous, though, with beautifully modelled ships and interiors, and some nice explosion effects.
Perfect flight controls that are easy to learn and still very intuitive and immersive. The game is also backed by an excellent framerate. There are some small physics issues here and there, but nothing that ultimately ruins the experience in any shape or form.
The typical Star Wars soundtrack you know and love, coupled with 3D sound effects and superb voice acting. Dennis Lawson even shows up to voice Wedge Antilles once again!
A dream come true, a perfect usage of VR technology. Not only is its gameplay fantastic, but its story mode is interesting and its multiplayer modes are addictive. They more than make up for the seemingly overall lack of content offered in this package.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Star Wars: Squadrons is available now on PS4/PSVR, Xbox One, and PC.
Reviewed on PSVR.
A copy of Star Wars: Squadrons was provided by the publisher.