Is the force with EA Games’ Star Wars Squadrons? We find out.
A long time ago, in a country far, far away (well, 1978, in the UK), your author, only seven years old, first pondered on what it would be like to sit in the cockpit of an X-Wing Fighter.
Over the years, advances in video game have enabled me to do just that. First with the vector-based visuals of the Star Wars arcade cabinets, then the likes of LucasArts’ X-Wing Alliance and Rogue Squadron games. All of these perfectly captured not only the thrill of Star Wars dogfighting, but the essence of the movies as well.
But it was, surprisingly, EA Games and the free Rogue One VR mission for Star Wars: Battlefront on PlayStation 4 that actually put me in the cockpit of the iconic X-Wing by way of virtual reality. Some PSVR owners bought the game just for this titbit of Star Wars VR.
Whilst the likes of ILM’s xLAB have afforded us a limited Star Wars virtual reality experience with Trials on Tatooine, Droid Repair Bay and the episodic Vader Immortal, we’ve had to look elsewhere for our VR space dogfighting fix.
Until now, that is.
Star Wars Squadrons puts players in the seats of both Rebel and Imperial starships in epic space battles that feel straight out of the movies. The game is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. PC gamers with a compatible VR headset and PlayStation 4 owners with a PSVR kit can play the whole game in VR.
The single-player campaign is told from the perspective of both Rebel and Imperial pilots. The story starts just after the destruction of Alderaan in a New Hope, with the Empire pursuing refuges from the decimated planet. Conflicted, Imperial pilot Captain Lindon Javes defects to the Rebellion, saving the evacuees.
The game then jumps forward four years to just after the destruction of the second Death Star at the Battle of Endor. Lindon Javes is now commander of the New Republic cruiser, Temperance, and the elite Vangard Squadron, charge with building the New Republic’s secret weapon.
Meanwhile, Javes’ former second-in-command, Captain Terisa Keril, has formed her own elite Imperial Titan Squadron. She is out for revenge against her traitorous former mentor.
The campaign captures the essence of Star Wars, although the dialogue is a bit clumsy. There’s a fair amount of unnecessary conversations forced on player when all you want to do is fly spaceships. Regardless, I’m glad EA saw fit to include a single-player component.
The meat and longevity of the game is in the multiplayer game. Two 5 v 5 teams of Imperial and Rebel pilots go head to head in some pretty exhilarating dog-fighting. Multiplayer is cross-platform. This means that your opponents and team mates could be playing on Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4, PSVR or PC VR.
Star Wars Squadrons behaves more like a flight simulator that an arcade game. It is still very accessible and easy to play with a game controller. PC gamers can also play with a full HOTAS (Hands-on-throttle-and-stick) setup.
It only has a cockpit view, there’s no chase view. Players can adjust power between being balanced, or favouring engines, weapons or shields. Pilots can also adjust shields to provide better protection to the rear or front.
Overpowering the engines allows a boost of speed which can then be used to drift. The ship can then turn up to 180-degrees to the direction of travel to quickly turn or unleash fire on chasing attackers.
There are four different classes of ship for both the Imperials and Rebels. The fighter class is a TIE fighter for the Empire and an X-Wing for the Rebels. Interceptors are the TIE Interceptor and A-Wing. The bomber class is catered for by the TIE Bomber and Y-Wing with the support class being a U-Wing for the Rebels a Tie reaper for the Empire. There are a variety of loadouts that include repair droids, countermeasures and torpedoes. More advanced weapons can be unlocked as players progress.
The cockpits have been meticulously designed. They look great, especially in VR. The U-Wing, in particular, with it’s open footwells, really emersed you in the game.
As well as straight team deathmatch, pilots can also engage in epic fleet battles defending their capital ships whilst attacking their opponents’ huge ships. The tables can turn at any moment depending on how many loses each side takes.
All the multiplayer battles take place in space. There are six locations, only one of which we have seen in the movies, Yavin. The arenas are a mix of asteroids, debris and outposts which make for some exciting flying.
The game does, however, feel a bit rushed out the door. The menu navigation is atrocious. The convoluted route to escape from the game is hard enough on a monitor or TV, but in VR it’s even trickier.
A week ago, I’d have said that the best way to play the game was via a SteamVR compatible headset, but it would seem that the same patch that fixed the HOTAS deadzone issue managed to turn my PC VR experience it a nauseating choppy stutter-fest.
In 2D on PC and PS4 the game looks pretty good. On PSVR, the equipment is getting pushed a bit and you can definitely see a reduction on visual fidelity, if not in the lovely 3D cockpits, in the environment outside through the window. Still, it’s worth overlooking this before PSVR allows you to actually feel like you are flying an X-Wing!!
With only four Star Wars games, including this one, from EA in the seven years of having the licence, I have to wonder if this game is really no more than a contractual obligation. The confirmation from the developers that the game will not be getting any more content in the future, reinforces my view.
Whilst Star Wars Squadrons is good, it rather benefits from the same situation as The Mandalorian TV show does as a beacon surrounded by mediocrity. Like the movies, Star Wars games have been in a bit of a lull for the last few years. Battlefront was OK, Battlefront II, which actually had a single-player campaign was better and Jedi: Fallen Order, better still.
If you are a fan of Star Wars, picking up Squadrons is a no-brainer. PlayStation 4 owners with a PSVR set-up will particularly have a blast. PC owners get the best 2D visuals, but the PC VR needs some work.