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“This is the best game ever! It really feels like I’m flying an X-Wing taking on the Empire! Game of the year!”, is what my 12 year old super-nerd self would probably be saying if he played Star Wars: Squadrons. Old man me is still super giddy, but unfortunately with age also comes perspective, and a bit more objectivity. Old man me is a stick in the mud, but he still walked away with a ton of positive vibes after playing EA’s newest release. There has been a serious lack of space sims in the console arena for a while, let alone one set in arguably the biggest sci-fi franchise of all time. Sure, Battlefront allowed players to get behind the stick of some of the ships, but never with the amount of options given to you here. The last game I can remember that had this kind of immersion was X-Wing: Alliance for the PC back in 1999. Motive Studios had a daunting task tackling a game that Star Wars fans have been craving for a long time. And for the most part, they stay on target.
Right off the bat, there are a number of ways to play this game. It supports both flight sticks (all platforms) and VR on the PlayStation and PC. I spent the majority of my time in VR on the PS4 Pro using the T. Flight Hotas 4 flight stick. I did, for the purpose of this review, use a DS4 without the VR a few times. Looking back, I should have started with the latter because once I strapped on the VR headset, it was a struggle going back to a standard controller and screen. That’s not to say that it’s in any way worse, it works great and is just as responsive as the flight stick. Now, your mileage may vary in VR. On the PSVR, the visuals take a hit. On higher end hardware on the PC, you will probably get a much higher fidelity. With that being said, the experience takes center stage. If you have issues with motion sickness, be warned. Even though it’s extremely well done, you’ll be flying at breakneck speeds pulling maneuvers that will have you oriented in every way possible. The entire game, in and out of VR, is first-person only, no third-person option. It took a couple of missions for me to find my feet. Even then, there were still times when I had to pause and get my bearings.
A lot of what you see in the cockpit is interactive, in that the readouts are controlled with a button press. In fact, there aren’t enough buttons to map everything. Not to worry, most of those functions aren’t truly necessary to enjoy the game, and radial menus are used to provide all players with options. For true sim enthusiasts, there’s an option to turn on full simulation which makes you solely rely on your instruments during combat. The flight stick only adds to the immersion factor. It has a couple of extra buttons that came in handy, especially for doing some of the more “slick” moves. Get your fighter up to full speed, pull your throttle all the way back and make a hard turn, and you can drift your craft like Vin Diesel while shooting down that enemy that was chasing you down. Not going to lie, it is pretty badass at times.
If you want the best visuals, don’t play it in VR, at least not on the PlayStation. For a VR game, it looks fantastic. With that being said, playing on your standard setup is far and away the better option here from a graphical standpoint. You trade off the immersion for a better looking game, which isn’t anything unusual. It plays at a pretty smooth frame rate across all consoles as well, even on the older systems like the base PS4. The cockpit detail is outstanding, the scenery is incredible, and the giant capital ships really come to life; even in the middle of giant, busy battles. What I’m trying to say here is that the game is gorgeous. I was nerding out every time a new ship showed up. You’ll also hear all of the familiar sound effects from the movies, as well as communication chatter during the missions. Wrap it all together and Star Wars fans are left clamoring for more.
The single player campaign is essentially a really long tutorial for the multiplayer portion of the game. You play as both a New Republic and Imperial pilot, while trying out different fighter craft, all with different abilities. From your standard starfighters best used for dogfighting, to more heavily armored (and slower) bombers used to take on the larger targets, there’s a little something for everyone. During the campaign, with the exception of a few missions, you’re locked into a specific ship depending on the role you’re assigned. Each side has four other NPCs that are essentially your wingmen. Between missions you have the option to talk with them in what is an attempt to create relationships with each one. Don’t get your hopes up though. All of these conversations boil down to them telling you what they think about the current situation, or giving you a brief personal history. There are a few cameos that hardcore fans will get a kick out of, but overall it’s a pretty paint-by-numbers campaign. Those short interactions serve more as vehicles to the next mission rather than anything meaningful.
It’s already been announced that the game won’t be receiving any new content in the future. There won’t be any new campaign expansions, and there is a capped level in multiplayer. In a time where GaaS games seem to be the new norm, this is definitely an interesting strategy that EA is taking. Even stranger being that it’s EA. The question then becomes, can the multiplayer portion of the game carry this game into the future? The answer to the question is a resounding maybe. I haven’t talked about it yet, but the game isn’t easy. Now coming from me, that may not mean much. It’s more of a testament to the amount of action going on at any given time, and trying to keep track of it all. Multiplayer makes it even more difficult. Or I just suck, which is a definite possibility.
There are two multiplayer modes, Dogfights (team deathmatch) and Fleet Battles (think Operations from Battlefield but a smaller scale). You can also play Operations solo if you want, which given the steep learning curve, is a good place to start. There’s also a training mode that will run you through the modes and let you get comfortable with the gameplay. As you progress, you’ll earn two different currencies. One is for your ship skins and the other is for unlocking different ship parts. Fortunately there are no micro-transactions, everything is earned. These upgrades are more catered to the individual preferences people have rather than giving you a particular advantage. You can choose to have a higher level of armor but that comes at the price of a lower shield rating. There’s a trade-off which helps keep the playing field level. The key to these multiplayer matches is teamwork and communication. Squading up with your buddies will give you a huge advantage over a lobby of randoms. And good news, the game has full cross play for all platforms which is another nontraditional move for EA. For awareness, I did experience some matchmaking issues, and the load times to just get into the game can be extremely long. Once I got in however, everything ran smoothly. There’s enough variety to keep most players interested for a while, but I question the long-term viability of the game. Time will tell.
Considering that there aren’t many of these types of games out there right now, for $40 this is a no-brainer for a fan of the genre, or the Star Wars universe. Twelve-year old Dan would give this a 10/10 for the fan service alone. Twelve-year old Dan was also easily impressed. The game is no doubt challenging, but given the sheer number of customization options, most players should be able to find their comfort zone. It’s not without its issues however, especially in multiplayer. If that doesn’t interest you, maybe wait for a sale to play the single player portion of the game. Otherwise, get your butt suited up and get to your fighter, pilot! There’s a galaxy to save/destroy! Live long and prosper.
Just kidding. May the Force be with you, always. Nailed it!