Publisher: Electronic Arts | Developer: EA Motive| Release Date: October 2,2020 | Genre: Flight| Reviewed On PS4 Pro
The copy Star Wars: Squadrons was purchased by the reviewer digital through the PlayStation Store
UPDATE: Added Shorter Video Review on Middle of Review
In my Middle School Years, and way before I got a PlayStation, I was into PC games. I had a flight stick and played Doom of course. There were also a couple of games I played a lot in those years of ‘95 and ‘96, there were a couple of titles that I remembered most fondly. They were LucasArts’ X-Wing and TIE Fighter and during the hype build up for Star Wars: Special Edition.
I remember the thrill of being the rebels and ejecting out of your starfighter with the chance of being captured and ending your campaign. I remember the game explaining how the iconic space fantasy ships would work if put in a realistic setting. X-Wing being straight-laced in tone and TIE Fighter being a bit more grey than what’s depicted in the movies.
Then in the 2000’s, most space/flight sims franchises died out, but now with Star Wars: Squadrons has come out on console. This is a bit of a surprising move by the often conservative Electronic Arts with a lot of the game elements lifted from those classic PC games, but more akin to the more accessible Ace Combat.
Squadrons was pitched at Canadian Developer EA Motive during the development of the controversial Battlefront 2 (2017). It was pitched by technical designer Patrick Lalonde and James Clement. The game was revealed on June 15, 2020. It was released on October 2nd. This is a much smaller title in scope compared to Battlefront 2 but packs a full campaign and a multiplayer suite.
The Single Player Campaign consists of 15 missions including three prologue/tutorial missions. The structure of these missions is a cutscene, briefing, and the story is conveyed through radio dialogue in mission. The game’s story takes place between Episode VI: Return of The Jedi and Episode VII: The Force Awakens with the New Republic’s Vanguard Squad helping Imperial Defector Lindon Javes on Project Starhawk, a ship that would turn the tides on Imperial remnants. The Empire meanwhile is swamped in-fighting and turmoil after Emperor Palpatine’s death with them hunting for the Starhawk.
Squadrons’ story is light and does feel in line with the new side stories, and gives some much-needed context in the Disney era of Star Wars. A plus in terms of the story is unlike the coldness of the X-Wing series, your co-pilots have a lot of characterization and motivations with Fesk, a snarky Trandoshan, Keo the joker of the squad, and Vanguard 5, the player who you get to customize how they will look. This is the weakest part of the narrative with the player being a mute character. They do get a few catchphrases during combat but that’s about it.
On the Imperial side of the Campaign is Titan Squadron who is composed of the stoic cyborg Shen, the loyal Rella So, and the player codenamed Vanguard Five who does suffer the same issues of being a mute. Though the Imperial side of the campaign is more interesting and goes on about the infighting that ensued after the collapse of the Empire with different officers vying for power. One mission, has you steal some material to fight against the Republic behind the back of another.
It was overall an enjoyable set of missions that had a variety of escorting ships, eliminating enemies, and unlike the X-Wing series of games had a bit more in the set-piece department. It doesn’t overdo it and gives you that six degrees of freedom that is synonymous with space combat games.
Speaking of the gameplay, the concessions that were made for a gamepad are worth noting. Besides the flying and drifting maneuvers (which is similar to the post-stall maneuver in Ace Combat), you will need to balance your shield, engine, and laser systems. Shields are focused when attacking larger ships like Star Destroyers and Republic Corvettes which will absorb enemy fire and missiles. Engine is for focus on maneuverability for chasing faster interceptor fighters like the A-Wing and TIE Interceptor. Finally, there’s Laser which increases the charge and gives you a damage boost if you’re fighting stronger enemies. If you’ve played X-Wing or TIE Fighter before, you’ll notice you can’t change firing modes.
I can see the reason for that being the lack of buttons of a gamepad and has been replacing by changing your laser weapon configuration from burst fire lasers that have the sidegrade of being slower charge, or Ion Cannons to wear down a shield, you will have to mix/match weapon configurations for each mission. It does retain the shield management from those PC Classic allowing you to double shield your front when playing aggressively or from the rear for defensive maneuvering.
A flaw I see in the game is some obtuse mission design. One of the later missions has you destroy a fleet of Corvettes with makeshift mines. The last ship goes into lightspeed with the lack of your teammates giving you a tell that it’s leaving. I lost track of how many times I failed but eventually got through it with some perseverance.
Multiplayer consists of 2 modes, Dogfight and Fleet Battles. Dogfight is your typical deathmatch mode where the goal is to eliminate other players. Fleet Battles is a mode where you protect your capital ships as the main objective. This mode is divided into stages and uses a similar ticket system to Battlefront where if you eliminate human players you deduct more tickets and increase the momentum of your team. Once you eliminate the two capital ships, the match ends. Unfortunately, these are the only two modes at the moment, but hopefully will be more through content updates.
There is a large amount of cosmetic customization and is done through two different currencies. The cosmetics include ornaments you can place in your cockpit, the color scheme on your ship, and your pilot’s uniform. The other currency is used to unlock ship parts that act as side grades as mentioned before.
It gives Squadrons the depth of a sim with the accessibility and fun factor of an Ace Combat game. I would recommend (if you can) play it in PSVR to get a more immersive experience. I played the entire campaign in VR and a few hours of multiplayer in the 2D mode for this review.
The graphics on a standard display and VR are solid. Each of the ships is what they looked like in the movies from the X-Wing from the Original Trilogy to The V-Wing from Rogue One. Space is filled with not just a starfield like the older X-Wing games, but a variety of space junk such as asteroids, debris, and particle effects lace your screen. The cockpits are detailed with actually functioning HUD elements such as the Radar, Targeting Computer, and Ship Systems.
It can be disorienting at first in VR since there’s no horizon line in a flight game on planet,but you can come to grips thanks to the radar that’s situated on the left or center of the ship’s cockpit.
The standard version is no slouch in the looks department either with it being in HDR, and sporting a 1440P on PS4 Pro resolution, and a 60 Frames Per Second most of the time.
Sound design, as usual, is great with the iconic roars of TIE Fighters, and laser bolts filling the soundscape. Music is a mix of classic tracks from the original trilogy and new motifs by Gordy Haab who previously worked on Star Wars Titles such as Jedi: Fallen Order does a great job of making new music in line with John William’s’ iconic score.
The game does have some replay value in terms of the single-player story, with extra difficulty levels, multiplayer unlocks, and medals for completing bonus objectives. The game’s campaign takes about 10 hours to complete on the normal difficulty, Pilot.
Finally, there is the VR Mode which in my opinion, is the best way to play the game. It allows you to freely look around the cockpit and allow you to see behind on the fly. It can be disorienting at the first with the lack of horizon as mentioned before. It’s a more immersive and entertaining experience with it. If you are new to VR or have motion sickness, it may be uncomfortable. If you are used to flight games in VR (I have for years), you should be fine.
Overall, Squadrons is a solid flight sim and is a must for PSVR owners. There is a decent length campaign and a strong foundation for a multiplayer mode. It just needs more variety in modes. Hopefully, this can be fixed with content updates in the future.