Star Wars: Squadrons

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Motive Studios
Release Date: Oct. 2, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'Star Wars: Squadrons'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 8, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Buckle up, take full control of starfighters such as the X-wing and TIE fighter, and feel the adrenaline of strategic first-person 5v5 multiplayer dogfights alongside your squadron.

Buy Star Wars: Squadrons

When people think about Star Wars, they usually think of lightsabers and magic powers as the most iconic part of the setting. For me, those have always held as much appeal as the "World War II in space" dogfighting that the original trilogy presented in such impressive detail. I'm far from alone there, as games like Star Wars: TIE Fighter and Rogue Squadron showed that there is a lot of room for the franchise to shine with nary a lightsaber in sight. Unfortunately, that segment of the universe has gone sadly underrepresented for some time now, and that's what makes Star Wars: Squadrons such a delightful surprise. It doesn't exactly revolutionize the wheel, but it lets you shoot down Imperials in an X-Wing, and sometimes, that's all we need.

Squadrons is an old-school space flight sim. It doesn't break any particular molds beyond having the Star Wars license, but that means it's almost instantly accessible to people who haven't played a flight sim. The single-player mode is more like a game-length tutorial of the basic mechanics. You'll blast enemies with lasers, fire missiles, boost through danger, and generally everything you might expect from this sort of game. It's incredibly easy to hop into the cockpit and instantly be blasting your way through space. Of course, that's not the same thing as being a good pilot.

One of the most important things in Squadrons is learning how to properly manage your ship's subsystems. With the touch of a button, you're able to divert power to one of your ship's primary systems. You can divert power to engines, so you can move faster, maneuver better, and use a boost. You can divert power to weapons, so you can fire weapons faster and longer. If you're in a machine lucky enough to have shields, you can divert to those, which makes them more durable and recharge faster. Depending on your ship, you can also alter the direction of your shields to the front or back or divert all power to one subsystem for a huge but risky boost. Constantly swapping between these is the ideal way to get the most out of your ship, but you leave other systems functioning below capacity, which can be risky if you're too slow to dodge an attack or too squishy to avoid getting shot down.

Squadrons hits a good mix of being simple and arcadey with just enough detail to give you a better feeling of being in an X-Wing or TIE fighter. You don't simply aim and shoot. You divert power to your engines, boost and drift to face the enemy, divert power to your guns, and quickly shoot down foes before they can respond. When facing a capital ship, you divert your shields to the front and then dive in through the turbo lasers. It just feels cool even if it's simple in practice. It also means there is a solid skill ceiling because you need to be good at flying as well as managing your systems.

Squadrons also does a good job of making the various ships feel distinct. The X-Wing is probably the baseline, an all-around solid machine that has just about everything you could need. On the other hand, the TIE Fighter is basically a flying glass cannon that can do absurd amounts of damage in short periods of time but requires you to take significantly more risks than in the X-Wing. Both the Rebels and Imperials have their own variety of ships, but both sides have similar breakdowns. You have Y-Wings and TIE Bombers, which can bomb enemies; TIE Interceptors and A-Wings, which are faster than the regular ships but less heavily armed; and so on. There isn't a huge variety of ships, but each feels distinctive and can be further customized with a variety of weapons and equipment.

As previously mentioned, the single-player mode is effectively a lengthy tutorial for the multiplayer, so it's a fun experience but not particularly substantial. Each stage exists to teach you about one or more specific gameplay mechanics. You'll swap between Rebel and Empire storylines, with each offering their own characters and events. The core gameplay is rather fun, and it's easy to enjoy taking down an Imperial Star Destroyer with only a snub fighter.

The core problem is that it feels simplistic. The characters are paper-thin, and each has one personality trait, although you get a little backstory if you talk to them between missions. The plot is standard Star Wars fare — the usual "Rebels and Imperials fighting" — so it's expected and unambitious, making it difficult to remember much of what occurs. Although you get to create a protagonist for each side, they're effectively a background character in the story. Fans of the extended universe will be pleased with plenty of nods to everything from Grand Admiral Thrawn to Alphabet Squadron.

Of course, the core of the game is the multiplayer dogfighting, which is ridiculously enjoyable. The gameplay is 5v5, with each squadron able to bring its own mix of units to the forefront. Even within the confines of this format, you'll find that a lot of strategy is necessary because working together makes it much easier to take down a foe. There are also larger fleet battles, which add objectives to the regular dogfighting and bring even more intensity to the melee. The core gameplay is pretty much the same as the story mode, and once you've finished that, you can hop into the multiplayer and put all your tricks into action.

Squadrons is a multiplayer game with a single-player story added on, not vice versa. You can play the game for the single-player mode — at the budget price of $40, it's easier to justify — but the amount you'll enjoy the game depends on how much fun you get out of dogfighting X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Thankfully, the gameplay is fun, and it's easy to see this being a great game to pick up and play for an hour or so from time to time.

Squadrons was clearly designed as a VR game first and foremost. The interface and general controls all make sense for someone playing the game with a VR helmet, but it feels rather odd without one. It's far from unplayable, but Squadrons is one of those games that makes you wish you had VR gear. Don't worry if you don't have one; just expect to choose things from a menu instead of walking around the areas on your own. We'll have a follow-up review soon that elaborates on the VR gameplay.

Star Wars: Squadrons looks and sounds like Star Wars in all the right ways. The ships look great and sound fantastic, the environments are dripping with the franchise's classic style, and the developer nailed all the right notes. The voice acting is largely solid, and the core cast does a good job with what they have. Your nameless protagonist has a choice of voices, but some of the lines feel incredibly awkward since interactions should be written for different personalities.

Star Wars: Squadrons is exactly what it sets out to be: a modern revival of the old-school Star Wars flight simulators. It isn't particularly ambitious, but it is a lot of fun. Just being able to zoom through the wreckage of a ship battle while trying to get a bead on that darn X-Wing is enough to keep your attention for a while. The game lives and dies by its multiplayer, and hopefully the community is thriving for a while. Do you want to pilot an X-Wing? Then Squadrons is the game for you. Die-hard simulator fans might find it to be too simple for their tastes.

Score: 8.0/10

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