You'd have to really try to make an unfun Star Wars dogfighting game. Squadrons is a naturally fun, accessible and deep flying game with some gorgeous audio and visual effects, a compelling single-player campaign and a surprisingly fun multiplayer offering. If you're a Star Wars fan, you owe it to yourself to try it out. Now that's what I can podracing. Space flying? You get what I mean.
The thing about making a Star Wars game about piloting your own X-Wing, TIE Fighter or whatever side of the galactic conflict you want take is that you have tp try hard to mess it up. It’s just a solid premise for a game, right? Every person who’s ever enjoyed the monumentally popular space opera has wanted to fly their own space fighter at some point in time; forget the laser swords and telekinetic powers, the best part of Star Wars will always be those gigantic space battles. Daring pilots ducking around blaster fire, lobbing torpedos at weapons of inter-galactic destruction. It’s always exciting and the opportunity to experience it through classics like Star Wars: Tie Fighter or Star Wars: Starfighter is a promise that only video games can fulfil.
So I was more than a little excited to try out Star Wars: Squadrons, a game that seemed to be bringing the modern sensibilities of online multiplayer with a traditional single-player campaign. Yet so many games have attempted to unite the two principals recently and many often fail to strike a happy balance as multiplayer becomes the core focus, mostly due to improved profits. That was more concern about Squadrons and I’m so pleased to report that after playing a whole bunch of it, the game straddles the line between compelling single-player dogfighter and explosive multiplayer action better than expected.
The Power of a Titan Squadron
Let’s start with the game’s campaign which could very easily have been a rushed effort that served more as a tutorial for the game’s multiplayer but actually turns out to… fine! Like, it’s not going to blow you away with the stakes or quality of an actual Star Wars movie but there are enough moments that really make the experience worth dedicating an weekend to finishing it up. Some solid characters, set pieces and a decent variety in mission objectives (which can be tough for a games built on the premise of “shoot baddie planes”) create a campaign that feels like a side-story of the Star Wars universe that’s actually worth telling.
You’ll play as both sides of the conflict, taking on the role of new additions to the Empire’s lauded Titan Squadron and the heroic Vanguard Squadron as they go head-to-head in the seemingly endless war for the fate of the galaxy. Switching back and forth, offering both sides of the conflict, keeps the story moving at a decent pace as the missions tend to focus on the back and forth between the overwhelming might of the Empire and the scrappy underdog tactics of the New Republic.
You’d think constantly switching back and worth might get jarring after a while but the vast differences in the cast of characters surrounding you is eased by the simplicity of piloting the starfighters. Which isn’t to say Vanguard and Titan play identically, there are enough differences that they still feel unique to play while maintaining the same archetypes (Bomber, Assault, Support etc.). It’s all helped along by some enjoyably written characters on both sides of the conflict with some familiar faces from the extended Star Wars canon rocking up to give some credence to the story being told. Having legendary X-Wing pilot Wedge show up for a mission or receiving a briefing from Hera Syndulla (of Star Wars: Rebels) consistently put a smile on my face.
The only part of the campaign that really struggles is a problem that arises due to the instance of the game’s VR-first support. Now, I have no idea if this game was developed with the intention of virtual reality being the main port of call but the fact that there’s no option to adjust the game’s settings to accommodate a non-VR playthrough makes one wonder. The emphasis on VR does detract from the core game as seemingly simple things like walking around a hanger or examining your ship are turned into a process of just selecting a location and warping there, unable to freely move around. You can look around as much as you want but movement has obviously been restricted because it’s not an easy addition for someone stuck in a VR headset.
The other downside is how stilted a lot of the bigger story details come across because of this limitation. No matter how well a character is written, they often appear hollow and lifeless as they’re forced to deliver lines like a talking head in a documentary. It robs them of a certain charisma that one often associates with Star Wars. Again, it was a decision made with those playing in VR in mind but the end result, with or without a headset, is ages of just standing and having a character speak at you. Not exactly what you want when five minutes earlier you were firing Y-Wings out the…space?
That’s a 10-4, good buddy
Yet what surprised me most about Star Wars: Squadrons was how much fun I had with the game’s multiplayer. Grabbing a group of friends who were playing the trail version of the game and going to war with a enemy squadron wasn’t for the faint of heart because, honestly, I was terrible. Now I’m not especially good at games to begin with but I was especially bad at Star Wars: Squadrons. Having said that, my failures to shoot down the enemy never lead to a worse time. No matter how bad I was, it was just… exhilarating to fly around with my buddies. There’s something to be said about a game being so fun that you can be the absolute worst at it and still enjoy the experience.
It’s probably because the mechanics of Squadrons are so easy to pick up yet hide a level of depth that would takes ages of practice to become properly “good”. It’s a multiplayer that’s easy to slide into and have a great time without having to spend hours evaluating the controls. It’s great when games are designed to be as accessible yet deeper than they appear, a trait very easily recognised in Star Wars: Squadrons.
As I said early, you’d have to really try to make an unfun Star Wars dogfighting game. Squadrons is a naturally fun, accessible and deep flying game with some gorgeous audio and visual effects, a compelling single-player campaign and a surprisingly fun multiplayer offering. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you owe it to yourself to try it out. Now that’s what I can podracing. Space flying? You get what I mean.