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Star Wars: Squadrons is, in short, the best Star Wars game to have come out under EA's tenure. In the same way that Rogue One benefitted from focussing on a singular story in the grander scheme of the Star Wars universe, Squadrons does away with the pomposity of the overarching space fairytale, and strips it down to one pilot in their cockpit living in the moment. And trying not to get blown into oblivion. It's certainly not without its foibles, but if you're looking for a game that scratches that 'Star Wars but like, specifically just the battle over Endor' itch, it's well worth your time.
Created by EA's Motive Studios, a big part of what makes Squadrons so good is the fluidity of its moment-to-moment gameplay. Being a first-person only title, budding pilots are tasked with fighting in battles from behind the joystick of their starfighter, with all the benefits and drawbacks that brings. You can't get a leg up on enemies by cheesing the third-person camera, but you are afforded the giddy thrill of blowing them to smithereens from the comfort of your own personalised cockpit. Ships like the Rebellion (or rather, New Republic since we're in post-Endor territory) X-wings, A-wings, Y-wings and V-wings, and the Imperial TIE Fighter, Interceptor, Bomber and Reaper, all handle rather differently, so choosing your favourite is a case of seeing what sticks.
Something that really makes the game unique, in the flight combat genre, is the multitude of options available to you via the in-cockpit HUD. Standard-fare things like throttle and other useful readouts are supported by the ability to switch power between engines, weapons and shields, if you've got them. It makes all the difference in the heat of battle and learning how to utilise these abilities to best aid your current situation will be the difference between a novice pilot and a well-trained veteran.
Speaking of which, it's very apparent that the game was made with a heavy focus on VR compatibility. Playing without a headset, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing out or was at a disadvantage to somebody who was playing with one. When we spoke to Motive back in June, they said they weren't worried about possible gameplay imbalances, which I do kind of get. But somebody flying an A-wing (with an almost unobstructed 180-degree field of view) fighting against a TIE fighter (with a field of view akin to looking through a loo roll tube) you can see on who's side the scales may begin to tip.
The learning curve of Squadrons is likely to leave a lot of complete newcomers scratching their heads, so it's important to jump into the game's campaign to get to grips with the controls before touching any of the online stuff. Mind you, getting the basics down is about all you'll want to be doing in the 8-10 hour story, since it's by far the weakest mode. Two-dimensional characters and a predictable storyline leaves little replayability, and the aforementioned VR-heavy implications become painfully apparent during the down-time and briefings between missions. One-sided conversations and static characters are sadly all filler, no killer.
I can only imagine that working with Disney on an original Star Wars storyline is a complete and utter nightmare, and I do feel for Motive Studios with their limited window of opportunity in telling the story of the duelling Titan and Vanguard Squadrons. It does what it needs to in terms of setting the scene for the game, but you'd be hard-pushed to find anybody coming back to hear more stories about this particular set of characters once the credits roll.
When you do take your newfound skills online, the pilot customisation is almost pointless since, you know, it's all first person, but there's a good degree of ship customisation to help keep things spicy. Each can have systems like its weaponry, hull and shields (again, if applicable) modified to some extent, meaning you can really build out a ship profile that suits you. Knowing that every player will have their set-up attuned to their own specifications means that no two games are alike, and it's this sense of the unknowing that will have players skittering down the 'one more game' rabbit hole. Or at least, that was my experience.
Online play is split into two game modes at present: Dogfights and Fleet Battles. The latter is by far the more entertaining option. It's a tug-of-war between two capital ships, where pilots are tasked with tipping the balance of battles by first engaging in a skirmish with the opposition, then taking out support ships, before eventually staring down the opposing capital ship.
There's no feeling like flying under the shields of a behemothic mothership, then rolling over its hull to blast apart an unsuspecting player who's trying to hide beneath it. And it's these moments that make up the real story of Squadrons; teaming up with your buds and jumping on mics is undoubtedly as much fun as it sounds. Swapping war stories between rounds is a genuinely good time, and doing it all in an old-school Star Wars aesthetic is memorable.
Star Wars: Squadrons is not a spiritual successor to Rogue Squadron. In fact it's far closer to the much-loved X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter, while still being something entirely new for the franchise. It carves out its own niche in the Star Wars universe. One of an enticingly replayable seismic battle between good and evil, as viewed from the cockpit of a starfighter.
Pros: utterly gorgeous, a must-buy for VR headset owners, the best Star Wars game under EA
Cons: poor story mode, not such a must-buy if you don't have VR
For fans of: X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter, Elite Dangerous, Rogue Squadron
Star Wars: Squadrons is out now on PS4 and PC. PlayStation 4 code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: EA Motive Studios
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