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Star Wars: Squadrons

Star Wars: Squadrons

Written by Eric Hauter on 10/7/2020 for PS4   PSVR  
More On: Star Wars: Squadrons

Star Wars: Squadrons is a deeply unexpected and unexpectedly deep game. I’m not referring to the way that Squadrons was kept under wraps until its surprise announcement back in June, to release in early October. I’m thinking more about how the game feels and plays so differently from any Star Wars title that has come before it.

Squadrons is something of a “budget” Star Wars title, retailing for $39.99—a steep price for a VR title, but very reasonable for a AAA new release. As such, I was expecting Squadrons to be somewhat striped down, an adaptation of the arcade spaceship battles found in the Battlefront games. I could not have been more wrong.

Star Wars: Squadrons is instead a full-fledged spaceship battle simulator, with realistic controls that take concepts like inertia and mass into account. Players have to learn to play Star Wars: Squadrons. You can’t simply pick up a controller and get it. Flying these vessels takes concentration and practice, but once you get the feel for it, successfully whipping your X-Wing between two asteroids and unloading your lasers onto an unfortunate passing TIE Fighter can be deeply satisfying.

I’ve played the entire campaign (flipping between three difficulty levels—some of these missions whooped up on me a bit) and several hours of multiplayer, and I’ve come away deeply impressed with the amount of care that went into making Squadrons feel like its own unique game. I play the Battlefront games primarily for the space battles, and to have something like this that expands on my Star Wars experience of choice—and feels so dang real—is simply invaluable.

Taking place primarily after the events of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: Squadrons tells its central story from both sides, allowing the player to see the events depicted while playing as both the Empire and the New Republic. The Empire is scrambling, having had its teeth kicked in by the events of Jedi, while the New Republic has gone on the offensive, pressing its advantage while the enemy is disoriented.

Knowing that it has momentum on its side, the New Republic stages a series of daring raids to steal numerous Star Destroyers, salvage the materials, and create its own fleet of giant killer ships. Leading the charge is an ex-Imperial officer, who defected to the Rebellion a few years back. Hot on his heals is his former protégé, who has vowed to kill him, stop the New Republic, and halt all of this ship stealing nonsense.

Playing as both sides in this campaign of conflicts was an absolute blast. Not only does the flip-flopping narrative structure allow players the chance to pilot every ship in the game (TIE Bomber for the win), but the Empire segments allowed me to indulge in some truly despicable acts of deliberate carnage, secure in the knowledge that I would soon play as the New Republic and would avenge myself against…myself. Without a karma meter to judge me, I was perfectly happy to blow those citizen transports out of the sky, thank you very much.

The missions in the campaign run around 20 minutes each, taking just enough twists and turns to challenge the player and keep things fresh. Frankly, for the first half of the game I was struggling to simply fly in a straight line, so, the less challenging the better, in my book.

I had a very difficult time negotiating the default controls in Star Wars: Squadrons, until I finally gave in and started fiddling around with the game’s many options. The out-of-the-box controls have the player steering the ship with the right stick, while controlling rolls and thrust with the left stick. This made me insane, so I ended up flipping the sticks (using the southpaw configuration) and inverting the flight stick (I’m not a savage). This made the game considerably more comfortable for me, and I was soon able to hold my own in battles instead of pinballing and exploding every 20 seconds.

Another interesting control in Squadrons is the ability to divert power to one of three systems: engines, shields, and weapons. There are only two systems in most Imperial ships: TIE pilots don’t need no stinking shields. This allows you to do cool things like using your engines to skate away from an attacker, only to whip around an obstacle, slam power into the weapons, and rain down laser hell. Getting the feeling of how all of these control systems work together unlocks a world of depth in Squadrons that simply does not exist in other Star Wars games.

One of the primary selling points of Star Wars: Squadrons is the ability to play the entire game in VR. While this became my preferred method to play Squadrons by a longshot, I did have some mixed feelings about the overall VR implementation. While amazingly fun to play in, I couldn’t shake the idea that the PlayStation VR version of Squadrons should simply look better than it does.

I first fired up Squadrons “flat,” meaning that I was playing the non-VR version of the game. Squadrons is a decent-looking game on PS4. Not a stunner, but certainly not ugly. The graphics get the job done, and the battles—seen exclusively through the cockpit windows of the various ships you are piloting—are appropriately detailed and frenetic.

But the first time I slid into the VR version of Squadrons I was disappointed to find that the game runs at a very low resolution on PS VR. To be fair, it is probably very difficult to get a game as complex as Star Wars: Squadrons running at the 120 FPS needed to make VR viable. That is likely the reason that the flat version of the game isn’t as visually stunning as some might be expecting. With a lower visual bar to clear, the drop between the base game and the VR version could feasibly be less noticeable.

I tried to give Star Wars: Squadrons the benefit of the doubt, but my mind kept circling back around to the fact that there are better-looking flight games on PS VR. When I think of names like Electronic Arts, Disney, and Lucasfilm, the term “low resolution” doesn’t jibe with the images that come to mind. My expectations for these brands are simply higher than what I am seeing here.

My disappointment with the resolution issues doesn’t mean that playing Squadrons in VR isn’t fun. It is, in fact, an absolute blast. Once I tried it out, I never went back to the flat version of the game. I played the last 70 percent of the game in VR, and absolutely enjoyed it. The lower resolution doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay, and when the world is spinning around you and you are being chased through an asteroid field by an adamant pilot in a Y-Wing, all thoughts of resolution go right out the window and into the vacuum of space.

The sense of scale delivered in VR is simply incredible. In battles that swirl around Star Destroyers, my mind rebelled when I tried to force it into giving up on ideas like “up” and “down.” Seeing this mammoth ship whiz beneath my insect-like X-Wing was incredible enough, but when I realized that I was actually flying beneath the ship, my stomach gave out in the most delicious way. I’ve often referred to VR as “having an amusement park in your home,” and that feeling has never been more pronounced than when playing Star Wars: Squadrons.

Multiplayer, where a lot of players will likely spend a lot of time, is almost as fun as the campaign. Though I thought that I was becoming a fairly proficient pilot during the campaign, jumping into multiplayer quickly cured me of those impressions. As usual, the multiplayer-faithful tend to shoot my face off.

There are only two modes available in multiplayer—which makes me slightly disappointed at EA’s promise that Squadrons won’t be a “service” game. I deeply appreciate the lack of microtransactions, but wouldn’t mind seeing some additional content and maps rolled out for this game as time went on. Players can earn additional weapons and tools to change up their loadouts, and fun cosmetic items (bobbleheads!) with a couple of in-game currencies. But once you have everything unlocked, you will be playing—horrors!—just for the fun of it.

Dogfight mode is exactly what it sounds like: a five-on-five deathmatch mode. I was struggling to make any progress in this mode until I was randomly placed onto a team that was actually talking to each other. In dogfights, communication makes all the difference between success and abject failure.

That second multiplayer mode, Fleet Battle, is a corker. This mode offers a much more complicated, multi-stage battle that has players engaging in a complex game of tug-of-war in space. Each side starts with five players, a couple of looming support vessels, and a Star Destroyer-size capital ship. Players must first fight for dominance of the battleground, before eventually taking out the opponents’ smaller support vessels and finally the opponents’ capital ship. This mode is a ton of fun, but not something you want to start right before bed. Battles can swing wildly, as each side gains and loses the upper hand. Players can dash back into their capital ship for a pit stop at any time, changing loadouts and even swapping ships in an attempt to swing the battle their way.

In both the campaign and multiplayer, Star Wars: Squadrons is a good time. I don’t want to sound overly negative here regarding the VR resolution issue. It is really a small, sour drop in a very sweet bucket. Star Wars: Squadrons is probably my favorite Star Wars game of all time. It is certainly the best space battle game ever produced in the Star Wars universe. With a very reasonable amount of content for the price, Star Wars: Squadrons offers a wild ride for those equipped to play it in VR, and a heck of a fun time for those playing on TVs.

With some unexpectedly complex and challenging controls, Star Wars: Squadrons is not the sort of game that you jump into and play casually. Squadrons is a surprisingly deep flight sim-style space battler that benefits from all of the sights and sounds of the Star Wars universe. While fun played on TVs, Squadrons really comes to life in VR, despite some resolution issues. This is simply the best Star Wars space battle game ever produced, and is a dream come true for fans.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS VR2, Quest 3, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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