For a while, I was seriously concerned about Star Wars games. The exclusive arrangement between Disney and EA seemed to have little to show for it.
Last year’s excellent Jedi: Fallen Order, however, made me reconsider, and now with the excellent Star Wars Squadrons I am excited to see where EA’s studios can take Star Wars next.
Star Wars Squadrons is a first-person ship-based combat fighter, in the vein of the old X Wing vs TIE Fighter PC titles of yore featuring both a story campaign and online multiplayer. Set between the explosion of the Second Death Star at the Battle of Endor and Episode VII: A Force Awakens, it follows a small team of elite fighters from both the New Republic (nee Rebel Alliance) and the crumbling Empire. You take on the role of a rookie in both teams, working to either strengthen the nascent new order or trying to stamp the weakened authority of the Empire back onto the galaxy.
These adventures take you across the galaxy in a range of traditional Star Wars craft. On the Rebel’s side there’s the old familiar X-Wing, A-Wing, Y Wing and U-Wing. For the Empire you take control of a TIE Fighter, Reaper, Interceptor and Bomber at various parts along the story.
And to the developer Motive’s credit, each feels like a distinct ship to pilot and fight with. The X-Wing is the Mario of the lot – versatile, stable and predictable. The TIE Fighter is fast, fragile but with exceptional combat capabilities. And support ships are crucial (especially for the Empire with their shield-less fighters), restocking you with crucial torpedoes, bombs and more. You know when you’re in each ship, not only from the excellent modelling work done for each ship’s cockpit, but the familiar sounds ripped straight out of the movies and the way that they feel to turn, bank, pitch and yaw. Growing up with Star Wars, each ship feels exactly how you imagine they would, and I was able to find my place piloting each of them with relative ease.
In non-Xbox versions of the game you have the chance to play Squadrons entirely in VR. Unfortunately the Xbox version doesn’t support this functionality, so I wasn’t able to try it out. But, seeing as the whole game seemingly grew out of the special VR mission for the original PS4 Star Wars Battlefront, I can imagine this is a fantastic way to experience the game.
That’s not to say the 2D experience is bad on the Xbox, far from it. Especially on the Xbox One X, Star Wars Squadrons is beautiful, abounding in dazzling space scenery. Some missions have you flying through and around asteroids and discarded, exploded ships. These were the most impressive scenes, with those revolving around taking out a larger ship (such as a Star Destroyer) set in the middle of empty space and less interesting overall. And thankfully Star Wars Squadrons runs at 60FPS on all machines – even the original Xbox One (albeit mostly at a somewhat blurry 720p). This is the right call for this sort of game, and it makes me want to play the game again on my PC at 120FPS on an ultrawide monitor. The Xbox One is also meant to support flight sticks, though my Logitech Xtreme 3D Pro didn’t seem like it would properly connect when I tried it.
The story is less impressive overall from a narrative standpoint, though that’s not to say there aren’t interesting missions within that story. In fact, I often found the mission design well-considered, with elements that show a deep understanding of Star Wars ship combat. It was rare that missions felt simply as if they were “go here, shoot that” – though of course that’s what each ultimately comes down to. Swapping sides between the Imperials and the Rebels, and between ships and their unique roles in each encounter kept the gameplay feeling fresh and I rarely felt bored with what I was being asked to do.
Alongside the single-player campaign sits a small but well thought out multiplayer mode. I am not afraid to say I got absolutely destroyed attempting to go up against other human players. It is certainly a step above the space fighter maps from Star Wars Battlefront II, where flying a ship felt more like controlling a model on a stick in front of you. It’s here in multiplayer too where you feel the true impact of the different loadouts available to you, giving yourself a more specialized role in each fight. It is harder however, to be a support ship I found when playing outside of a team, though when used properly support ships can turn a battle in surprising ways.
EA has stated that there will be no more content coming for Star Wars Squadrons so what comes with the game is unlikely to be expanded upon in the future. But for a game that costs just $AUD49.95 with no season pass or microtransactions to me this is a trade off I am willing to make. Hopefully it also means a Star Wars Squadrons sequel is in development already, given the success of the game as a unique package.
In many ways Star Wars Squadrons seems like a risk for EA. It is so unlike their other games that it seems almost experimental. But I think it’s an experiment that has been a success.
Stripped of the need to feed an insatiable microtransaction machine, or to sell us on buying a battle pass, Squadrons is a more focused, refined experience with far more personality than most other AAA games.
Released: October 2020
Platforms: Xbox One
Genre: Action, Simulator
Developer: Motive Studios
Publisher: EA Games</p