This review is based primarily on the game’s campaign as well as offline time with the multiplayer suite. We will update it as we play through more of the multiplayer.
When the large-scale intergalactic space-skirmishes of Starfighter Assault was added to Battlefront II, fast emerged a subsection of that community that hungered for that particular type of competitive outlet, one not tied to throwing Stormtroopers about with the Force or, with a false sense of hope, spattering a looming Luke Skywalker with blaster fire. Star Wars: Squadrons feels very much like an evolution of this mode, though it also speaks to an older generation of Star Wars and feels like a modern take on X-Wing.
The game’s core premise walks the fine line between arcade and simulation, playing much like the space battles found in the often-maligned Infinite Warfare iteration of Call of Duty. Unlike that particular take, the dogfighting in Squadrons is clearly the game’s main event and has much more depth than Infinity Ward’s effort. With a fleet of ships on offer all with their own strengths, weaknesses, and small particulars that set them apart from one another, it seems apparent that a lot of effort has gone into building up the meat and bones of this game to be as balanced and multiplayer-focused as it can be. It’s clear from the get-go that the game’s story mode was the afterthought of the project, it’s a slice of not-thought-of lore that falls in place after Return of the Jedi. It’s a tidy, self-contained narrative that doesn’t amount to a whole lot, despite sprinklings of fan service in there such as cameos from characters like Wedge Antilles.
As the campaign is built with the scope of the game’s multiplayer suite in mind, it all felt a tad rigid and lacking in variety. The objective-driven, multi-stage modes of Squadrons didn’t transfer over too well in trying to dole out an eight-hour narrative, there’s plenty of escort missions and although downing Star Destroyers never gets old, the whole thing feels tacked onto the multiplayer which has clear star-billing this time around. The story is told from both sides of the fight, though unlike the disillusioned Iden Versio, it’s hard to find any semblance of empathy for these Imperials.
Squadrons asks players to customise both their Imperial and Rebel avatars at the opening of the game’s story and this comes off a bit jarring as, being that the game is built very much with VR in mind, our character never actually features. After the apprenticeship offered during the first handful of missions, the game even recommends jumping across to experience the multiplayer which speaks volumes on where the team’s focus was. All of the game’s out of ship moments take place in hangars from a first-person perspective, this is where much of the game’s exposition trickles out as shooting the shit with your squadmates is the sum amount of what’s possible outside of the ship aside from mission briefings and inspecting whichever ship you’re using at that particular moment.
Though the game features hands-on throttle and stick as well as VR compatibility, my Squadrons experience was limited to a controller and it’s no secret that the game is slick and handles superbly. The pitch, roll, and yaw of each ship feel dynamic, and it’s accessible to the point that I think most everyone who picks the game up will find some value and enjoyment out of the arcade side of the experience. Though on the flip side, there’ll be a lot of top-tier players that’ll be tough to beat as the simulation aspect is sure to draw in a crowd of die-hards. It’s no surprise that the development codename for the game was ‘Maverick’ because there’s a real Top Gun feeling to not only the dogfights but to the over-comms banter between both Vanguard and Titan squads.
The game’s main draw is bound to be the Fleet battles which is a large-scale, multistage event that ebbs and flows much in the same way as Battlefield’s Rush mode. Though I didn’t get any valuable time in against fellow critics, the game does offer a handy Fleet vs. AI mode which I was able to stress-test to get a feel for the mode and it’s pretty hectic. The aim is to win the territory battle and whittle down your opponent numbers to gain a clear path to destroy the Capital Ships which in turn leaves the Flagship exposed, once it falls it’s game over. There’s of course a lot of twists and turns and, like its spiritual predecessor Starfighter Assault before it, the games tend to be contested until the end.
Fleet is just one of two modes that Squadrons offers out of the box, the other being Dogfight. I couldn’t get into an instance of this particular mode, though as a Team Deathmatch-like, it’s likely to play out like the ‘numbers game’ first phase of Fleet which will appeal more to people who want to hop into a more casual, less-structured game and just shoot things with friends.
Squadrons is a beautiful game, for the most part, particularly in-engine. There’s a level of detail in the characters and skyboxes that is somewhat lost during the story’s cutscenes. I’m not sure if it’s a compression issue or whether it’s the pre-rendering, but it just doesn’t look as clean as when your hands are on the stick. It’s a night and day difference and, for the most part, it looks like a surprisingly big-budget game on a shoestring budget. The skyboxes, in particular, are tremendously jaw-dropping, one that springs to mind is the ‘Skies of Yavin’ mission with its pastel, nebulous clouds swirling in the atmosphere. The game’s music is also so stunning, paying homage to the franchise’s classic compositions while forging forward in a style clearly inspired by John Williams.
After fellow entries in Battlefront II and Jedi: Fallen Order, Squadrons is yet another credit in EA’s pocket as far as the recovery of the Star Wars license goes. It’s a tailored, focused experience that knows what it is and though it might have shoehorned in a largely inconsequential story, treating it as a taste-test for the game’s multiplayer main event should serve you well.
THE PC VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
It’s easy to argue that Star Wars: Squadrons doesn’t offer quite enough. Players get what is essentially an eight-hour tutorial which acts as a prelude for the game’s multiplayer, a limited but fun offering of modes with some potential for great staying power.
The piloting handles tremendously
A few nice little cameos that'll please Star Wars fans
Fleet is a lot of fun
Story mode is a largely inconsequential tutorial
Only two multiplayer modes on offer at launch
Cutscenes look a little bit muddy due to likely compression issues