Star Wars: Squadrons review - a short, sweet dogfighting delight
Whether you play in VR or not, you are in for a hell of a ride.
If you are still bitter about the recent-ish end to the Skywalker Saga then Star Wars: Squadrons is the perfect sweetener.
It’s a game set, for the most part, in first person - a cockpit-eyed view of space battles. Because of this, there’s no denying that it has the feel of those hallowed Star Wars games of the ’90s: X-Wing, TIE Fighter and X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter.
Couple this with its own secret sauce - it’s a game built for VR but can also be played without donning a headset - and what you have is one of the most intriguing Star Wars games in years.
Here’s 5 things to know about Star Wars Squadrons...
1. You play both sides: the Republic and the Empire
The majority of the story takes place after the events of Return of the Jedi, although the prologue is some years before this, so it’s exciting to jump straight into the game and see some very familiar faces.
The game uses a split narrative and it’s one that’s used to fun effect. As you play both goodie and baddie - you have to create two different characters at the beginning of the game - some missions roll into one, so you will be setting up a sting as part of the Rebel squadron in one part, then have to battle your way out of it in the second part from the perspective of the Empire.
2. It’s an arcade game with simulator smarts
Those who have played Rogue Squadron on the N64 or the aforementioned X-Wing vs Tie Fighter games will be right at home with some of the gameplay on offer here. But while it looks like an easy arcade fighter, Squadrons sometimes gets super specific with the way you play.
The controls do take some getting used to. We found that flying too close to a passing ship usually meant an inevitable explosion or crunching sound. This is because you have to make sure things like the throttle are maintained, which adds an extra layer of complexity to the flying - this shouldn’t put you off, though, because it enriches the authenticity of the myriad space battles.
There is a really smart power system at play here, too: if you are hit, then you can balance the power in your spaceship of choice between weapons, shields and your engine. If you are like us, then for the most part you will be supping power to get your engine back up and running.
3. Out of the cockpit, the action slows down
When you are in the hangers, and not out in space fighting, the game does slow down somewhat. It’s here that you get to grips with some of the new characters, but this is mostly them talking to you, a lot.
Not that we minded, it’s great that each character has a backstory, but we would have liked some of that story to come out in the fighting.
And other than it being a hook to get you into both the Republic and the Empire’s vehicles, the dual narrative doesn’t really go anywhere. We were half expecting it to end in a big stand-off or something but the game doesn’t really play out like that. We loved that you are ‘Forced’ to play both sides, though, instead of choosing one at the beginning.
4. The graphics are fantastic
Although the characters you meet and speak to look detailed and straight out of the Star Wars universe - there are also a ton of references in the game to the Saga as a whole - it is not until you get into the cockpit that the graphics become, well, jaw dropping.
Each mission looks entirely different from the rest and the graphics are truly stunning and smooth.
There is some fantastic dogfighting involved in the whole thing and you get to ride through eight ships which is pretty awesome - all of them are stunningly detailed. There is also the ability to toggle the UI on and off on the dashboard but we preferred it on (for both gameplay and looks).
5. Put on a headset and the real fun begins
There is a lot going on in the picture at any one time and there will be things you miss unless you don a VR headset. While things on a plain-old flatscreen are still hugely impressive, opt for VR and it’s easy to see that the dogfights go into a whole new level of immersion.
The ability to look around the whole of the cockpit doesn’t get old and the experience feels like a Star Wars-infused dream. You are only awakened from this feeling when you are out of the cockpit and into the hanger cut scenes that are back in plain-old 2D.
Star Wars: Squadrons - Final Verdict
If Star Wars is a space opera, then Squadrons feels like the crescendo - a game that ratchets up the tension through thrilling dogfights but doesn’t outstay its welcome.
It lasts around eight hours which is enough time not to feel short changed (and plenty of time for a predominately VR game), and there are reasons to come back to it - whether through the trophies you can get in each mission, the multiplayer mode or the fact that it's just bloody good fun.
Star Wars: Squadrons is out now for PS4 (how we played), Xbox One and PC, for £29.99.