Way back when in 2013, Disney and Electronic Arts agreed to a 10-year commitment on new Star Wars video game titles. Little did they know, EA would spend the better part of the 10 years closing studios and moving projects around. Seven years into the deal and the only thing to show for it are two Battlefront titles and, 2019’s hit Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. All this after Disney closed internal Star Wars video game developer LucasArts. The fallout of EA’s failure to bear fruit would lead to a closure of studios and an internal restructuring of projects. The end result led to this year’s “smaller, more unusual project“, Star Wars: Squadrons.
Release Date // October 22nd, 2020
Platforms // PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher // EA – Developer // EA Motive
Reviewed On // PSVR, PS4
MSRP // $39.99
That context is important to set the stage for what Squadrons really is. While its name may invoke memories of the Rogue Squadron series on the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube. It is really a spin-off of the more recent Battlefront games. The campaign is roughly eight to ten hours, with two different multiplayer game types to extend the experience. Some of the navigation is on rails and there is no “third-person” camera view from the ships. Likewise, you will not be going to Hoth to cable tie up some AT-ATs. In fact, the entire game takes place in the open outer space. Squadrons is not a traditional AAA massive game with loads of content, nor will EA be adding content over time.
That is not to diminish what Star Wars: Squadrons actually is. In some important ways, Squadrons does not feel like a smaller game. Despite its budget price point ($39.99 US), it has the same polish EA would put on any AAA Star Wars game. The characters are developed and fully voice acted. The sound hits every note you would want to hear in a Star Wars game. On top of that, it’s one of the most substantial PSVR games ever made.
A Long Time Ago In A Campaign Far Far Away
The meat of the game is its single-player campaign. The eight to ten-hour story consists of 14 chapters. How each chapter plays out is very similar to Star Fox 64. Your team will show up as an on-screen icon, while voice-over narrates the story. When you first launch Star Wars: Squadrons you create both an Imperial Pilot and a Rebel Pilot. The story will take you back and forth from good to bad giving you a perspective from both sides. The story is a fantastic all-new original narrative in the Star Wars universe. Squadrons takes place between Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Yet do not expect any Star Wars character you know of to show up as part of this adventure. Everyone you encounter will be an original character.
The team at EA Motive has done a fantastic job of telling their story without having Han Solo bail you out at the last minute in the Millennium Falcon. Instead EA Motive uses the environments, clothing, ships and, droids to bring you into the Star Wars universe you know and love. The details on the NPC and the ships are tremendous. In VR, the first thing I did when I got in my X-Wing was turn around and look at my R2 droid mounted on the back of the ship. I was simply in awe. The other ships have a great level of detail as well.
Once you take to the cockpit, Star Wars: Squadrons has some new and interesting things with its game mechanics. Of course, it helps that it is a Star Wars flight combat game. Yet the developers did not take that for granted. Pilots will be tasked with more than just shooting down the enemy. In Squadrons, you have to balance your ship’s shields, energy, and command the team around you. You can get by with doing just the minimum. Though you will really be able to conquer the game by firing on all cylinders. With that said the gameplay is not some life-altering experience. Often it can feel like you are not flying in any one direction but, circling around looking for your target. Quickly tapping the X/A button can change your target to the next closest ship.
Yet I often found that enemy ships just went back and forth past me in groups. If you are able to get a good angle on enemy ships unloading rockets and laser blasts is rewarding. Each ship can be outfitted with a mix of weapons or “components.” The component slots are Primary Weapons, Left and Right Auxiliary and, Countermeasures. As well as the component slots that make up the body of the ship. Which are Hull, Shields, and Engine. The Primary is more of your traditional red or green laser. While the Auxiliary Weapons can be larger missiles or Repair Droids. Countermeasures assist when an enemy has a lock-on you. Changing and managing these parts gives the gameplay significantly more depth.
How VR Mechanics Negatively Impact The Console Experience
Squadrons is a game so good yet clearly built for a different system, VR systems specifically. Oddly enough, this is only apparent on console when you are in a hangar instead of flight. When in the hangar, you have to move the camera around to highlight where you want to go and press the button prompt to move there. For example, if you want to talk to a squadmate about your next mission on the Xbox version, you angle your right stick to highlight that squadmate and hit A to talk. What’s more, when you’re in the cockpit, you can only look around freely by double-tapping the right stick. That barrier does not exist for VR, you just look around.
To be fair, neither of these examples negatively impact gameplay; your flying skills matter most in both versions; However, when one version needs a specific button prompt the other doesn’t, then it’s clear who the game was made for. Yet this works out great with PSVR, even with the flight stick. You naturally use your head to move around and look at where you want to go. Also, you can use the flight stick to move the cursor around just like an analog stick. The way it all works almost feels like it gives VR preferential treatment. The lack of an analog stick on the Move Controllers for the PS4, make most PSVR games work this way.
An Ample VR Experience
I found that the best way to experience the game was with a flight stick in tandem with PSVR. You still can use one or the other and the game is just fine with the controller and no VR. Although there is something different about being upside down in a TIE Fighter in VR. The freedom of turning your head. Watching your hands move in the game as you move them on the flight controls is significantly more immersive. I see a tremendous amount of value in Squadrons for PSVR users. If you do not have a VR headset you might be turned off by the lack of camera options. In addition to the amount of content in the game. Yet if you are a PSVR user it is the only camera view you would ever need.
Speaking to the value of the content, Squadrons is very similar in gameplay quality to Ace Combat 7 and Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot. Except, AC7 has only 3 missions in VR and Cyberpilot is 50 minutes long. On top of this, both have no multiplayer. While Star Wars: Squadrons is a “budget title” it has way more content than PSVR users are accustomed to. The only negative thing I can say about Star Wars: Squadrons in VR is to plan your meals accordingly. You may want to wait an hour or more after eating. You will be upside down at a high speed throughout the game.
Make the Jump To Light Speed
The level of polish and detail EA Motive has put into the game far exceeds my expectations. The audio and visuals in the game are on par with other Star Wars titles like Jedi Fallen Order and BattleFront II. Fans of the other games might recognize the game’s score. Gordy Haab leads a 26 track orchestral score created for Star Wars: Squadrons. His previous work can be found in the latter two Star Wars titles as well as Halo Wars 2. Certainly, the effects and music are everything you would come to expect from a big-budget massive Star Wars game.
Visually the game is on par with the other EA Star Wars titles as well. EA Motive uses a lot of the assets and techniques found in Battlefront II. The facial animations and level of detail found on the NPCs are exceptional. It is just a shame that the interactions are limited to a locked on-rails experience that you would find in a point and click game. The visual detail given to the levels can often be stunning. Although, for the most part, it is just open space surrounding rocks or a base.
Just Don’t Get Too Cocky, Kid.
Star Wars: Squadrons has three multiplayer gameplay modes but really two gameplay types. Fleet Battles and Dogfight. Additionally, you can choose to do Fleet Battles with a group against AI. Fleet Battles are the primary game mode, it’s five versus five over a three-phase battle. In phase one, you participate in a deathmatch style dogfight. If you win, you move on to attack mode in phase two, which entails defending or attacking support ships. Finally, in the last phase the winner must destroy the loser’s flagship. These are larger capital ships, like a Star Destroyer or a MC75.
The Dogfight mode is your classic team deathmatch. It’s five versus five, Imperials against the Rebels, same stuff that you would expect in a team deathmatch mode. The first team to thirty wins the match. With every kill and every match, you gain experience points. The XP can be used to customize the ships. I did really enjoy the number of options; there is some cool stuff including a lot of nods to the movies. You can get a little Ewok statue for your dashboard, paint your X-Wing like the ones from the sequel trilogy. There are a handful of cool things you can do to stand out.
Nice Shot Kid
Overall Star Wars: Squadrons struggles to find its identity. For a console gamer, it is a small spin-off of Battlefront with a great story and fun flight controls. Yet for a VR consumer, this is one of the biggest games of the year. Moreover, if we are talking about PSVR, this could be the most impressive game to come out all year on the platform. If you own VR on PC or console and enjoy Star Wars you have to pick this game up. The same can be said with flight sticks There is a fantastic story with unique game mechanics. Compounded with a high level of detail given to every aspect of the game. It is a fantastic all-around experience for even the most novice Star Wars fan.
Thank you to Daniel May of Lordsofgaming.net for additional content and contributions to the review.