Over the past few years we have enjoyed a resurgence in Star Wars video games. We’ve seen new iterations of the beloved Star Wars Battlefront and LEGO series, console ports of Star Wars: Episode 1: Racer and various Jedi Knight games, and of course the critically acclaimed Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Strangely, it has taken a while for EA Games to revisit the space combat genre, namely Tie Fighter and the Rogue Squadron series. But now we have Star Wars: Squadrons; an excellent, though at times flawed, simulator that gives you the experience of what it’s like to step inside the cockpit of Star Wars’ most iconic starfighters.
Set four years after the battle of Endor, Star Wars: Squadrons follows the continued conflict between the New Republic and the remnants of the Empire. The New Republic has developed a secret weapon to battle the Empire, dubbed Starhawk. Playing as the New Republic’s Vanguard Squadron, players will battle Imperial forces to assist and defend the project. At various points, however, the story switches to the viewpoint of the Imperial Titan Squadron, who seek to uncover the truth about Starhawk and get revenge on the New Republic for their loss at Endor. The rival squadrons never directly interact with each other, but it is interesting to watch events unfold for both sides.
Star Wars characters such as Wedge Antillies and Hera Syndulla will make appearances throughout the campaign, but the game largely focuses on the individual pilots of each squadron. Between missions you will be able to converse with fellow squadmates who each have their own backstories. However, it feels like their stories fall second fiddle to the larger conflict. It would have been great if flashback sequences or secondary missions were included as this would have fleshed out the campaign beyond its 8-hours length.
Star Wars: Squadrons has more in common with the classic Tie Fighter games than it does Rogue Squadron; it’s more of a simulation title than an arcade space shooter. You can only play in first-person with a full view of the cockpit, there is no option to play with a third-person camera. This has allowed the developers to integrate the HUD more thoughtfully. Rather than have all these health meters and the like on the borders of your screen, they’re all integrated into the cockpit. You have shield and health displays, ammo readings, speedometers and indicators that show enemy locations. I haven’t played many flight simulators before, so for me it was initially daunting, but within the first few missions it became second nature.
The main appeal of the game is getting into the cockpit of several iconic starfighters. The X-Wing and Tie Fighter are your standard, well-rounded, versatile starfighters. The A-Wing and Tie Interceptor are perfect for dogfights, specialising in speed and maneuverability to outperform foes. The Y-Wing and Tie Bomber have better armour and an arsenal of heavy weapons to take on capital ships, including the Empire’s menacing Star Destroyers and New Republic’s frigates. Last but not least are the U-Wing and Tie Reaper, support vehicles which can resupply health and ammo to allies, as well as raise temporary shields. Interestingly, the Empire’s vehicles do not feature shielding but generally have more maneuverability than their New Republic equivalent. Each fighter has its strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to players to pick what best suits the situation, particularly in multiplayer matches.
During gameplay you can divert power to engines, shields or weapons, giving that segment higher performance over the other two systems. For example, if you divert power to the engines your starfighter will fly faster but your shields won’t take as many hits and your weapon systems will take longer to recharge. In the single player campaign you also have the ability to direct squadmates, such as getting them to defend your own starfighter, focus on objectives or defend allies. You can also customise the loadouts of your starfighter for some missions which will affect its performance and attributes. For the most part you can ignore all this and still get an enjoyable experience, but those that take the time to learn the finer points of these systems will absolutely dominate online matches. Star Wars: Squadrons does a great job immersing players into the world of Star Wars. Cockpit actions resemble what we’ve seen throughout the various films and TV shows in the franchise, and there’s a sense of wonder and excitement every time you pull off maneuvers, shoot down enemies and fly past capital ships.
While the game does a great job in recreating the feel of piloting the starfighters, it can at times fall flat due to its mission design. During the single-player campaign, most missions can be broken down to escorting allied vessels, destroying/hijacking enemy capital ships and dogfighting in space. While these are exciting the first few times, the novelty begins to wear thin by the end of the campaign. There are many exciting set pieces which help keep the game feeling lively, including navigating through a nebula, fighting through a ship junkyard and fighting above planets such as Mon Calamari and Yavin IV.
Star Wars: Squadrons features two multiplayer modes; Dogfights and Fleet Battles. Dogfights is a standard 5 vs. 5 deathmatch multiplayer mode. Teams are split between Empire and New Republic factions and depending on the team you’re on, you will be limited to that faction’s starfighters. It’s here where you really appreciate each starfighter’s abilities and systems, as it’s a game of cat and mouse where the victor is decided by who can outmaneuver the other team. Fleet Battles is larger in scope, featuring both human and AI opponents. The concept behind this mode is each team takes turns attacking the opposing team’s fleet and defending their own. Both modes are engaging; offering frantic action that will have you coming back for more. It is disappointing however that there isn’t more on offer, as what’s presented here does feel somewhat limited.
The good news is there are no microtransactions for this EA Games release. Players are instead awarded in-game currency by completing challenges and making kills or assists during online matches. Challenges rotate each day, but usually involve standard flare such as dodging enemy missiles or making a specific number of kills. Currency can be used to purchase customisation options for starfighters in multiplayer, as well as cosmetic items such as toys which appear in the cockpit or new colours for your starfighter.
Star Wars: Squadrons features impressive visuals and audio. As mentioned, the development team have done a great job recreating the feel of the franchise. There’s lots of laser fire and explosions all around you, and the windows of your starfighter will even crack when you receive damage. The sound effects have been carefully implemented as well, with alerts beeping at you whenever an enemy missile is trailing behind or your health meter is close to being depleted. Not to mention the iconic sound of starfighters speeding up as you divert power to their engines.
For this review I played the game on an Xbox One X console, but even for this system its apparent Star Wars: Squadrons was designed with VR in mind. Based on comments online, VR is the best way to play this game and it’s easy to imagine how this would further enhance the immersion of being in the cockpit amidst the heat of battle. I suggest if you do like the sound of this game and have the equipment available, then do yourself a favour and grab a copy on a VR-supported platform.
Star Wars: Squadrons is a great but flawed experience. The game successfully immerses players into the world of Star Wars by letting them pilot different starfighters. The cockpit controls and systems have been implemented well and it’s a sheer joy to lay waste to enemy fighters. At times the single-player mission structure can feel limited and disappointingly there are only two multiplayer modes. If you’re a fan of the franchise though, there’s little reason for you to not pick this game up.
Star Wars: Squadrons was reviewed on an Xbox One X console with a review copy provided by EA Games. The game is also available on PS4 and PC. For more information, check out the game’s official website.
- Immersive, frantic space battles - No microtransactions - Great cockpit controls and HUD
- Only two multiplayer modes - Squadmates' side stories play second fiddle to main conflict - Mission structure becomes repetitive in single-player campaign