Developer: Motive Studios | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Genre: Space Combat | Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One | Reviewed On: Xbox One
Flying into the depths of space in a real life Tie Fighter or X-Wing is a childhood dream of every Star Wars fan out there. EA and Motive Studio’s Star Wars: Squadrons gives long-time Star Wars fans a chance to do the next best thing. Unlike Motive’s last Star Wars outing, Star Wars Battlefront II, this game has no microtransactions to hinder the appeal and is exclusively about giving an exhilarating space pilot experience. Make no doubt, this is the most authentic space combat any Star Wars game has provided to date, but a lack of content ultimately makes this one a tough recommendation for non-Star Wars aficionados.
Story Mode: A Galaxy at War
Star Wars: Squadrons’ story mode literally puts you in the shoes of both an Imperial and Rebel pilot. Set four years after the Battle of Endor, The Rebels (now known as “The New Republic”) are set on retaining peace and freedom throughout the galaxy while the Imperials do what they’ve always done, which is the exact opposite.
The second you step foot into an X-Wing is as cool of an experience as we should expect. We’ve flown these ships in other games in the past, but never like this. Star Wars: Squadrons is played exclusively in first person and the amount of detail inside of each ship is remarkable. The game even features a “free look” button so that you can appreciate every nook and cranny. Controlling these ships in Squadrons is far from what we’ve been used to from previous games. In this game, it feels about 25% arcade and 75% simulation instead of the other way around. Now, you actually feel the weight of the ship as you turn.
In order to make swift maneuvers, you need to control your speed and your boosting at all times. But while you’re controlling your speed, boosting, and handling, you need to control your weapon efficiency and your shield too. At first, it can be a bit jarring and intimidating, but after a few sessions it all starts to make some kind of sense. Got someone on your tail? Lower your speed to halfway to maximize turning ability and then speed up once you’re in the clear. Got someone right in front of you? Maximize your weapons to sacrifice speed and shield for increased firepower. Each of Star Wars: Squadrons’ 14 story mode missions allow the player to make use of these various tradeoffs while using a variety of New Republic and Imperial ships.
The best thing about Squadrons’ story mode is that it makes the player feel like they’re part of an actual war. The game flip-flops between both factions, allowing the player to fight through a couple of Rebel missions before jumping back onto the Imperial side. It’s interesting to see this sort of tug-of-war being waged between the two factions as we get to see what kind of counter-measures they have waiting for each other. Before and after you’re briefed for each mission, you’re able to talk to various members of your team to see what’s on their minds. Though no one ever says anything essential to further the game’s plot, the voice acting is above par and hearing the different stories and perspectives of your squad mates helps to remind you that you’re part of a real team. Both factions truly believe they’re on the “good” side and it’s refreshing to hear how your squad’s past experiences and even things like family have affected their loyalty to a particular side. Though there’s nothing truly blockbuster about Star Wars: Squadrons’ story mode, the occasionally intense missions, realistic fighter on fighter gameplay, and enough emotional investment make the 5-6 hour campaign fully enjoyable.
Multiplayer: A Limited Galaxy at War
Multiplayer, on the other hand, is a little bit of a mess at the moment. There are only two modes, “Dogfight” and “Fleet Battles.” Dogfight is a standard 5v5 Team Deathmatch with Imperials vs New Republic. Though battles can get intense when it comes to hunting down enemy fighters, it often ends up in an awkward ballet of each fighter going in circles trying to shoot down the other. The best strategy I’ve come across is to cover your allies and hunt down fighters actively trying to destroy them. It’s a complete 180 in pace from Battlefront II and in a game that runs to 30 kills, you often don’t see a ton of action. Each kill counts and feels impactful, but it doesn’t result in anything remotely fast-paced. And since you don’t actually touch ground on any planets, every battle is set in space. There are only a handful of maps right now, each one with various forms of asteroids or debris to allow fighters to outmaneuver the other. But even still, the environments get old pretty fast.
“Fleet Battles” are more-so the spiritual successor to the game’s story mode. This mode is still 5v5 but instead of a straight up Team Deathmatch, players fight to gain control of the battlefield among a full-fledged fleet. Each fighter/freighter you take down earns momentum that changes the tide of battle. Earn enough momentum, and you can go after the big guns like the Imperial Star Destroyer or New Republic Cruiser. These battles feel like a tug of war between good and evil and constantly remind you that every step forward is crucial to victory. The downside to this game mode is it is far lengthier than Dogfight. If you’re looking to jump in a few quick matches, this isn’t it. It’s also baffling that this multiplayer mode only comes in a ranked format. This is the mode that feels like it should’ve been the flagship multiplayer mode considering it feels in line with its story missions. Instead, you have to reach level five before you can even play the mode and the only alternative is playing with AI, which can be played solo or with a friend online.
Even with its lack of content, Star Wars: Squadrons is an experience worth taking for those who can’t get enough Star Wars or space battles in their life. The story boasts an interactive war of good vs evil, while the multiplayer can be fun and intense in short bursts. Piloting a spaceship from the Star Wars universe has never been so detailed and in-depth, making it the most authentic game of its kind to date. Though it’s difficult to recommend this for the fair-weather Star Wars fan, everyone else who can’t get enough of this galaxy far, far away will find Star Wars: Squadrons to be more than enough to satisfy the craving.