Instead of dolling up on a massive Star Wars game this year, EA Motive took a step back and worked on a something we all love watching in the films – a dedicated starfighter game. Much of it feels so different to everything we have played in the past. However, the best part of the whole experience is how great it feels and even though I was forced into a cockpit view of my ship, I felt more immersed than ever. Yes, I am the guy who always has the camera outside of the car in racing games. I prefer to see trees and track rather than hands and a steering wheel. For the most part, Star Wars: Squadrons excels in delivering a dedicated starfighter brawler. In addition, its single-player mode is pretty great too. Best of all, it is also playable in VR and is fantastic.
During the single-player of Star Wars: Squadrons you play as both the Republic and the Empire. The story is set between the events of Return o the Jedi and immediately you are thrown into the action. It is a nice way to experience the story watching both the bad and good of the galactic war. Some missions immediately saw me take control of the opposition right after sabotaging or taking down their fleet. The back and forth delivers a fun narrative.
The story only lasts for fourteen missions. However, it is enough to keep you playing. I would say any more and it would be overkill. This is due to the missions becoming pretty samey after a while which often all revolved around me blowing something up. The characters are memorable and the story represents themes of betrayal and the classic good versus bad. Sure, the story follows the typical “I am a new recruit trying to make a name for myself” but the jump between the Vanguard Squadron and Titan Squadron keeps things moving nicely.
There’s little variety to go around when it comes to ships and their abilities. However, every one of them felt great to control in both single-player and multiplayer. It does take a while to master though. This is not your average arcade fighter as the controls rely on alternating between the directing all your ship’s power to the weapons, shield or speed. Doing so is quite easy and after a simple press of a button, I was shooting more, flying faster or shielding a massive amount of shots fired towards my ship. The overall presentation also adds to this as every cockpit looks fantastic. Wires are springing out of the dash, the cracked glass made me anxious and the buttons and nobs all shined brightly in front of me. It made me feel like a badass. Even more so in VR.
The campaign does a great job most of the time. Motive knew what they were doing by trying to bring the action from the big screen to the video game. The intense chases, crazy bombing moments and handling it all at once was the peak of the experience here. Sure, the campaign also acts as a great tutorial for the multiplayer but the narrative kind of hides this away most of the time. That is to say, controlling a space fighter was never easy even hours into the campaign. Luckily, the game has a range of options to make the turns, buttons and control easier for you.
Star Wars: Squadrons does suffer from the classic EA multiplayer versus single-player story. That is to say, it never felt like the core experience of the game here and even after I completed it, it felt shallow. We have seen this in most of EA’s past Star Wars and Battlefield games. They either had no single-player or it was just one long tutorial. There’s also only so many AI dogfights you can play through before it gets too much.
Then we have the multiplayer modes which are where you will most likely spend all your time. Fleet Battles are the best and bring out the game’s core gameplay. Everything I learnt during the single-player was translated into this mode. Fleet Battles are long space fights between two teams. The main objective is to destroy each other’s capital ship. This means my loadout and my skills had to be tailored to whatever objective we were facing. Each ship has its own strength and weakness. If you were wondering, you also don’t instantly die when flying any of them into a Capital Ship (thank goodness). The mode follows the traditional back and forth as you try to complete the objective before the other team and then push back when you fail. These matches can go on for some time too.
The customization system is deep enough to keep you immersed. Ship colours are unlocked by completing challenges, new helmets are the same. However, when it comes to your skills and weapons, they rely on being smart. Different lasers shields, tracker mines and even ion lasers which can disable other ships all come in handy. Each ship also has its own unique role to play. A support ship heals, buffs and disables. Big bombers deal big damage but are slow and limited in their fire rate. Then there are the all-around balanced ships too which are almost like the ‘assault class’ here.
I think the best part of the multiplayer is its steep learning curve. Sure, the campaign gives you the basics but the true test is when other players are put into the ships instead of AI. I had to learn new things, be faster at doing them and know what ship I needed when the time came. It is like Battlefield in space and it is pretty cool. Despite there only being two game modes. Of course, there are some unbalanced ships and some that could do with a buff or two. We also have balance issues when it comes to your role and how well you perform. I could heal all day and still not be rewarded enough compared to killing enemies instead. This feeds into my report too as the game fails to acknowledge anything else other than a KD ratio. Typical multiplayer issues. Sometimes it is not always about the kill. Often it is how and why that kill happened.
We then have the overall presentation of the game. For the most part, it looks superb. Skyboxes glow with HDR on as you get the feeling you are in some distant galaxy hoping to visit it one day. Ships are somewhat detailed and menus are good. When it comes to customization, the game is a bit limited. You can equip some items onto your character and hang an item in your cockpit. Nothing wow at all.
Star Wars: Squadrons is a fun game. However, I worry that it will be forgotten by the end of the year. Sure, its single-player mode tells an original story even if it lacks any plot changes to the story we all know. The multiplayer may keep you busy for a few weeks but then it all slowly dies down. I probably won’t go back anytime soon unless there’s a free PS5 upgrade to play the game again with enhanced visuals.
This Star Wars: Squadrons review was based on a code sent to us by EA Games
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 2 October 2020 | Price: R785