They say the Devil, or perhaps the WompRat, is in the details. I don’t think there’s a game I’ve played recently that epitomises this as much as Star Wars: Squadrons (SW:S) does. There’s just something in the way your avatar flips switches in the cockpit, the way they punch the console when trying to reboot or the little between-mission conversations with your wing-mates that makes the whole experience something greater than the sum of it’s parts.
But what is the final tally then….?
A New Hope
If you’ve been on the fence about getting the game I can solve that one for you right now; get it. It’s good. Ridiculously good. It pulls all the best parts of being in a flight-sim, adds just enough ‘arcadey’ action (its a word) and then drags the whole thing into the Star Wars universe. I’m having an absolute blast playing this game and if you’re even tangentially interested in flight sims or the star wars universe I can give you no reason not to buy it.
Why though, I hear you scream into the force-filled void.
Well the game sits on a very sound base. The core mechanics of the game, the flight and combat, work really well. Each ship feels different. They look (obviously), handle, function and thrum differently (its also a word…). It’s difficult to explain, but when I’m in a Tie-Bomber I can almost feel the bolts vibrating as I fly in. Contrast that with a nippy A-wing or Tie-Interceptor and everything feels smooth, clean, swift. It’s clever and I’ve no clear idea of how they’ve done it, but they have.
You really start to feel at home in your cockpit (behave). So add this to the flight mechanics, which for the most part are excellent, and you’ve got a solid, well designed and brilliantly executed bedrock for the rest of the game to launch off.
Attack of the Clones
As with a lot of multiplayer-focussed offerings, the game effectively comes in 3 halves (shush). The first is the Story-mode, which is glorious. I’ve seen reviewers lamenting the predictability of it at times (like Star Wars was ever famous for it’s writing) but for me it’s wonderfully pulpy and fits perfectly into the wider-universe. The character models are great to look at and even the static scenes when out of ship stop becoming an issue within minutes of realising you cant just press ‘w’ to get over there. The characters are pretty well-rounded out and you’ll often get lovely little personal snippets from them. You can tell a bit of effort went into the writing as in barely 2-3 sentences between each mission you get a great sense of personality (and key personality traits). When one of my wing-men tried to trick me into playing a game for money (by pretending to be a beginner) I really smiled. It’s such a nice touch.
The story jumps between Rebel/new republic and Imperial perspectives and it’s a nice way to interleave the narrative while giving you a taste of what each side has to offer. Definitely start here. My only complaint is that it isn’t longer.
You then have the training missions which are absolutely worth your time. There’s a dial-your-own dog-fighting free-play area, where you can drop in enemies on a whim. I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my dog-fighting prowess in each ship (weirdly I appear to be gravitating towards the bomber classes, which is a surprise for me). I can see there being ridiculous replay in this section alone. On top of that you also have the (now) famed fleet battles.
Fleet battles work by having one capital ship, two support frigates and then a sh*t-ton of fighters. You need to whittle down the fighters to clear a path to the frigates. Once you’ve taken both down you can then attack the capital ship. It’s a really tactical and fun mode with a lot of too-and-fro in it. I can easily see why it was a lot of reviewers’ favourite mode. There’s a real tactical edge too. The support frigates don’t only just protect the capital ship, they are mobile resupply points. So if you run out of missiles/repair tokens or any other consumable- you can go back to them for an instant resupply (granted you can do this with the support craft too, but in my experience it’s usually too hard to find one mid-battle for that mechanic to be of any real use). So, once the frigates are down. or up, erm, well gone, then you’re only option is to dock in your capital ship. Which takes time and effectively reduces your offensive output by 20% for the duration of your visit- which can be enough to turn the tide of any battle.
Once through to the capital ships you then have numerous ways to attack- and many subsystems you can chose to target to strategically weaken the ship. Be warned, It’s no quick battle. On the capital ships alone i’ve spent upwards of 15 minutes trying to take one of them down. They are big after all. But the pay-off when one goes down is glorious and it genuinely feels like an achievement. I will be spending a lot of time playing this mode.
The final mode pulls all this together and puts it online, with the expected effect. Taking out a rebel X-Wing is all the sweeter when you know someone was actually piloting it….. Rebel Scum. Combine with the truly stunning graphics and well, it’s a joy to play.
Combat itself is a nice meaty affair. All the familiar sounds are there; the roar of a Tie is always a joy to hear, and the pew-pew of your lazers sounds spot-on. Movement is good, despite a few boost-skills that are slightly out of place and it’s ridiculously good fun to track and chase an enemy to get that kill. And when you do get that final kill shot everything explodes in a really nice way. Larger vessels leave glowing debris and break up in convincing explosions. No ‘big boom-all-gone’ here. Bits of your fallen comrades’ ships will litter the battlefield- at least for the sort term (i’ve never had the time to go back and check the bits were still there later in the game).
EA have done a commendable job with the balancing too. The Rebels fly powerful shielded craft. They can take a hell of a battering and the shields can be an absolute godsend (especially when you start using them directionally to cover a retreat/attack. They sacrifice some maneuverability, speed and a get a little DPS nerf, but not so much as you’d notice. Contrast this with the Empire who, generally, have the quicker, more maneuverable ships that pack a harder punch. Without shields though they’re far more vulnerable to attack than the Republic’s starfighters and I’ve found flying effectively as an Empire pilot requires considerable skill. They seem to have higher hull-points but as they don’t regenerate (whereas shields do) It forces you to, somewhat ironically, use more hit-and-run tactics than when flying a Rebel ships.
It effectively boils down to this, as a Rebel pilot you don’t have to worry too much about diving head-first into an engagement as 9 times out of ten, even if you misjudge badly, you’ll be able to get out in one piece thanks to your shields. As the Empire though, you’re going to want numbers on your side or the element of surprise. I initially found this the most challenging aspect of the game. As I usually gravitate toward the dark side of things in gaming i found having myself constantly blown-up in a Tie was a little bit grating at first; that was until I realised that I needed to adapt my tactics for the Empire. The glorious Empire. And then it all clicked. Instead of this slight imbalance causing an issue, the a-symmetry works in the game’s favor and adds further depth to the title.
The Phantom Menace
Or rather it is once you’ve got everything set-up. I’m using a HOTAS (combined joystick and throttle) and it’s something else to play the game using one. I still end up resorting to mouse and Keyboard when navigating menu’s and when not flying (as I did with Elite: Dangerous), but for the most part it works brilliantly.
One thing that is slightly frustrating is that there are simply not enough buttons on my HOTAS to map all the controls I need. And mine’s got 12 buttons. I have no idea what sticks they used at EA when making this game, but I have the distinct feeling it was either repurposed from a Soviet-Era MIG, or they’ve just gaffer-taped a keyboard to the side of one. Now, a lot of these controls are kind of optional- specific combo modes that you’ll probably not use all that often. The issue though is that when you’re playing the single player campaign the game will stop and not let you proceed if that particular action isn’t mapped. I’ve been stuck 3 times and had to dive into the menu to remap controls to allow me to carry on. I understand why this is the case, but there has to be a better way than this. A simplified approach, or some more thoughtful way of layering these controls is probably needed.
I’ve had some success though through sheer stubbornness and good-old-fashioned trial and error in mapping my HOTAS, but at least a 3rd of the controls remain unmapped. Not that I’ve noticed mid-game, but I do worry that towards endgame when the more tricky manoeuvres mean the difference between life or death it may become more of an issue.
The Empire Strikes Back
I find myself in a weird situation here. Being an EA game I came into this with my cynicism- fully enabled. So despite their claims to the contrary I was expecting a game that would have hidden micro-transactions with huge swathes of content removed (to later be added as paid-for expansion packs). That IS their M.O. after all. However this game (currently) shows no evidence of that. There’s no obvious missing parts of the game, there’s no hint of pay-to-win and all the cosmetic items can also be earned in-game (though I never really had an issue with paid-for cosmetics as they’re not game-altering). It appears to be a whole game.
It’s striking in of itself that I’m as shocked as I am about this. But, huge credit where credit is due, EA have kept to their word and delivered on a tight, focussed experience.
The weirdness comes in as having now played it, I’m actually wanting more content. I want more ships, more missions, more maps, more single payer. The potential of this game is such that with a steady stream of content it could dominate as a title for months, if not years. It’s not that I feel anything’s missing, it’s that I just want more.
This is a good thing, but as of writing, EA have said there are zero plans to make more content for this title. Sad Sith noises.
They could improve their servers a bit though.
The Force Awakens
So, where does that leave us (as if you even need to ask now). Well, SW:S is a tight, focussed, tour de force of a game. I’d seen the positive coverage before I’d even picked it up, but I hadn’t been prepared for how good it is. The very competent base-game is raised on multiple different levels by some cool mechanics, good writing (for the story) and brilliant game-modes. It’s stunning to look at and just nails the feeling of being in a small, nimble starfighter.
From the the first moment you fly underneath a capital ship, to blasting through a swarm of enemy fighters, to weaving through a space dock to avoid a missile, the game has it’s hooks in you. When you’re playing it you’re just totally immersed. When you’re not playing it you’re thinking about playing it and I don’t think I can come up with a bigger compliment than that.
If this genre is even slightly your thing- get it. You won’t be disappointed. Take the plunge.
Right, I’m off now to go blow up some Rebel Scum. See you there.
The Verdict – Red Mist
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – PC
Review based on Steam copy purchased by the reviewer. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.