When talking about Star Wars, one thing that immediately pops to mind would be the Force or Lightsabers, with some of the most recent titles revolving around these themes. While this is more often than not the case, we can never count out the vast array of war vehicles used by both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance like the iconic Millennium Falcon, the AT-AT and AT-ST Walkers, and of course the TIE Fighters and X-Wings.
A big part of the Star Wars magic comes in the form of aircraft battles, seeing the Rebel Alliance and Empire duke it out for control of the skies and space. The folks at Motive Studios are taking us back to that galaxy far, far, away and are giving us another chance to gain aerial superiority and fight for our respective sides as the latest Star Wars based space combat game is here. So does it soar high and proud or simply crashes and burns? Find out in our review of Star Wars: Squadrons.
In Another Place, Another Time
Star Wars: Squadrons features an original story that takes place within the original trilogy’s continuity. After the destruction of Princess Leia Organa’s home planet of Alderaan at the hands of the Empire’s Death Star, the game’s prologue has you follow a certain Imperial pilot accompanying Captain Lindon Javes and his second-in-command Terisa Kerill on a mission to find and dispatch Alderaan refugees hiding out in the space station Fostar Haven.
Circumstances, however, has Lindon betraying his former comrades, and later being saved in Fostar Haven by a certain Rebel Alliance pilot and his squadron, after the space station sent out a distress call. The game proper then picks up years later, after the Battle of Endor in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
You follow both the Imperial and Rebel Alliance (now called the New Republic) pilots from the prologue as they now fight for their respective factions in a battle that involves personal vendettas and an operation that can turn the tide of the war. This is the battle of the New Republic’s Vanquard Squadron versus the Empire’s Titan Squadron.
A Star Wars Side Story
In war stories, it is always interesting to see it from the eyes of the regular soldiers in the frontlines and not just from the point of view of the heroes. That’s exactly what you get in squadrons. Since it takes place after Return of the Jedi, it shouldn’t be any spoiler that Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are gone, but it shows that despite their demise the war still rages on with no end in sight.
Star Wars fans are definitely in for a treat but it’s also going to be a little daunting for complete newcomers. This is because there’s so many references to events and places in the Star Wars continuity. Not to mention a couple of cameos from iconic characters like Admiral Gial Ackbar.
The story was really made with longtime Star Wars fans in mind, as there isn’t exactly any in-game encyclopedia that will explain Star Wars lore that certain characters may allude to. Nonetheless, it didn’t take away from the experience as the story was easy enough to follow. This is simply a story where starfighter squadrons fight it out, where some personal stakes for the commanding officers are involved.
It was also clever how the story campaign was structured. Normally, with a game having two different sides, you’d first choose one side and follow that campaign to the end. Here, the perspective between the Empire and New Republic shifts in between missions. This actually made it feel like you’re following a movie plot, and had you guessing after finishing a mission whose point of view you were going to play as next, which was pretty exciting.
Star Wars: Squadrons clearly shows who are the bad guys in the story as the Empire really has you doing questionable things, with your commanding officers and even your co-pilots showing how arrogant and brutal they can be.
Titan Squadron is very much ruthless and merciless in the frontlines, yet very much committed that they’re serving the right side and admirably also looking out for each other. On the other hand, Vanguard Squadron feels like a bunch of tightknit friends with their carefree banter in and out of the battlefield, with their commitment to saving and protecting lives as strong as their resolve to fight for the New Republic.
Overall the story is pretty average – not groundbreaking and a little predictable, the kind that just works without big risks. The approach was understandable – make it simple enough that casuals and newcomers may appreciate, but also tick off the boxes that form a typical and cliche Star Wars experience.
There Are No Roads
This is a completely first-person experience with VR options. The core gameplay of Squadrons will be space combat so nearly for the entirety of the game you’ll be seeing the inside of a starfighter cockpit. Any gameplay where you’re not shooting down enemy fighters will have you customizing your ship loadouts or appearances, both the exterior and the interior of your cockpit. So this is basically a flight simulator fan’s dream come true, with a big plus if you like Star Wars.
The single player story campaign will take you through multiple missions where you’ll alternate as your created Imperial or New Republic pilot. There’s also the online multiplayer which puts up to 10 players in 5 vs 5 battles, with you playing as either the Titan or Vanguard Squadron. Aside from the deathmatch-like Dogfight option, there’s also the Fleet Battle where each team’s goal is to destroy the opposing team’s Capital ship.
The story campaign serves as a big tutorial for you to get to know each of the different classes of ships you will pilot for both the Imperial and New Republic factions. These ship are divided into the Fighters, Interceptors, Bombers, and Support classes and even if they’re all built to take down enemy fighters, they all have clear distinctions.
Fighters are your all-around ships that don’t excel in one aspect so they’re versatile, Interceptors are fast and hard to target, Bombers specialize in bombing runs, and Supports provide tactical aid to allies like shields and repairs, as well as disrupting enemy systems.
I loved how I was given multiple ships to choose from and experiment with to see which fit my playstyle. Of course in the story campaign you won’t be using all the ships at the very start but gradually, as you play, you’ll gain access to the other starfighters.
It will take around 11 – 13 hours to finish the campaign and by that time you’ll have had experience piloting all ship classes. It’s also not going to be easy as the campaign can get pretty difficult, especially in later levels, and this is just on the default Pilot difficulty. In higher difficulties like Veteran, enemies are more brutal. 2 or 3 of those total hours actually went to restarting missions!
As for mission objectives, don’t expect a lot of diversity here. Playing as either an Imperial or New Republic pilot, missions will have you simply following fellow pilots, destroying this, escorting that, regroup here, and fly there. But the repetitiveness didn’t really sour the experience since it is literally what Squadrons is all about.
Even if what you mainly do in the game is go pew pew pew and make things go boom boom boom, it was still fun flying around chasing down enemy ships. The satisfaction when your targeting cursors turn red, locking you to a target, is second to none, especially when you consider that these ships can move around as much as you do.
While it may sound dull and repetitive, there’s a lot of fun to be had because Squadrons really captures the feeling of those intense battles that you normally see in theaters. It was already fun in the single player campaign, and it’s just as fun in multiplayer where you have actual players you who employ similar tactics and maneuvers.
Do Or Do Not, There is no TIE
As you would expect from a game that focuses on tight and accurate controls, Squadrons does not disappoint. While using a flight stick would make the experience more authentic, a controller works just fine to give you the experience of flying in outer space. Each of the starfighters you pilot have a distinct look, even within the same faction, and you’ll need to familiarize yourself with each layout to know where to look if you’re checking your ammo count or knowing if you’re flying at maximum speed with your engine gauge.
One of the unique aspects of Star Wars: Squadrons that we enjoyed has got to be the power movement. Depending on your ship, the option to divert power to either shields, engines, or weapons at any given time added a certain level of strategy that you’ll need to manage to complete your missions. It definitely resulted in tense moments where you make last minute decisions like concentrating all your power on shields to protect what little health you have remaining as you wait for repair, or choosing to divert all power to weapons to give you that added damage to finish off an enemy, despite needing to regenerating your shields faster to protect yourself.
The game also does a good job of distinguishing each faction despite having basically the same ship classes. When you switch sides in between missions, you’ll really feel it as Imperial and New Republic ships look and play a little differently. Mainly, Imperial starfighters do not all have shield options like the New Republic, but they have extra options to increase weapon and engine power.
As a whole, all the ships handle decently here in Star Wars: Squadrons. Controls are responsive and intuitive, with multiple layouts to choose from. Admittedly, it may take a while to get used to flying a starfighter regardless of which side you choose. Aside from navigating and aiming, you also have to manage your different weapon loadouts, as well as know your power management buttons for that extra edge in combat.
If anything could have used more improvement however, it would be the AI commands. While both Titan and Vanguard Squadrons were very competent allies during the campaign, the lack of commands you can assign your companions was noticeable. Overall, the only thing you could do is lock onto something and tell your teammates to defend or attack. It may have been nice to add more depth to this like targeting specific starfighters or if you have Supports, assign them to repair/resupply your ship when certain conditions are met.
It’s Your Star Wars Story… Sort of
Customization is somewhat a mixed bag, and this applies to all the customizations aspects in the game, which includes ship loadouts, cosmetics, and character creation, with the last one being the outlier of the three.
When it comes to ship customization, Squadrons hits all of the right notes. For all starfighters, you’re given the option to edit your loadout depending on your preferred weapons and add-ons. The selection is fairly decent for certain categories. Ship hulls, for example, will give you options ranging from boosting your HP at the cost of speed and maneuverability, and so on. There’s a strategic layer to it, which will depend on your playstyle.
Cosmetics selections are fairly decent here too. Aside from decorating the exterior of your ships with different paintjobs and decals, what’s fun is you can even customize your cockpit interiors. It was actually fun cycling through the different items you can put, like hanging decorations, holograms, and even figures. There’s just a fair amount when you start, but as you play in multiplayer you’ll get the chance for more loot to give your starfighters that personal touch.
Character creation is where Star Wars: Squadrons falters. In the past we’ve had pretty deep character creation systems like those in Monster Hunter: World and Code Vein. The Outer Worlds’ was less detailed but it was still fairly decent. With benchmarks like that, it was a disappointment that creating both your Imperial and New Republic pilots was just a matter of choosing pre-made heads with fixed faces and hair, as well just having just a few body types. After that it just a matter of choosing your pilot uniforms and voices.
I know, I know. “But you don’t see your character most of the time anyways.” It’s just a shame how, for a game where you’re the central character of both factions, the customization options to let you design your own character is noticeably limited. Sure, you play the game mainly in first-person view but that doesn’t mean the options to create your ideal pilots should be limited. This is also the avatar that your fellow pilots will see in online multiplayer after all, so a lil’ effort would have been a nice touch.
The Force Is Strong In This One
Probably the most important aspect for any Star Wars based game is if it captures the feel of Star Wars. Fans won’t need to worry because Star Wars: Squadrons captures that feel near perfectly.
As if having it set within the original trilogy’s timeline isn’t fanservice enough, as well as having cameos by known Star Wars characters, Squadrons has settings and places that should be familiar to the fans like Endor, even though you don’t exactly get to go there.
While there’s no Jedi or Sith presence in the game, save for a very quick dialogue, the charm of Star Wars: Squadron lies in it focusing on the war part of Star Wars, specifically space dogfights. You will constantly see both sides’ hangars busy with personnel and your mechanic preparing your starfighter for combat, and even Stormtroopers marching if you’re in the Imperial hangar.
Mission briefings are detailed and tense. From time to time you’re able to engage in dialogue with your commanding officers and fellow pilots, where you get to know more about them and their personal takes on the war. Vanguard Squadron, in particular, features a diverse cast, with one of your teammates being a Trandoshan and a former smuggler. By the end of the campaign, you’ll have formed a bit of a bond with your Squadrons on both sides, provided you took the time to talk to them instead of rushing straight to the mission briefings.
Audio is also definitely up there in terms of Star Wars feels. Though there weren’t a lot of memorable tracks during combat, there are definitely iconic tunes that you will hear a lot in the game. Look no further than the very easy to recognize Imperial March music that you will constantly hear when you’re playing as Titan Squadron. You also shouldn’t count out sounds that can easily be overlooked like the sounds of lasers or the whistling as your ships fly by. These are as iconic as the lightsabers hums and when you hear these in Squadrons, you’ll definitely know you’re playing a Star Wars game.
Now we did say Squadrons captures the feeling of Star Wars near perfectly, meaning there’s a few hiccups here and unfortunately it’s the character models and facial expressions. While the voice acting and deliveries were mostly solid and convincing, it was just disappointing that the character facial models don’t really keep up.
In-game when talking to characters in the hangars or after mission briefings, it’s really noticeable how stiff they look, and it’s hard to be convinced to actually feel for them after telling you a story with a straight face. There’s a few very short moments where you can see them smile or frown, but they are very few and far in between. Speaking of delivery, your created character too can sound pretty awkward at times spouting lines that may seem out of place during a fight. One minute your Titan Pilot will call for reinforcements, and the next thing you’ll say you didn’t need help. It gets a bit awkward at times, but nothing that really breaks the game.
As you would expect, Star Wars: Squadrons is best played with buddies. Multiplayer is a blast and with cross-play enabled, matches come at you fast. I mean fast, with just a minute or two in between matches. Surely it can be attributed to the game being quite new, but being a title with a solid foundation, expect full lobbies for quite a while.
Multiplayer offers 3 game modes in 5v5, Dogfight, and Fleet Battle, with the latter being something that we enjoyed the most of since it really relied on teamwork and strategy to down the enemy capital ship.
During out battles, we hardly encountered any connection or latency problems, and even in the most intense of sequences, the game held up pretty well, which is a testament to how solid the developers wanted the experience to be.
It may not be as vast and diverse as Battlefront, since Squadrons is squarely targeted at these ship battles, but it does that very well, and seeing as there will be no more DLC, this was an ironically unpopular way to go as the game would have been fantastic with more map choices and modes in the future.
What We Liked:
- Authentic Star Wars feel
- Manageable controls
- Diverse choice of starfighters
- Great voice acting and sounds
- Decent story
What We Disliked:
- Lacking choices in Character Creation
- Stiff facial expressions and character movements
- AI Commands needs more options
While there were some disappointments, Star Wars: Squadrons is a very good space combat shooter that’s actually fun both in Single player and Multiplayer modes. There’s more than enough in the game to justify its price tag of P1,795, especially if you’re looking for a “new” Star Wars experience other than the typical Battlefronts and Fallen Orders.
This is a game for the Star Wars fans through and through, but even just fans of aerial combat can find a game that they can sink hours into. Squadrons, despite its limited scope, puts laser focus on just the dogfights alone and is a better game because of it. Despite a few hiccups, this starfighter combat experience is soaring pretty high and deserves a place in any Star Wars gamers’ library.
*Star Wars: Squadrons was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publishers.