Without a new movie in the franchise, Star Wars Squadrons is one of the most exciting launches for Star Wars fans this year. It’s out for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and supports cross-play multiplayer action as well. Since the PlayStation 4 version also supports PlayStation VR, that’s the option we went with.
Who remembers the X-Wing games? TIE Fighter? How about Rebel Assault? The 1990s had some very memorable Star Wars games, all launched because the movie prequels came out and the franchise went into more of a ‘movie license’ mode for a while. Last year’s Jedi: Fallen Order was a great game in its own right though, and Squadrons looks set to continue that trend. As a game, it sits somewhere in between the almost sim-like approach of X-Wing and TIE Fighter and the more streamlined/action-oriented approach in Rebel Assault, and the mix works well.
Star Wars Squadrons definitely isn’t as big in scope as Fallen Order was, and clocks in at under eight hours of gameplay time rather than the twenty to thirty hours of Respawn’s game, but it’s worth pointing out that despite the highly polished trailers for Squadrons this is a game that is being launched at a mid-price point – and for added value the game also includes an option for online multiplayer action on top of its story mode.
Aside from your story-related interaction with fellow characters, the action on Star Wars Squadrons takes place in deep space from a first person perspective, planting you firmly in the cockpit of your various fighters. In terms of immersion, this is where hardware support comes in. Squadrons doesn’t just support VR, but also gives players with flight sticks the option to control their ship in what is no doubt the coolest Star Wars experience you can bring home right now. We borrowed a flight stick to briefly try out this feature, and it’s a transformative experience you shouldn’t miss out on if you get the chance. The price tag for a flight stick, with such a limited amount of games to play on the PS4, can be a bit inhibitive – but we’d imagine this is easier for those playing on a PC.
Though a bit simplified when you compare it to some of the original PC games, Squadrons features a comprehensive system for movement and targeting. Missions are more linear than they are in games like X-Wing and TIE fighter, which makes sense in terms of delivering a more cinematic single player experience, but you still have plenty of ways to change your approach – targeting individual enemies or even specific parts of larger ships mid-battle and shifting power from your engines to your weapons or vice versa. Further freedom comes from the ability to switch out your loadouts in between missions, giving you a range of offensive and defensive choices each time.
Despite the pre-release trailers, Squadrons isn’t as visually impressive as – for example – Jedi: Fallen Order was. Story scenes and character models look great, but outer space doesn’t really come alive until you put on a headset and experience it in VR. There’s very little loss in terms of visual quality and detail in the switch, and though we’re spoiled for choice on the flat screen it’s been a while since we has a PSVR title look this good. Helped by audio that makes this feel like a Star Wars game, this’ll certainly bring a smile to the faces of fans. On top of the visual experience, VR also enables you to use head tracking to follow enemies and everything that’s going on around you, which is a layer of immersion that the TV experience can’t deliver.
The controls also work well in VR, giving you access to the cockpit and letting you (at least in part) look at what you’re interacting with rather than rely on complex controls that you can’t see with a headset on. The headset experience also elevates the experience in terms of actually living through a Star Wars story yourself – something we got a taste of in the free VR Battlefront experience a few years ago but has now been realized in a full game. The story itself certainly isn’t the most memorable one out there and doesn’t come close to Fallen Order though, partly because your allies clearly (and literally) can’t fall in battle for the story to progress – taking out part of the suspense and drama.
On top of the very enjoyable story campaign, Squadrons also had two multiplayer modes, with a single player oriented dogfighting portion and a more involved Fleet Battle mode where you and four teammates square off against another team of five and must take out a bigger ship at the end in order to win. Considering the fact that the first Battlefront is still actively being played online, we can see a lot of long-term potential for Squadrons as well, assuming we’ll also see some post-launch tweaks and perhaps even content to keep things interesting.
For those who enjoyed the classic Star Wars dogfighters of the 1990s, this is a thrilling return to the style in perhaps one of the most iconic franchises in which to do so. VR certainly elevates the experience as well, making this the game that PSVR fans will have wanted ever since playing that free X-Wing demo all those years ago.