Star Wars: Squadrons is rather unique game in 2020. It’s a premium title from EA, but it costs $40 instead of the usual $60. It’s a somewhat serious flight sim when it comes to mechanics, but it’s also newcomer friendly, especially with such a popular licence. It’s also a complete game at purchase, with no microtransactions or even DLC at launch or planned for the future.
Putting all of this together sees Squadrons soar off into the sunset or crash and burn? Well it’s very much the former, but there are some problems.
Starting from the top down and Squadrons is a stunner of a title. Every model and texture in this game was made with passion and fervour. We’re not the people to ask if each and every starfighter in this game is 100 percent accurate to the original physical models from the movies, but it certainly seems like developer Motive Studios took its time to recreate them down to the smallest detail.
As this is technically a budget game the way Motive Studios cuts back on things in the rest of the game. While there are a great handful of maps and non-playable ships in the game, you’re usually flying through wide open space.
Between missions you’re also confined to a pair of hangars and briefing rooms (one for the New Republic and one for the Empire) in which you can’t even explore or otherwise walk around in. Your character just stands in place and spins around to interact with objects and other characters.
Because of this Squadrons can feel both big and small. You’ll be flying through an expanse of space shooting down enemies, but then you’ll hit the edge of the map and, after the mission, you’re stuck in the hangar or briefing room again.
The above isn’t to put Motive Studios down, again the work they’ve done here is very impressive, it’s just to properly set the stage that this isn’t some space opera epic in which you’re boundlessly flying through all of a galaxy far, far away.
As for what those beautifully made starfighters will be doing, that links into the mechanics of this game. Shortly after launch Squadrons made waves when it was announced that there was no third person view which is usually available in many other flight games, whether they fall into the arcade or true simulator categories.
In Squadrons you are locked into a first person view of your cockpit. You will need to depend on your instruments, HUD and general sense of direction to properly fly your starfighter.
There are some assists such as pop-up messages to remind you of certain things as well as objective and enemy highlighting, but this focus on keeping you immersed does make things more difficult.
This is combined with some flight controls that are a bit more complex than the average game but still easy to get to grips with. On PC, where we played, you can get along just fine with WASD and the mouse for the most part, but then you will need to start using the number keys and some others to control your engine power, your teammates, keep track of objectives and others.
In this way Squadrons really does a fantastic job of making you think you’re out there in space firing lasers from a technologically impossible fighter craft. In the middle of battle you’re managing power between weapons, shields and engines depending on the situation, trying to stay alive, keeping on top of NPC coms and just having a good time.
Unfortunately there’s a lot of frustration abound too. The gameplay here feels unbalanced in the fact that, despite there being a focus on teamwork and “Squadron” being right there in the title of the game, all the important work falls on you, the player.
While the AI teammates are actually rather good and can do a lot of work hunting other AI, the main objectives like protecting points and defeating capital ships always falls on you. This can get endlessly frustrating as enemy turrets and fighters focus on you because you’re the only one playing the objective.
There’s on mission near the end of the singleplayer that had us pulling our hair out and almost quitting the game entirely. It involved protecting three satellites in space , despite using the in-game mechanics to instruct the AI teammates to defend these points, the satellites still got hammered by the enemies endlessly. After so many frustrating failed attempts we had to lower the difficulty lest we ended up clicking on the delete button for this game.
The campaign here is around the standard eight hours long and the best way to describe it is serviceable. The basic story here is that the New Republic is the one building the super weapon this time, something called Starhawk. Squadrons of pilots from the New Republic go on various missions to move the Starhawk project along, and pilots from the Empire try to stop. You as the player switch between sides depending on the mission.
Motive Studios has tried to give the Squadron teammates more personality. Through optional chats and coms during missions you learn more about each of them, their lives, what they think of their faction and more. All of it is kind of boring though. The writing here just isn’t at all strong enough to be compelling and we didn’t care an iota about these pilots or their stories.
This is even worse on the Empire side of things. It’s hilarious that you can listen to the pilots on the Empire side talk about their personal tragedies and reasons to fight.. and then a few minutes later they’re all gung ho about murdering civilians and deliberately attacking medical facilities.
Outside of the frustrations of singleplayer, there’s a multiplayer that will probably be where most long-term players end up.
The two main modes here are Dogfight – which is a standard deathmatch with a kill limit to determine the winning team – and Fleet Battles.
Fleet Battles are more interesting as a push and pull effort with multiple stages which sees players either going on the offensive or defending their capital ship. Destroying the capital ship wins the match but getting there is a massive process requiring careful combat and teamwork.
We found quick Dogfights to be our favourite here as we could jump in, blast some people out of the sky, and get on with the rest of our day. Fleet Battles can take a very long time to complete especially if the teams are evenly matched.
Here again this game is unique as there is nothing to pay real money for. Ship customisation, both in terms of gameplay-altering items and those purely for aesthetics, can only be unlocked by playing.
As a package Squadrons is a love letter to Star Wars starfighters and Motive Studios has produced a rather staggering level of detail when it comes to them. Despite some frustrations it is a good time to be had by all.
Oh, and the game runs amazingly on PC. On our modest desktop (Ryzen 5 3600 and a RX 580 8GB both at stock, plus 16GB of 3200MHz RAM), it ran at a solid 60FPS or higher with mostly ultra settings. It should also be noted that we played and reviewed this without dipping into the VR side, which this game fully supports.