Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 10/11/2020 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
I normally am not one to jump on Star Wars games on release day – I’m a much bigger Star Trek fan than I am a Star Wars fan – but this is one that I knew from the first reveal that I couldn’t sleep on. John Linneman said in Digital Foundry’s review that Star Wars Squadrons was a “perfect console game,” and I couldn’t agree more. He was able to test it on Xbox One, Xbox One X, Playstation 4, Playstation 4 Pro, and Playstation VR whereas I’ve only been able to play on the Xbox One X, but between my personal experience with the One X and his detailed analysis of how it runs on the other hardware, I’ve got to tip my had to EA – this really is a perfect console game.
Let’s start with the reason I play games – the single-player campaign. The story takes place between the end of Return of the Jedi and the start of The Force Awakens as the Galactic Empire continues to struggle against the infant New Republic while dealing with the fallout of Emperor Palpatine’s death. The game tells a split narrative in which you play as both a New Republic pilot and an Imperial pilot depending on the mission. The campaign revolves around the New Republic’s secret project to build its new Starhawk class capital ship, either running missions as a Republic pilot to help make that construction a reality or as an Imperial pilot to sabotage the project. The story itself is great, but what really sold it for me is the motion capture and voice acting. A lot of the cut scenes really felt like I was watching a Star Wars movie. It’s a hell of a cinematic game.
The gameplay itself is, at its core, your average first-person space dogfighter but polished to perfection. The game features four classes of ships the exact class of which naturally varies depending on whether you’re playing as the Republic or the Empire – Fighter (X-Wing or TIE Fighter), Interceptor (A-Wing or TIE Interceptor), Bomber (Y-Wing or TIE Bomber), and Support (U-Wing or TIE Reaper). Each ship handles totally differently and plays a different role, so there’s plenty of gameplay variety to be had here. The handling of the fighters makes it feel more authentic than I can adequately describe. I can only imagine how fantastic playing this VR must be (note to self: double-dip on Playstation 4). By gaining experience and leveling up in multiplayer, you can unlock additional ship components each of which has their own pros and cons. Some lasers do more damage than others but overheat faster. Some shields have a higher capacity but slower recharge. Some hulls have more hit points but cut your maneuverability. Some engines have better boost but lower top speed. You can equip various secondary items – repair droid, proton torpedoes, seeker missiles, etc. In that regard, your ship loadouts are every bit as customizable as loadouts in a first-person shooter, and can add an enormous amount of variety to the gameplay.
Despite the fact that I’m primarily a story mode gamer, it was actually the multiplayer that drove my purchase decision here. Normally I’d have gotten a game like this on Playstation 4 due to the VR support, but I got this one on Xbox One to play with college friends, and I absolutely do not regret that decision because the multiplayer here is absolutely fantastic. You’ve got your standard PVP dogfight mode – Imperial team vs Republic team – but you’ve also got two versions of a fleet battle mode. In this game mode, each team has a capital ship, two frigates, and a bunch of fighters. Your goal is to destroy enough enemy fighters to gain the momentum advantage, then destroy the two frigates, then finally destroy the capital ship to attain victory. If enough of your ships get destroyed to give the enemy the momentum advantage, you have to go on the defensive until you can retake that advantage. It’s a brilliant game mode that in my opinion is far more rewarding than the standard dogfight. There are two versions of this mode – PVP and PVE. The difference is pretty obvious; both teams are human players in one version whereas one team is entirely AI in the other.
Star Wars Squadrons just gets everything right. It really is a perfect console experience. The single-player is a ton of fun, the multiplayer is virtually perfect, and the game looks absolutely beautiful in 4K. The detail on the huge battleships is stunning, and the frame rate is damn locked at 60 fps on the One X. The cherry on top is that the game is only $40 on day one. This is peak Star Wars action, folks, and it’s a perfect swan song for the Frostbite 3 engine since I’d be willing to be that this will probably be the last major AAA game we see released before EA unveils Frostbite 4. No matter if you’re an Xbox gamer, a Playstation gamer, or a PC gamer, between how damn good this game his, how well it runs, and its relatively low price point, this is one flight combat sim you can’t afford to sleep on especially with the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X having backward compatibility.