Friday, February 5, 2021

Console Corner: Review of Star Wars: Squadrons

Note: This review will be for the Squadrons single-player campaign only, no comments on multi-player.

I am of the Nintendo generation, a console I received at age twelve and played for several years. I eventually also bought a Sega Genesis, but around the same time I also received my first desktop computer (Windows 3.0!!) While I did use it for word processing and other school related activities, for sure it was also used for games—Dangerous Dave, Corridor 7, Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, etc. I also played X-Wing. And while lamented the simple graphics, they didn't stop me from completing the game. (I still distinctly remember beating the whole game without cheat codes, except the final, f#$%ing Death Star trench run. Damn trench run...) Twenty-five years and multiple generations of Windows later, X-Wings are finally back in video games, this time in EA's Star Wars: Squadrons.

An arcade dogfighter, Squadrons takes advantage of the Star Wars universe by putting players in the cockpits of eight famous Rebel and Empire ships. From X-Wings to TIE Fighters, Y-Wings to TIE Bombers, and four more, players take pilot roles on both sides of the fight throughout the single player campaign. The prologue is set in the middle of Star Wars: A New Hope, but the remainder of the story takes place just after Return of the Jedi as the Rebels look to clean the galaxy of what remains of the Empire. The story bouncing back and forth between sides, the player gets access to different ships and more powerful weapons as things progress. Escalating nicely, the campaign gives players a strong taste of what the game has to offer should they want to move to multi-player where I imagine the competition gets even fiercer.

Thus, Squadrons follows a similar structural concept to another EA game, Titanfall 2 despite not being a first-person shooter. Featuring a short but sweet single-player campaign, the game takes the player one step at a time through the game's available aspects, giving them a chance to experiment and enjoy each option. Rather than exploring pilot capabilities and mech chassis before being turned over to the meat grinder of multi-player, however, Squadrons gives players access to different ships and different ship loadouts—weapons, shields, countermeasures, etc., as well as a variety of mission objectives, from escort to search and destroy, ambushes to sneak attacks.

While the excitement of Star Wars is definitely in Squadrons, one important thing to remember is that flying/dogfighting games are very similar to racing games: they are both limited by the game type. Flying can become as repetitive as driving. The designers of Squadrons, however, do their damnedest to push the options as far as possible. What this means is, there is inevitably a fair amount of repetition, but the beats between the moments things get samey, and there is enough evolution of ships and loadouts to maintain interest into the next story chapter.

I have only one experience playing Squadrons, and that is with the Playstation controller. Not terrible, but not always easy. Intuition tells me playing with a proper joystick might be the better option, not to mention more immersive. Take that as you will.

In the end, the Star Wars: Squadrons single-player campaign is solid, enjoyable if not simple fun. It will likely scratch the Star Wars dogfighting itch some players may have, but perhaps not be as superb as some fans might want the game to be given the genre it's part of: flying games. Designers clearly balancing effort between creating a single-player and multi-player platforms, the single-player campaign is not as in depth as it could be, but does give players a relatively good story as well as the chance to try all of the game's bells and whistles, nothing locked behind experience points or paywalls. Squadrons flattens my old school X-Wing experience in terms of graphics, controls, options, and story, but I still have a hankering for some of that old school X-Wing...

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