Republished on Wednesday 26th May 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of June's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Star Wars: Squadrons probably isn't the next title from a galaxy far, far away that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order fans were looking for. It may not even be the right one for those who hyped themselves up for a midnight showing of last year's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This niche release is targeting a very specific type of Force-feeling fanatic — one who fell in love with the dogfighting titles of the 1990s. And while EA Motive has managed to capture the spirit of those LucasArts classics, that might be the only thing it really has to boast about.
Taking place after the events of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, two player-created characters provide the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of an X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and their interceptor, bomber, and support variations. A campaign lasting roughly eight hours allows you to get to grips with every one of them before ushering you into a basic suite of multiplayer options, and what immediately stands out is the absurd amount of depth they all have to offer.
Mastering basic movement and engagement tactics should come fairly quickly after you've customised the controls to your liking, but then there's a rather ridiculous list of techniques you can begin implementing to really get one over the enemy. As a basis, every ship lets you direct its power towards boosting your speed and manoeuvrability, increasing damage output, strengthening your shields, or creating a nice balance between the three. Mapped to the D-Pad, it's an easy system to both understand and begin incorporating into your play.
If you need to get somewhere quickly or outrun a TIE Fighter that's on your tail, put the engine into overdrive. If you've lined up a perfect shot and want to maximise damage, direct all power to your blasters. If you've taken a beating and need to survive a little longer, give your shields a boost. Simple, right? It is by far the most important system in Star Wars: Squadrons, but also the most intuitive. With an in-game guide to glance at within every cockpit, you'll always know where your power is being directed.
From there, however, things get a lot more complex. On top of the aforementioned management system, you can cut power to your engines altogether and put every bit of force into your blasters. You'll need to think about boosting and drifting to make sure you don't end up on the losing end of a dogfight. You must be wary of enemies locking-on to you and make use of countermeasures if they’re successful. You can even direct your shield to protect the front or back-end of your ship.
It's a lot to think about at once and will probably overwhelm anyone who didn't earn their space flight license in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. Thankfully though, you rarely need to utilise these tactics to progress through the campaign. They appear to be reserved for the harder difficulty levels and multiplayer action, meaning newcomers can still enjoy some A-Wing and TIE Bomber action. Let's not take anything away from the game, though: this is an impressive level of depth that hardcore fans will surely welcome with open arms.
If only the rest of the game could live up to those same standards. Taking down an enemy always comes with a good level of satisfaction, but the sorts of objectives Star Wars: Squadrons has you complete aren't exactly inspiring. All you'll ever do is take down enemy ships, escort fellow teammates, and then defend them from incoming fire. It's understandable to question what other tasks you could actually come up with in the vast reaches of space, but this sort of busywork grows tiresome all too quickly.
And then there's the story itself, which might be one of the dullest tales told in the Star Wars universe. The two characters you create will battle on opposing sides as the New Republic attempts to put together plans for a top-secret ship named Project Starhawk. It's designed to wipe out the rest of the Empire following Darth Vader's downfall, although the Dark Side has other plans, of course. What follows is an incredibly uninteresting clash filled with forgettable characters, dire voice acting, and twists you can see coming a mile off. It won't be long before you're skipping cutscenes the moment you leave the cockpit.
What might be even worse though is the way it's all told. In-between missions, the title takes the action back to a hangar where it abruptly turns into a point-and-click adventure game. You have no control over the protagonist — rather selecting people to talk to and rooms to receive further briefings in. It's a bizarre design choice that just makes you wish you were back out in the X-Wing cockpit and taking down TIE Fighters. These sequences are never too long, but we can't help question what on earth EA Motive was going for here. It doesn't work on any level whatsoever.
What does work is multiplayer, but then there's not enough of it. There are just two modes to choose from to support 5v5 online battles, one of which is Team Deathmatch and the other Fleet Battles. This one is a little bit more involved with targets to destroy and an enemy flagship to focus fire on. However, with just six maps to choose from at launch, you may become sick of the sight of some locations before too long.
At least this is where the game's more complex mechanics really come into their own. As veterans head online, the skill level to really compete is going to rise dramatically — forcing players to learn the options at their disposal or accept defeat. Combined with expansive customisation and loadout possibilities, there's a fair amount of content to engage with. It's just a shame that wasn’t reflected in the mode and map count. Star Wars: Squadrons also doesn’t have any microtransactions at the time of writing, so there's that.
And for those who own a PlayStation VR headset, it's time to dust the device off and strap up for the best virtual reality support from a third-party title since Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. The entire game can be played using PSVR and it works outstandingly well. Freely looking around the cockpit of an X-Wing will have been a childhood dream for many and to see it realised decades later is nothing short of a pleasure. There are even gameplay advantages to wearing the headset as your viewpoint zips about what is traditionally a restricted field of view. Sure, there are some visual drawbacks since the technology is the weakest on the market, but that hardly matters when you're right in the thick of the action. This is the new standard going forward for PSVR support from third-party developers.
Star Wars: Squadrons has its heart in the right place and a comprehensive, in-depth set of flight mechanics go a long way towards realising that childhood dream of piloting an X-Wing. It achieves the vision in some ways, but in others, the package lacks excitement and content. While excellent PSVR support will be enough for some, a boring story and inadequate multiplayer modes leave a lot to be desired.