Where did the EA once go? Where is the lowest quality, the keys to buy everything, the smell of money and the desire to give the player only the worst of the worst? A few months after official reveal, Star Wars: Squadrons it arrived in our hands, to a budget price of 40 €.
Realized by Motivs, EA's Canadian development studio, is their second project, having unearthed the campaign for Battlefront II. They are therefore people at ease with the Star Wars universe. This time the inspiration is definitely X-Wing from days gone by, the legendary space battle game that saw us pilot the most famous fighters in the Star Wars series.
In a galaxy far, far away ...
Star Wars: Squadrons looks like a compact and complete package. A simple menu takes us to the story mode, multiplayer or training missions and the interface moves fast and precise, as games built on Frostbyte by Dice have accustomed us by now.
For many, the meat of the game could be the campaign and it is also the part I faced first, so it seems fair to start with it. I have always considered Star Wars to be an excellent universe for telling large-scale stories on average and bad for the world of cinema. Heretic, counter-current or not, when I see such rich settings, with a huge number of races, worlds and technologies, seeing them confined to a couple of hours on the big screen seems to me to be wasted, as if they could not breathe narratively, but only audiovisual on the way of the Hollywood budget.
So I've always preferred the experiences of the expanded universe. From the legendary Knight of the Old Republic of when Bioware it was still good, the equally wonderful Jedi Knight and followed. Star Wars: Squadrons gives a face and a story to fighter pilots, those who appear on the big screen for twenty seconds and then be pulverized in a moment where there is a need to raise the stakes, or their role is to badly aimed enemies that exist only to explode.
The two sides of the same story
A sad life that of starfighter pilots in this universe it seems. When they become the protagonists, everything changes. The story puts you in the shoes of two pilots, one from the new republic and one from the imperial, while accompanying the chosen teams, respectively Vanguard and Titan. The story itself is nothing exceptional or new to the series, it serves as a pretext to make sense of the missions you undertake, but offers flashes of introspection not just. The historical period is shortly after the battle of Endor and fits into a world where the Empire has just been defeated and a new reality needs to be rebuilt.
In between missions you can talk to your teammates, who will offer commentary on the world, events and tell a little about themselves. In particular, I found the imperial part interesting, as it gives some indication of what happened after the loss of Emperor Palpatine. At the end of it all, you would like there to be more room for the story. Changing factions allows you to have a global view of events and is a great gimmick. But it deserves much more attention, as it plays more of a supporting role here.
In space as in air
What keeps you glued to the game, however, is something else. The gameplay and the show that comes with it. The campaign mission structure itself does not explore unfamiliar terrain. Enter the arena of the level and take down several targets or defend others. There are some secondary objectives in the background as well as opportunities for changing objectives on the fly. Flying alongside an Imperial Star Destroyer, plunging into the space debris of ancient battles to escape enemies, and looking an enemy fighter in the eye before detonating it with blaster shots is priceless.
The 8 hours of the Star Wars: Squadrons campaign will fly away pleasantly, thus composing a good tutorial extended to familiarize yourself with the commands and give an audiovisual show. Then we move on to multiplayer, where the mechanics learned during the story mode of Star Wars Squadron must begin to be applied with abundance in order to win over the enemy.
In general the flying style is a cross between simulation and arcade. We always try to maintain a sort of weight and inertia of the vehicle, but the flight system absolutely does not try to keep up with Newtonian physics, it is set up to recreate World War II-style battles in space, just from Star Wars tradition. The only difference compared to a flight simulator in the air is the maneuvers at 0 speed.
ALL POWER TO ENGINES!
The active element of the battle, in addition to movement, firing and use of missiles / countermeasures, is due to the distribution of energy. Engines, weapons and shields, for ships that are equipped with them, have an assigned amount of energy and at any time it is possible to assign more power to one of these, penalizing the others left dry. Knowing when to have an engine boost to escape or get close to the enemy, when to give more thrust to the blasters or deflectors is the basis of a good pilot.
Each faction also has access to different types of vehicles, each with their own specialization. The new republic has X-wings, A, Y and U at its disposal, while the imperial counterparts are the TIE Figher, Interceptor, Bomber and Reaper. The classes are divided into four, in the same order in which I presented the names of the vehicles. The fighters are balanced and flexible, the interceptors are light, fast and powerful in 1v1, the bombers are excellent against large ships, less against fighters and finally the support vehicles have many skills to help their team.
In company it is even more beautiful
Multiplayer has two modes. The first consists of a simple team match, 5v5, where the one who gets to 30 kills wins. Here you really come to appreciate the design of the maps and how well-placed obstacles can create tension and tactics as much as buildings in a land-based shooter. Fly close to structures to escape enemies, do goose turns to get behind an opponent by surprise and notice how he can turn at lightning speed and smash you in one fell swoop. The truth is that as far as I am able to see the tactics, the strategy, the intention, I am a pedalo in this genre of games.
My streak for tactics and planning could find more vent in the second multiplayer mode of Star Wars: Squadrons, which sees two teams of players defend their own capital ship while attacking the other. The battle proceeds in stages, all seasoned with a spectacular fire that has few equals. Here having a team made up of several ships, knowing how to coordinate and being able to count on diversified equipment and skills is important. So it is a mode that makes less with random people. That said, multiplayer offers progression in ranks and unlockable items and gear to customize your vehicles' look and weaponry, but it's very little stuff.
Solid technical foundations
Star Wars: Squadrons runs on Frostbite, an engine with a target of 60fps on consoles. The version reviewed here was the PC version and the performances are in theory more than excellent. A RTX2060 mated to 16GB from Vram and a 2011 Xeon manage to pull the game to maximum details, in 2560x1080, quietly on 144fps and beyond. The quality of what you see on the screen is high and there is a lot of attention to detail, especially to the diegetic interface. The only problem, which at the time of writing has not yet been fixed, is how the animations have a fixed refresh rate of 30fps when playing at the maximum refresh rate of the monitor. Unfortunately this causes a lot of annoyance during gameplay. To solve I was forced to set the frequency to 59.94Hz and play at 60fps. The animations in this case work correctly at the refresh rate.
The game also betrays its nature as a VR title. In the moments of pause in the base it is impossible to move freely, and in general the environment is optimized for the possibility of freely rotating one's head. In VR with a HOTAS the experience is transformative. This among other things brings out the idiosyncrasies of Star Wars a bit. But when you get the chance to actually move your head, you notice how the New Republic ship design is infinitely better. Being able to look through a glass cockpit to the sides or above allows you to perceive the battlefield much better than the Imperial vehicles, which offer a front tunnel vision and that's it. Which is an obvious disadvantage even in game.
The only other technical flaw that comes to mind is the presence of a deadzone, a bit exaggerated, which makes the feel of the command not very immediate and precise. On balance, Star Wars: Squadrons is in my opinion a great experience for Star Wars fans. It's just a little bit. I would like to see a deeper story, missions try to do something more, multiplayer with more maps and modes. The feeling is that of having a good VR game by hand spread on a 2D screen. Good first and I hope they continue on this path.