- superbly executed Starfighter dogfights…
- ...which makes an even bigger impression in a VR set;
- elements of flight simulation;
- strategic aspects in fleet battle mode;
- harks back to the X-Wing series.
- extremely weak plot;
- weak interactions with NPCs;
- single-player mission constraints;
- only two online modes;
- slightly claustrophobic, monotonous maps.
A long time ago, in the 90s...
The consoles war between Amiga and Atari was coming to an end. Owning a PC simply made a lot of sense, especially when games from the X-Wing series started coming out. It was the first time we could feel like the protagonist of a Star Wars movie, and the role-playing career of a star fighter pilot in the Wing Commander series was perfect for this universe. Subsequent installments started mushrooming; we got TIE Fighter, and the online X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and the X-Wing Alliance that concluded the series.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just like X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter – a star fighter simulator with an emphasis on online fighting. Is this the best game Electronic Arts could have created in this setting? Surely not! But given the current popularity of simulators, or the attitude of modern players to games that require using more than six keys, it's not half bad, actually.
EA Motive's new game certainly brings back the vibes of the X-Wing series, and the space battles from inside the cockpit of small fighters, i.e. the mainstay of the gameplay, are extremely thrilling and satisfying. The sight of a TIE Fighter zooming in and out of your crosshair can be enchanting, especially when it finally explodes after an accyrate burst of laser weapons, not to mention a rallies over a smoldering Star Destroyer. But there are a few elements to these fights that don't work, and it's sometimes quite conspicuous that the game was developed on a tighter budget.
The force is weak with the plot
The original X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter didn't bring a solid storyline campaign at the time of release, for which the game was actually heavily criticized at the time. So the creators of Squadrons took no chances and our first moments with the game are a prologue to the single-player story mode. We alternately control a member of the New Republic Vanguard Squadron, and The Empire Titans, following the same story about the construction of the Rebels' new secret weapon, the powerful Starhawk spaceship. Unfortunately, writing here reaches Battlefront II lows. Boring, infantile, with bland characters and badly written dialogue.
The ideas for the main story and the side scenarios aren't quite bad. It's the execution that buries it. Most of the conversations and dialogues with NPCs take place between missions in a hangar and involve listening to monologues from motionless heads, as if we were playing an RPG from circa 2006. During the missions, in turn, we're mostly kept on a short leash. We can't just go about our business. The game forces us to closely follow short, tight stages, usually consisting of a few conversations, and few moments of travel concluded by a combat sequence. In fact, much of the campaign consists in passive listening and waiting for the game to finally let us to shoot something.
The developers were afraid to leave the player alone, afraid to let them decide and figure out how to proceed with the mission, instead firmly grabbing their hand and not letting go even for a second. It's a shame, because at the same time, a few solutions from the X-Wing series have been used, and in addition to combat, there are also tasks that have players scan objects, track and escort ships or weaken large units by destroying their systems. If only this could be done at our own pace, in big sandboxes and without constantly interrupting, the effect would be incomparably better.
Combining the perspectives of both sides of the conflict in a single story also doesn't seem like the best idea. The story becomes diluted, and none of them receives appropriate attention in the end. I didn't root for anyone, I didn't like anyone, because basically all the events are contradictory. We strive to achieve a particular goal in one mission just to be ordered to burn it down completely in the next mission. Such narration did not convince me at all. Two shorter, but separate campaigns would serve the game much better.
Star Wars Simulator 2020
Fortunately, the story mode is merely an over-grown tutorial; an introduction to the real mainstay of the game – the online clashes of space fighter ships with elements of simulation In that respect, Star Wars: Squadrons really gives a ton of fun and satisfaction. We need to learn how to rapidly manage the ship's energy, the distribution of shields, the power of the engines, or the release of decoys to enemy missiles. Like in the first X-Wing, we can decide whether to protect the back or the front of the ship. We're able to decide what amount of power we can direct to guns to increase their firepower, or to give more juice to the engines to gain more maneuverability.
This multiplicity of options makes it quite difficult to maintain control if using a game pad, with accessing some options taking way too much time, as you have to call a wheel menu first. The control scheme is certainly well-conceived, but users of keyboards, or HOTAS joysticks will almost surely be at an advantage. Those controllers allow more ergonomic controls, with direct access instead of wheel menus.
There are also minor elements of strategy. During major battles, fleets may decide (without waiting for respawn) to switch agile fighter to heavy bombers, or supply ships to assist the allies with a new supply of guided missiles. Machines can replace guns, shields, or engines to get certain advantages at the expense of other features. This adds a bit of welcome tactical depth, although of course it's all still very dynamic, and a bit arcade. However, it's also far from the fighter battles in Battlefront II, which will be an advantage for some, and a fairly high entry threshold for others. A consolation is the ability to practice network modes with bots.