A Starfighter is Born | Star Wars Squadrons Review (Quick Take)
A new iteration of X-Wing and TIE Fighter made for those who want to get obsessed.
If at any time in the last forty or so years, you’ve watched Star Wars and wondered what it might feel like to fly an X-Wing or a Tie Fighter, videogames have been able to provide that answer.
To name just a few games that have portrayed Star Wars’ so called “starfighting”: In 1983 the Star Wars arcade cabinet recreated the attack on the Death Star with rudimentary vector graphics. In the early 90’s X-Wing and TIE Fighter expanded on that experience for PC players. In the 2000s Star Wars: Rogue Squadron simplified the experience and brought it to the Nintendo 64. And now, in 2020, developer Motive Studios has created Star Wars Squadrons, the first game solely about starfighting to make its way to the PS4 and Xbox One console generation, as well as PC.
I played about three hours of Squadrons, which comes out to about a third of the game’s single player campaign, and my overall takeaway was that although any Star Wars fan could enjoy this game, it’s primarily intended for those who’ve been waiting for a detailed starfighting simulation that follows in the footsteps of X-Wing and TIE Fighter.
Squadrons is deceptively deep mechanically. Although the game may seem at first as simple as lining yourself up with the enemy and pulling the trigger, the systems you can control constantly keep revealing themselves like a map that just keeps unfolding.
Once you grasp the basics of steering your ship and controlling its speed — no small feat on its own — you learn that you can reroute your ship’s power systems to prioritize engines, shields, or fire power. Then you learn how to lock on to targets and cycle through enemies. Then you learn that you can reroute your shields to either the front or back of your ship. Then you learn about your ship’s auxiliary weapons, enemy missiles that must be dodged or fooled with counter measures, tools to communicate with your team, mid air drifts — I think there are even things I haven’t learned about yet.
Plus, there are multiple types of ships to master from both the empire and the rebellion: X-Wings, A-Wings, Y-Wings, TIE fighters, TIE Interceptors, TIE Bombers, and even newer ships like the U- Wing, and the TIE Reaper — each of which has different strengths and weaknesses.
Squadrons is about mastering all aspects of these spacecrafts. It isn’t just about how accurately you can shoot, it’s about how well you can read a situation and manipulate your craft’s engines, shields, weapons and maneuverability to rise to that challenge.
That dynamic will feel familiar to those who played X-Wing and TIE Fighter in the early 90s. Those games descended from World War 2 air combat simulators, and they strove to create the same level realistic detail in a fictional world. TIE Fighter and X-Wing filled players’ keyboards with dozens of commands, and although you could certainly jump right into missions, you were much better off starting with a long series of rote combat training missions that help you build up your skills
Squadrons includes a lot of cute, surface-level allusions to X-Wing and TIE Fighter with its mission briefing screens and it’s door-based menus, but the deeper connection is definitely the high level of control the game gives you over your ship, and the implicit, slow burn challenge of understanding and mastering your ship’s controls.
This dynamic requires at least a small dose of obsession from the player. Squadrons is more approachable than TIE Fighter or X-Wing (it rolls tutorials into the story mode for instance) but it still requires a not-insignificant amount of studying, memorizing and practicing before you’ll feel at home behind any ships controls.
Speaking of controls, I found that the game was best enjoyed using an actual joystick as opposed to a controller, and I imagine a good VR setup might perfect the experience — so there’s lot of potential additional investment you can make in this game.
But then again, investment is what this game is all about. Creating the perfect sim setup then investing your time and energy in learning these ships and mastering their controls is the way to derive maximum enjoyment from this game. Those looking for a more casual relationship might still enjoy it, but it’s target audience is certainly those who want to slowly build up their skills and forge a second life as a full-on starfighter.