One of the big money-making arguments during the crowdfunding craze of the early 2010s was the idea that certain genres of game were “dead.” We know that’s not true, of course – point-and-click adventures, a popular example, simply became hidden-object games, for instance. Another popular example was the space flight sim, exemplified by the endless millions of dollars that continues to be crowdfunded each year for the still-nonexistent Star Citizen even as equivalent options like Elite: Dangerous and the X series were released.
There’s even more good news for fans of intergalactic dogfighting, one hailing from a galaxy far, far away. Well, maybe not so far. Star Wars: Squadrons is a budget-priced space flight sim that reminds us how interconnected the franchise is with the genre. Better yet, you can play it right now!
You’ll control pilots from both the Imperial and Republic forces as each side plays their role around the events of the Original Trilogy of films. The connecting element between the two is an Imperial turncoat who defects to the Republic side early on, leading the Imperial squadron to seek vengeance. You’re able to customize the pilots you’ll control on each side individually, though in the end it doesn’t change too much since you’ll be spending most of your time in the cockpit; the most important choice to make comes down to the voice selection, allowing you to, for instance, make your Imperial persona especially (and comically) evil-sounding.
Either way, don’t expect any moral choices or anything like that here, since you’ll spend time playing as both sides and there’s not much of a choice as to who you’ll be controlling at any time.
Regardless of which character you’re controlling, you’re going to be flying. Squadrons plays much like the classic TIE Fighter and X-Wing flight sims from back in the day. You’ll take command of a variety of spacecraft and fly around completing missions and getting into dogfights. Combat largely revolves around leading laser shots and firing locked-on missiles in order to take out opponents while dodging their own volleys; missions, meanwhile, largely revolve around combat. You can expect to be spending a lot of time twirling about avoiding missiles and firing salvos, in other words.
This is slightly complicated with the ability to readjust your ship’s power output, allowing you to, for instance, redirect power to your lasers or shields to support a more offensive or defensive playstyle.
This basic concept largely doesn’t change a huge amount regardless of which side you’re controlling or which of each side’s four ships you’re flying, though each has varying specialties, with the speedy Interceptors and more team-focused Supports standing out among the crowd. It’s possible to adjust your ships’ loadouts to customize them to your liking, which can produce a surprising amount of variation once you’ve gotten an idea of how you want your ship to behave. All that said, the most interesting experience is likely taking a Support ship focused on assisting others with shields and repairs. It’s not something you’d expect to see in a dogfighting-focused game and results in a somewhat unique playstyle.
Along with the aforementioned story mode, you’ve got Dogfight (fighter v. fighter) and Fleet Battle (capital ship defense) options in multiplayer. All in all, both the multiplayer and single-player modes in Squadrons fit firmly in the acceptable-but-not-mindblowing category. If you really loved TIE Fighter or X-Wing, you’ll be pleased to find something similar to that here…but if you wanted anything beyond spaceflight, you’re not going to find it here.
It’s clear that the majority of the development time, money and effort spent on Squadrons was devoted to creating a game that looked and sounded as authentic as possible. If that’s the case, then everything was well-spent; it really does feel like you’re controlling scenes from the films, right down to the unique cockpit graphics in each starship. You can play Squadrons using a HOTAS setup or even VR, but I’ve got neither of those available. Instead, I’ll confirm that plain ol’ game controllers do the trick nicely here, even when you consider slightly more complex maneuvers like readjusting your ship’s power output on the fly.
Star Wars: Squadrons isn’t a full-priced retail game, which makes sense. This is a game designed for space flight sim fans and few others, really, even when you consider how accessible and enjoyable the multiplayer can be. Given the questionable state of Star Wars fandom (Baby Yoda aside) – and the popularity of the recent Flight Simulator 2020 – that’s probably wise. There’s not a huge amount to do here, but the available content is enjoyable and well-made. This is an entirely passable Star Wars flight sim. If that’s what you’re after – and you’re willing to accept that’s all you’re getting – then suit up and pilot this one to the stars.