There aren't many franchises in pop culture that have left as vast of an imprint as George Lucas' Star Wars. Spanning over multiple mainline films and spin-offs, toys, merchandise, concerts, television shows, and more, it's astounding just how prolific this saga about the Jedi and Sith really is, all these decades later. However, the Star Wars name has also found a home for itself in gaming, producing dozens upon dozens of interactive experiences all set within the saga's expansive universe. EA have been keeping the Star Wars video game spark alive in the last ten years (and well before that), and this time, we're in for some good ol' space dogfights with Star Wars: Squadrons.
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Star Wars: Squadrons might be one of the biggest surprises of the year, just as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was last year. Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the Imperials have the Rebels on the ropes and everyone's favourite goth-cloaked bad guy, Darth Vader, has begun his hunt for not only the Jedi, but the Rebellion who operate in secret parts of the galaxy. You start off the game picking a side - Imperials or Rebels - which impacts how the story begins. You're also given the option to customize your player characters on either side, complete with giving them a name and distinguishable voice, and you're off.
It's great to have this bit of customization in the beginning, but it rarely impacts your gameplay as most interactions happen in first-person. The true genius of customization happens with your ships, but we'll get to that in the full review. For the most part, the single-player campaign is split between the Imperial and Rebel stories, constantly bouncing between each other in each mission. One aspect I absolutely love about Squadrons is how it humanizes the Imperials. They're not just stormtroopers and foot soldiers, but you get the sense that they're actual people with relatable problems and often very sympathetic backstories. Morality is constantly in question as you switch between sides, which is terrific and something strangely seldom explored in Star Wars (sorry, JJ, you tried).
Darth Vader and many commanding generals of the Sith make brief appearances, but a majority of the story is centered around the pilots on both sides of the force. Each side is given four ships to choose from, including the iconic TIE Fighters and X-Wings. Initially, I was hesitant about the decision to keep the perspective entirely in first-person - and it made controlling your ship incredibly difficult too - but I eventually warmed up to it. I won't spoil just how intricate these systems and controls are until the full review, but it's remarkably deep and it genuinely felt like I was in constant control of every single aspect of my ship: navigation, distributing power to thrusters and weapons, hairpin turns, fuel and shield checks, etc.
Controlling your ship has quite a learning curve. Without a reliance on a third-person perspective to get a wider view of your surroundings, you're dependent on your HUD and navigation system built into the actual cockpit. It can feel a bit daunting like picking up Flight Simulator, but you get the hang of things eventually and it becomes second nature to constantly monitor your HUD. Memes and jokes aside, Squadrons does an incredible job of actually putting you in the shoes of a pilot.
Another fantastic element of Squadrons is sound design. Star Wars' various sounds are key to capturing the authenticity of a galaxy far, far away, and developer EA Motive have absolutely nailed it. In short, this is the best sounding Star Wars game I've played in a very long time, and gave my inner fanboy something to constantly grin about as I heard familiar dialogue exchanges, key phrases, and sound mixing lifted straight out of the films. To top it off, many of John Williams' original musical arrangements are kept in tact and unchanged, which is always great.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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