Platform: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Flight Simulator
Review Date: 11/4/20
"Star Wars: Squadrons" places you in the cockpits of eight classic "Star Wars" starfighters: X-Ying, Y-Wing, A-Wing, U-Wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Interceptor, TIE Bomber, and TIE Reaper. The story campaign takes place shortly after the Battle Of Endor (with a prologue that occurs after the destruction of Alderaan) and missions alternate between a New Republic squadron and an Imperial squadron. You get to choose the gender, face, and voice/personality for the two pilots that you play, although you rarely ever see yourself. The story missions revolve around the New Republic trying to build a new super weapon and the Empire trying to stop them. It's supposedly a short campaign on the order of 8-10 hours, but I ended up quitting about a quarter of the way through due to disinterest and increased difficulty.
To its credit, "Squadrons" does a good job of taking a serious flight simulator and simplifying it enough to be fun without being overly frustrating. However, I really suck at flight sims, and even on the easiest difficulty I found it impossible to maneuver in any reasonable fashion. If nothing else, the game paints an accurate picture of the average lifespan of a starfighter pilot, which is not very long. Maybe one or two dogfights at most. The only thing I could offer to either side would be as a suicide bomber, since slamming my ship into asteroids and Star Destroyers was about the only thing I could reliably do. To be fair, flying around at low speeds is manageable, but it makes you an easy target and certainly doesn't help you complete mission objectives. The difficulty also ramps up very quickly, and after the first 2-3 missions you not only have the flight controls to deal with, but at least twelve other commands to remember and use strategically. These include targeting, lock-on, counter measures, resupply, repair, customizing primary and auxiliary weapons loadouts, assigning targets to wingmates, assigning defensive maneuvers to wingmates, and constantly balancing your ship's power between shields (front and rear), engines, and primary weapons. It quickly becomes overwhelming and the game loses all sense of fun and excitement as you fail over and over.
As you would expect from a "Star Wars" game, the music is wonderful, the graphics look fantastic, and the sound effects are spot-on. The cockpits are superbly rendered with the finest detail. The hangars and briefing rooms also look great, but it's frustrating that you can't actually move within them. You can look around from a series of set viewpoints, but you can't actually walk, which makes you feel like you're trapped in a point-and-click game from the 90's. It's also readily apparent that all design decisions were made with VR in mind, so it gives the impression that you're playing a VR game without the VR. The missions and space battles look good, but as is often the case with flight simulators, you can only see what's straight ahead of you, which is a whole lot of dead sky if you want to avoid running into things. Enemy ships move way too fast to follow and you naturally can't see them when they're chasing you. Shooting them down is disappointing because they're always so far away that you can hardly see them.
Even with all of these gameplay frustrations, I might be compelled to continue playing if it weren't for all of the annoying characters and their cringe-worthy dialog. Granted, "Star Wars" stereotypes are well-worn and ridiculously cliché, but I found them downright offensive in this game. Basically, all bad guys have British accents and all good guys are American rednecks. If an Imperial officer doesn't have a British accent, that means he's probably a defector, and a rebel with a British accent is someone who comes from an Imperial family, but is rebelling due to daddy issues. My New Republic squadmates were so annoying that I actually found myself sympathizing with the Empire this time around. They're basically portrayed as drunk cowboys or someone that you'd see on "The Dukes Of Hazzard." "Yee-haw! Let's blow shit up and get drunk! First round's on me, losers! Pew, pew!" Ugh. Rebel scum, indeed. Whereas the Imperials are just sneering Narcissistic elites with scarred psyches who are still reeling from the loss of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of Death Star II. They're actually the idealists in this conflict, while the New Republic is simply focused on wiping them out. It's honestly hard to take sides because both groups are so unlikable, and the general population of the galaxy suffers as a result. It's an interesting dynamic that mimics a lot of what's going on in American politics. Overall, if the characters weren't such assholes and didn't talk so much, I'd be much more interested in trying to master the game's controls and make progress in the story. There's also an online multiplayer dogfight mode, but I have zero interest in partaking in that.