It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to posit that one of the primary drivers of video game innovation over the past 40 years has been the desire to live out Star Wars fantasies – from the Parker Brothers’ Empire Strikes Back in 1982 (the first Star Wars tie-in game) to the superlative X-Wing/Tie Fighter series in the mid-90s right through to the slick Battlefronts of this generation. Yet even the ones that succeeded were constrained by the technology of their eras, leaving much of the work of convincing the player that they were actually in a galaxy far, far away to their own imaginations.
It wasn’t until EA released Rogue One – a single, supplementary VR mission for 2016’s Star Wars: Battlefront – that the concept of actually being there was quietly nailed: the holy grail towards which Star Wars games had been striving for 34 years. Praise was unanimous, EA’s Motive Studio took note, and now here we are with a whole game where you can fly around inside X-Wings and Tie Fighters. Let’s not beat around the bush: if you are a fan of Star Wars and have the means to play Squadrons in VR, you should buy it right now. No other game in history has immersed me so completely in the universe George Lucas created. This is childhood-fantasy fulfilment on a galactic scale.
Squadrons is a deceptively arcadey-looking space-dogfighting sim with rewardingly deep engine-power management, weaponry options and tricky flying techniques to master. You can even use a flight stick instead of a controller to complete the sense of immersion. The single-player story eases you into the intricacies the game demands from you, casting you as two different pilots on opposing sides of the skirmishes in the aftermath of the second Death Star’s destruction. You’ll fly several ships from both the Rebellion and the Empire across its 14 missions, listening to monologues from comrades who give unnecessary but welcome context to the thrilling conflagration of medical frigates, space stations and Star Destroyers. As a framework for exhilarating space battles, this narrative is a lot better than it probably needed to be.
Multiplayer support is a little more threadbare. The only options are 5v5 deathmatches or fleet battles, which involve larger, to-and-fro conflicts with the eventual aim of destroying the opposing sides’ capital ships. Both are excellent; the addition of human foes imbues hectic dogfights with added camaraderie and unpredictability. No more updates are planned for the game, however, meaning no fresh modes are on the horizon.
Outside VR, Squadrons is a beautiful space blaster; inside VR, it’s extraordinary. The sensation of simply peering around your fighter’s cockpit, leaning back in your seat as your ship catapults into hyperspace, or looking out of the window and seeing your X-Wing’s S-Foils lock into attack position, is an unrivalled Star Wars experience. Swooping around an asteroid, or following a Tie interceptor’s trajectory up and over your head, is indescribably epic, and something you should experience if you are able. Be advised, though: if you are playing on PlayStation VR, the headset’s ageing, low-res display means that picking out distant ships feels like peering at a gooseberry through a bathroom window smeared in lard.
Any grumbles about the variety of vehicles or locations or the difficulty of empathising with mute main characters are dwarfed by the litany of things Squadrons does right. I’ve been waiting 23 years for a game to come along and take the crown for the best Star Wars flight sim from X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, and have had to endure guff like 2001’s Starfighter in the meantime. Well, it’s finally here. This is now the high watermark for interactive Star Wars experiences.
o Star Wars: Squadrons is out now; GBP29.99.