Star Wars: Squadrons review – a scrappy, compelling starfighter that excels in VR

Technology

An immersive space sim that’s dazzling in VR, Squadrons provides an exhilarating multiplayer experience, even if the story feels pedestrian.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few days, it’s this: being a pilot in the Star Wars universe is brutal. I have newfound sympathy for Porkins, the rebel pilot who briefly appeared in A New Hope, who must have entered his cockpit full of adrenaline and aspirations… only to have it all end with a stray laser. This is the reality of flying through the chaos of space battle, and Squadrons wants you to know it.

Made by Motive Studios, Star Wars Squadrons is really a game of two halves – in several senses of the word. Split into a ten-hour campaign and two main multiplayer modes, both sides somehow feel completely different despite sharing the same set of controls, with the story favouring immersion and the multiplayer providing more of the compelling star-fighting experience I was looking for. The latter is where Squadrons’ gameplay truly comes into its own, and is only made better when experienced in the terrifying beauty of VR.

Before you get stuck into the multiplayer, however, you’ll probably want to test your piloting skills in the game’s campaign mode – which has its moments, but never quite reaches the same heights as the multiplayer.

Set after the destruction of the second Death Star, in the strange limbo between the original trilogy and the sequels, Squadrons tells the story of two elite forces as they battle to wrest control of a new weapons project developed by the Rebellion New Republic. The player flits between the Empire’s Titan and the New Republic’s Vanguard squadrons over the course of several chapters, giving the campaign a nice sense of flow and progression. There’s plenty of military fluff thrown around, but the personal tussle between Empire commander Terisa Kerrill and her former (now-defected) senior Lindon Javes manages to cut through the noise and keep you engaged.

Due to its placement in the Star Wars timeline, Squadrons’ story was always going to be limited in terms of impact on the wider universe – so don’t expect any history-defining moments in this campaign. At times this becomes a little unsatisfying, as there’s a sense the progress you make on one side is immediately overwritten by the other (particularly towards the end where I really did feel quite cheated). Yet Squadrons’ story is more about personalities and unique missions, with a smaller-scale focus on individuals, their backgrounds, and how they’ve dealt with the power shift caused by the destruction of the second Death Star. Mimbanese alien Gunny is a particular stand-out, exemplifying the tough can-do attitude of the New Republic, while Empire veteran Shen is notable for his series of grunts and his absolute refusal to remove his helmet. Which apparently stays on, er, all the time. The squad members provide a glimpse of wider life in the galaxy beyond the battles, and listening to their stories is a lovely breather in-between intense missions. And yes, Wedge does make an appearance.