The year 2020 is sorta shaping up to be the year of living out your Star Wars fantasies in a video game. And the new Star Wars: Squadrons is the latest from the gamemakers at Electronic Arts. But there are no lightsaber-swinging Jedi in this one nor heavy-breathing Sith Lords. Nope, this game is all about imagining yourself slipping behind the controls of a TIE fighter or X-Wing and twisting and turning your craft past space debris while in the heat of a spinning, laser-blasting dogfight.
And let me give you one opening pointer—it’s not as easy as it looks in the movies!
The game starts right after the Empire has used the power of the Death Star to obliterate the planet of Alderaan (which we famously saw in Star Wars: A New Hope). We begin in the ranks of the Imperial forces and are given the task of tracking down any rebel survivors who might have slipped away. From there we get to tag-team our way between New Republic and Empire forces in various attack and defend quests.
The game does its best to give us authentic experiences in the various crafts as well as casting us as two different pilots on opposing sides of the skirmish, helping us identify with both sides. Of course, identifying and sympathizing are two different things. I couldn’t help but lean toward those rebel mates. For one thing, the New Republic squad members are quirkier and more fun. And hey, the Empire dudes are the bad guys, after all.
You fly your way through 14 missions and interact with comrades who fill you in with slowly woven-together background details behind the rebel desire to create and push back with a new offensive weapon called Project Starhawk. And you generally get a well-crafted framework for some exhilarating space battles.
Frankly, it’s those space battles that are the real core of play here: This is a space dogfighting sim. Period. And if you haven’t played a sim like this before, it has a fairly steep learning curve at first. There’s a deep power-management system to wrap your brain around—giving you health, shields, lasers, sub-weapons, and engine systems to shift and focus power back and forth between.
You also have to make sure you’re targeting the right objectives and dealing with the enemies that come swooping up behind you while you’re managing everything from a first-person perspective. Players get frequent tutorials and a lock-on tracker system that help keep them going in the right direction, but at first the rather unforgiving gameplay can feel a bit overwhelming.
Once your understanding of the controls starts to click, though, it’s kind of tough not to find yourself zipping and twirling around with a big grin plastered on your face. Especially if you’re any kind of Star Wars fan.
Fortunately, the game also steers clear of the kind of game content that might wipe that smile off your mug. There’s plenty of laser- and bomb-zapping destruction, of course, which means that characters are dying out there. But the battling never struck me as too intense for younger players and you don’t see any mess from an exploding foe’s ship. The only other potential trouble spot is dialogue in conversations. And this T-rated title keeps any foul bits limited to very occasional exclamations of “h—” and ‘d–n.” At the end of the game someone notes that “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.” And, of course, that’s a common and universally encouraging Star Wars theme. Not to mention another reason this game left me with a pleasant grin.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.