(EA Games)

Ever since the release of Star Wars back in 1977, fans have dreamed of journeying to a galaxy far, far away to hop in the cockpit and take the controls of a starfighter. With the release of Star Wars: Squadrons, that dream is closer than it has ever been. Harnessing the power of virtual reality, Squadrons allows players to take part in epic space battles piloting eight different starships. The entire game can also be played using a VR headset and joystick for increased immersion.



Squadrons puts you in the cockpit (EA Games)

Squadrons features a single-player campaign that takes place after the events of Return of the Jedi and tells the story of two rival squadrons. The player follows both Vanguard Squadron of the New Republic and Titan Squadron of the Imperial Remnant. In the wake of the Battle of Endor, the New Republic is building a new class of starship that will help them defeat the Empire once and for all. With the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, the Imperial Remnant gains wind of this new starship and seeks to stop its creation. The player will fly on both sides of the conflict, meeting both new and familiar characters along the way.

Throughout the campaign, the player will be introduced to the four different classes of ships available in Squadrons—the Fighter Class, Interceptor Class, Bomber Class, and Support Class. For the New Republic, players can fly the T-65B X-Wing Fighter, RZ-1 A-Wing Interceptor, BTL-A4 Y-Wing Bomber, and the UT-60D U-Wing Starfighter/Support Craft. With the Imperial Remnant, players can pilot the Sienar Systems TIE/In Space Superiority Starfighter, TIE/IN Interceptor, TIE/sa Bomber, and TIE/rp Reaper Attack Lander. Each ship class offers unique strengths and weaknesses and must be flown accordingly to achieve maximum combat effectiveness. For example, while interceptors are quick and agile, they are not as effective at attacking capital ships as bombers.

Highlighting the detail put into the game's development, the starships of each faction fly as differently as the different classes as a result of differing starfighter doctrine between the New Republic and Imperial Remnant. The Rebel Alliance and subsequent New Republic placed an emphasis on pilot survivability. As a result, all of their ships carry shield generators. The Imperial Navy, however, was originally designed to maintain order, not fight a war. As a result, the TIE Fighter is unshielded, a cost-saving measure implemented by the Empire in its design. Additionally, Imperial TIE Fighter doctrine emphasized offensive operations against small uprisings. To fit this role, the TIE Fighter offers excellent forward visibility thanks to its large front window, but offers little in the way of upward and rearward visibility. Side visibility is nonexistent due to the TIE fighter's large vertical wings.

Battles take place over a multitude of new and familiar locations (EA Games)

Each starship offers players a different experience, since they can only be flown in first-person view. Ship customization, both internally and externally, is available. Though, because players will only see the inside of their ships during combat, external modifications like paint schemes will serve more to differentiate the player to other pilots.

To further increase the game's immersion, Squadrons gives players the option to completely remove the traditional floating HUD. Instead, players can opt to have all relevant information displayed natively on the cockpit's dash readouts. With this option, weapon systems, engine performance, shield status (if applicable), and even radar must be read on individual screens while the player simultaneously scans the battlefield. Players must also manage these systems, transferring power between them as the situation dictates. Getting blasted from your 6 o'clock? Allocate all power to your shields to keep from getting turned into space scrap. No shields on your TIE Fighter? Overcharge those engines and get the heck out of there. Maybe you have an unsuspecting enemy fighter lined up for the kill. Send all power to your laser cannons and vaporize them.

All of these Starfighter characteristics carry over into the game's multiplayer mode as well. Players can fly in the traditional 5v5 Dogfight mode where victory is determined by kill count, but the premiere multiplayer mode in Squadrons is Fleet Battles. These multistage conflicts start in a social hub where each team devises a strategy. Players then launch from their respective hangars and attempt to push the frontline to the enemy's side. Depending on which way the frontline moves, teams will have to defend or attack two capital ships accordingly. The final stage will have players attacking or defending a flagship with a shield generator, power, and targeting subsystems. Crossplay is also enabled, allowing players across gaming platforms to play together.

Maintain your situational awareness (EA Games)

The game's developer, Motive Studios, has said that the game is not a live service. While the game could be augmented with future downloadable content, Motive insisted that the game be 100% complete for release. Another oddity for a game published by EA, Squadrons does not have any type of microtransaction system. All customization options are purchased with in-game currency earned by playing the game.

Thus far, reception has been mixed. While some players embrace the challenge and immersion of such a detailed game, others find the near-simulator game style too difficult. As a result, used copies can already be found at a slight discount. With its attention to detail and level of immersion, Squadrons carries on the legacy of Star Wars dogfighting classics like Starfighter and Rogue Squadron as a huge technological evolutionary leap forward. Just be sure to loosen up and stay on target.