Flight simulators have found a new set of fans (including myself) between the ongoing pandemic. Mostly because they let us go places without leaving the safety of our home, right? Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 made headlines with its gorgeous world and life-like pilot experience, Squadron, however, is not as massive but it’s definitely the best way to pilot an X-Wing.
We only wish we had a VR headset to fully immerse ourselves into the game, and maybe a flight stick too. Because Squadron is one of the few fleshed out games that support VR for flight combat sim. It’s also very gorgeous and fantastic to play with a controller or a keyboard.
The game is not launched at a daunting price. So going at a cool ₹2,499 also hints that EA doesn’t want to waste any time before you jump into its multiplayer. There’s a story campaign here though, not an elaborate one, but tasteful enough to keep you hooked. The game starts off by letting you pilot both sides of the warring factions - New Republic and Imperials. You swing from one character to the other on each side of the war as the campaign missions progress. This gives you a holistic view of the story from both ends of the spectrum. It’s a nice way to tell a decent campaign story and also, prepare you for what’s to come. Much like EA’s Battlefield franchise, the story mode is just stepping stone for the actual meat of the game - the multiplayer.
That’s not to say the story is half-baked by any measure. It’s substantial and works for all settings - traditional or VR. And when you’re not pew-pewing your way in a galaxy far far away, your hangar is where you’ll interact with fellow pilots and other people that drive the story forward. Each character has a fleshed-out personality, and some even have a small backstory hidden within conversations. I wish there were side missions with some of them like we get in Ghost of Tsushima but alas, this is as much as we get.
Movement outside of the cockpit is quite basic or rather built for VR. Your position is in a fixed spot in the hangar or base while you can move the camera from the fixed spot to tap on objects/characters of interest. It takes away from the immersion but I guess it’s to keep the VR way of things in check.
That said once you get behind the flight stick and rally up with your fellow pilots in the campaign, the feeling of immersion comes back to you and for a Star Wars fan, it doesn’t get any better.
Starfighters like X-wing and TIE fighter have a completely different way of handling and manoeuvring thanks to different perks and load-outs. These can be customised and swapped for better/worse parts depending on what type of fighter you’re. There are advantages and disadvantages to each part and depending on how you want the customisation to pan out, these can either make or break your dogfights in multiplayer. It’s always good to have a set of friends to get in on the action and work together.
5v5 skirmishes take advantage of a tight map that lets you weave your way through rubble and space debris and gun down enemies. Shuffling power between thrusters and lasers is usually how you get in and out after a kill. Firepower also depends on how you customise your loadout. Go in with a thick starfighter hull and powerful lasers or trade-in for a faster but lighter ship hull with pew-pews to annoy your enemies. Everything works and feels when you’re in control. Even when you’re running circles to get that one lucky shot on the enemy, the ship will behave like an extension of your piloting skills. It can get a bit woozy in the head because there’s no right side up in space and how you choose to fly is up to you. I often found my earthly senses a bit overwhelmed by the rapid flight movements. Which is to be expected. I only wish we had a VR headset at the time of testing this.
There are times where you’ll find it very difficult to spot an enemy because of how fast they’re moving and that can be a bit frustrating. Even in campaign mode, I would find myself lost in the expanse of space, only to give a quick peek at the controls and find my way back.
There are usually microtransactions lurking in EA titles but thankfully this one doesn’t. Everything can be unlocked as you progress through the game. Cosmetics like paints and cockpit decorations to make it feel like home can be unlocked with progress.
It’s a star
The cockpit itself is fantastic. On our reference BenQ monitor, the HDR mode really lets the shadows and blacks paint the emptiness of space. Without HDR the cockpit lacks depth and realism even though its easier to notice and see the buttons and controls. We quietly switched back to HDR and 2K resolution to really feel one with the starfighter and don’t get us started with the maps. The visual beauty of the Star Wars franchise is carried so well into a game where you’re mostly fighting on a black sheet of nothing. Dogfights in multiplayer take place around dead planets, or stars, I am not sure, but they look hella pretty.
The colours really punch into high gear too. The scaling is also done so well that we might just sneak into HTC’s office to grab a VR headset and give this another try. In campaign missions where you have to manoeuvre around massive Star Destroyers, the game really sets the tone in place. You’re a puny pilot, taking on a massive battleship… Let that sink in, and not your ship!
Processor: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2920X; Liquid cooled by Corsair H115i RGB Platinum
GPU: Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti
Motherboard: Asus PRIME X399-A
RAM: 32GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB
CPU Case: Corsair Obsidian 500D RGB
Keyboard: Kingston HyperX Alloy Elite RGB
Power Supply: Corsair AX850
There are simply fantastic moments to be had in Squadron. The game really offers something no one else can, a fantastic flight combat simulator. And being in the Star Wars universe is just an added bonus.
Voice acting and audio also feel like they’re ripped straight from John Williams’ notebook. The sound of fast-moving ships and the lasers sound oh-so-real and true to the Star Wars universe. It’s not the best game of 2020 by any measure but, if you’re looking to blow the dust off your VR headset and give this a try, you won’t regret it. Oh, and thrown in a flight stick to add extra oomph to your immersion.
I can’t shake the feeling that we’ll see this game in Disneyland with an actual cockpit built around it or maybe at Smaaash where people can experience the true potential of VR gaming. But, it’s much more than that and the multiplayer is there to keep you entertained for long.