I have a confession to make: I don’t like Star Wars. Even the proper films. I know, I know, I’m a monster.
I actually loved them when I was a kid, but there were lots of things I loved when I was a kid that I’m just not that into now: riding a BMX, painting Warhammer figures, belching as loudly as possible after every sip of Coke. More to the point, I’ve been reminded of the existence of Star Wars on an almost daily basis for decades, with endless references and remakes and advertising campaigns in which Yoda inexplicably recommends a mobile network famous for its low customer satisfaction.
I don’t hate Star Wars; I’ve seen the films and really enjoyed them. But whatever original thoughts I might have had about it have been painted over by decades of marketing, leaving a smooth, opaque surface of total ambivalence.
Conveniently, this makes my opinion about Battlefront and its Fighter Squadron multiplayer mode a lot more objective than the squealing praise of Ewok-furred fanboys. So, let’s take a look.
Quite a view
There’s no faffing about: you start flying into the combat area and within about 10 seconds you’re pewpewpewing your enemies with your pewpew guns. The battle area is fairly small, keeping the two teams of 10 (TIE fighters vs X-Wings) swooping and screaming around each other in a frenetic dogfight.
The clouds are teeming with fire. On the ground, pewpew turrets spew green pewpew into the air, defending some sort of moonbase that has, in one of the worst pieces of town planning in any galaxy, been built on a gigantic lava field.
While that is probably a nightmare for the Imperial Guys’ buildings insurance, it certainly does make for a nice-looking battlefield to swoop towards. In order to encourage such swooping, powerups that repair your ship, remove cooldowns or turn it into a small Millenium Falcon are hidden in lava-filled gullies and under bridges.
If the combat hadn’t been so involving, it would have been nice to just zoom around and take in this gorgeous-looking game from the sky.
Simple, straightforward and satisfying
That said, the combat in Fighter Squadron is too fast and fun for any kind of tourism. It’s easy to get the hang of: one stick steers, one controls thrust. One trigger locks your aim onto a fighter in front of you, the other fires the pewpew gun. One shoulder button fires missiles, the other deploys a shield (in the X- Wing) or a speed boost (in the TIE Fighter).
This makes engaging the enemy pretty straightforward: zoom into the conflict area, get on someone’s six, throttle back a bit and empty your missiles and guns at their exhaust. If you’re successful you’ll be rewarded with an explosion and the clattering noise made by lots of little bits of your enemy bouncing off your windscreen.
If you don’t take them out by the time your guns overheat, throttle forward, smash into them and send both of your craft plunging into the burning landscape.
You can be my X-Wingman, any time
You can pilot from a cockpit view or third-person perspective. Your craft gives you a fair bit of help: not only does it tell you when an enemy is locked onto you, but the D-pad offers a few different options for evasive manouvers that make you look like a much better pilot than you really are. Which is handy, because there are enough craft in the air and enough pewpew flying about to make kills a fairly regular occurrence.
Combined with the aiming help the lock-on gives you, Fighter Squadron gives even tortoise-knuckled noobs like me the chance to rack up a fair few kills.
The TIE fighter seems to be slightly superior. It’s smaller and more maneuverable, and the speed boost can be used offensively as well as defensively. Also, its pewpew noise is a perfect recreation of the pewpew noise Vader’s craft makes.
Less cynical gamers, people who still feel like a 10-year-old when they hear that noise, will get a real kick out of the lengths Dice has gone to in keeping Battlefront as a whole faithful to the movies. For me, though, the quality of the combat and the spectacle were enough to bring out a huge grin and at one point – when I shot an enemy craft down into a tower, both of which exploded on impact – a whoop of joy.
It remains to be seen if Fighter Squadron can offer months of multiplayer value, but the fact that it’s just one mode in a larger game is for me another reason why Battlefront is shaping up to be such an exciting prospect. Even if you’re not already in the fan club.