Back in 2019, I enthused about how ruddy bloody good the 20-minute X-Wing VR mission was in Star Wars Battlefront, and wished that it could be made into a full game. And now it has, and I’m ecstatic to say that Star Wars Squadrons is absolutely incredible in VR.
I got Squadrons for Christmas, and my inner eight-year-old is simply crying with joy at being able to actually sit in the cockpit of an A-Wing – this is Star Wars wish fulfillment writ large. It’s not just A-Wings, either. The game has a total of five New Republic ships and five Imperial ones, including my personal favourite Star Wars machine, the stonking B-Wing (which was added in an update just before Christmas). The best bit is being able to crane your neck to look around – if you look back in an X-Wing, for example, you can see an Astromech droid happily buzzing and chirping behind you.
It’s so damn cool.
As a forty-something cynical game critic, it’s rare for me to completely surrender to my inner child and go ga-ga over a movie tie-in – but donning that PSVR helmet and piloting Rebel spaceships has taken me right back to my childhood. I used to spend hours swooshing my toy X-Wing around and wondering what it would be like to fly one, and now I know. I am writing this with an enormous grin plastered across my face.
Although I imagine that playing Star Wars Squadrons without VR would be absolutely fine, actually immersing yourself fully into the world takes it to another level. TIE Fighters swoosh past your cockpit, and you find yourself instinctively tracking them by craning your neck to follow their path, while bringing your ship around to line them up in your sights. Asteroids and shattered Star Destroyers tumble past as you chart their path with wonder. It’s transportive, an escape, an experience outside reality. For a few hours at a time, I feel like I really am in a galaxy far, far away. It’s immersive to the point where I actually forgot to have dinner at one point, and I can’t remember the last time a video game prompted me to forget about food.
In terms of what you actually do, there’s a 12 mission single-player story that sees you learn to pilot both Rebel and Imperial ships, and it’s pretty good for the most part. The narrative focuses on a pilot who defected from the Empire after being told to shoot down refugees following the destruction of Alderaan. Years later, after the Battle of Endor, he’s now working on a super-secret project for the Rebellion, but his long-term Imperial rival and former colleague is tracking him down. The overall story is pretty engaging and fun, although the dialogue sections with your squad mates are dreadful, stilted lore dumps that I quickly learned to skip. It’s also fairly short at around eight to ten hours – the focus here is on the multiplayer.
Normally I would shy away from online multiplayer – I’ve only ever really enjoyed it in Monster Hunter, and I’m generally not that competitive as a person – but I’ve had an absolute blast playing Squadrons with other human beings. The Dogfight mode is frenetic and frequently exhilarating, as you swoop between asteroids or dive inside a superstructure in an attempt to shake off a tail, then boost drift around to surprise your attacker. The Fleet Battles, on the other hand, are much more dramatic in scale, as you alternately press the attack on your opponent’s cruisers and capital ships, then fall back to defend yours.
For the most part I’ve been able to hold my own, putting in a solid mid-table performance in most fights. But now that I’m starting to be matched against stronger players, my shortcomings are being exposed – last night I came up against a perfectly drilled Imperial squad that completely wiped the floor with my team for a humiliating 30-0 win. Still, it was fascinating to watch them – they were obviously coordinating closely over voice chat, circling in a tight formation and then simultaneously firing on a rival ship as soon as it spawned. I clearly need to form a team of my own if I want to progress, rather than leaping in with random strangers – if you’re interested in teaming up, get in touch.
The only real major downside I can find with Star Wars Squadrons is EA’s baffling decision not to support the game with extra content. Back in October, the publisher said that it had no plans to add DLC or extra modes, which seems like madness to me. Here’s a game that is genuinely amazing, yet EA is happy to turn its back and let it sail off into the sunset. Hopefully they will see the error of their ways, because this is simply the best VR game I’ve ever played – and easily the most fun I’ve had in the Star Wars universe since Knights of the Old Republic.