There was a time when bowling alleys were a bit less defunct, and their adjunct arcades were filled with decaying cabinets like the Sega Star Wars Arcade. You could get a friend, pop a few quarters in and become Luke Skywalker and relive that fateful trench run that leads to the explosive end of the Death Star. Flying a digital X-Wing—or any Star Wars starfighter for that matter—is an experience that is, simply put, awesome. But flying the starfighters of Star Wars Squadrons fails to consistently produce this feeling, and the rest of the game does little to make up for it.
The story of the game itself is engaging enough. You play as two pilots on opposite sides of the war who are both caught in the middle of a feud between the Imperial captain Terisa Kerill and the New Republic commander Lindon Javes. The game also takes the staple Star Wars concept of an in-development-but-actually-functional-super-weapon and turns it on its head, with the New Republic developing an immense capital ship called the Starhawk. On one side, you’re trying to destroy the Starhawk, and on the other you’re tasked with protecting it.
There’s the making of a pretty solid Star Wars story, but the way it’s actually delivered detracts from it. While not exclusively a VR game, Star Wars Squadrons includes design choices that are heavily influenced by its VR capabilities. The game doesn’t let you walk around, instead firmly planting the player in whatever room they are in. This would be fine on its own, but the game has many story scenes and briefings where the player just sort of awkwardly stands around while being talked at. Most of these scenes felt like they could have easily been cutscenes, but instead were turned into VR conversations.
This feeling is exacerbated by both of the playable pilots having no dialogue whatsoever. Sometimes characters would say something interesting, like when one of my Imperial squadmates gave her opinion on the dissolution of the Imperial Senate. But after she was done talking, she dismissed me and that was that. Another time, I overheard two New Republic pilots talking about a spy onboard the capital ship. I was excited to see who among us would turn out to be the imposter, but after this conversation it was never brought up again. Most conversations went along these lines, with nothing anyone said ever amounting to anything in the game. Outside of Kerill and Javes’ feud, there is not much going on, especially with your own character.
Flying in Star Wars Squadrons is similar to other flight games, but with the added ability to fully bring your ship to a stop thanks to the nature of space. You can temporarily divert power from systems like shielding, thrusters and blasters in order to increase the power of another, but there was never a time where I found myself desperately making use of these diversions in a dogfight. Once you figure out how to fly and shoot, you’re pretty much set for the rest of the game.
The highlight of flying around in Star Wars Squadrons is definitely the atmosphere the game creates. The view from inside the cockpit of the game’s ships is both realistic and stylish, and when combined with the sound design can produce scenes straight out of the movies. But these moments are few and far between, and most of the time you are just sort of going through the motions. Go here, shoot this, wait here for this long, repeat.
In VR, combat feels a little more intense. It’s one thing to see the cockpit of an X-Wing on your screen while playing, and it’s another to actually sit in the cockpit of an X-Wing. But shifting the view did little to make the game feel more exciting, and I still found myself playing the game in the same way I had without a headset on. Likewise, listening to squad members didn’t feel any more engaging when I saw them up close.
Star Wars Squadrons is a solid Star Wars starfighter game that struggles under the limitations of trying to make a game that can be played both in and out of VR. The game’s visuals are striking, but don’t do much to makeup for its repetitive gameplay. As a VR experience, Star Wars Squadrons ranks among the best, but as a videogame it leaves much to be desired.
Star Wars: Squadrons was developed by Motive Studios and published by Electronic Arts. Our review is based on the PC version. It is also available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Nicolas Perez is an editorial intern at Paste and opinion co-editor for New University. He’s rambling on Twitter @Nic_Perez__.