There's an indestructibly attractive core at the heart of the Star Wars franchise that manages to remain forever untarnished no matter how many godawful Christmas Specials, Battles for Endor, butt-clenchingly dull Trade Agreements or "I don't like sand" moments are thrown at it. We're talking about the wonderfully well-worn retro aesthetic of the original trilogy's battle-damaged ships, stations and tech, the terrifying screeching sound of an incoming TIE-Fighter, the majestic thrum of a lightsaber igniting and, of course, those magnificent, glorious space battles.
We'll never tire of watching an X-Wing twist and turn through a hail of colourful laser fire as it attempts to lock on to a deadly TIE Interceptor, tear through the innards of an enemy station on its way to deliver a devastating payload or dodge and weave across the hull of an impossibly large Imperial Star Destroyer as it picks off turrets and whittles downs defences. These are the endlessly magical moments that Star Wars: Squadrons seeks to indulge you in over the course of its solid single player campaign and through a multiplayer suite that enables endless re-enactments of all of the above and, for the most part, it succeeds spectacularly well.
But hold your space horses for just a second there newbie. Before you go eagerly rushing into the multiplayer element of Star Wars: Squadrons looking to show off your non-existent skills, we'd strongly recommend you take the time to jump into its roughly ten-hour long campaign, which does a thoroughly comprehensive job of introducing you to the various craft you'll take command of in its PvP modes as well as the basics necessary to pilot them effectively. Here, you'll learn how to read all the dials in your cockpit - something which allows you to then turn off the game's UI, an option we'd highly recommend for max immersion - manage the juggling of your ship's power systems, designate shield positions, cycle through available targets and, most importantly, how to pull off an awesome drift so you can go full Poe Dameron on the Empire's ass.
You won't just play as a rebel here either, this is a campaign that sees your time split evenly between fighting for the New Republic and on behalf of an Empire that's seeking to reassert its power in the wake of the destruction of its second Death Star. The story that's woven is a pretty barebones one, told through rather odd static sequences (the result of having being designed for VR play no doubt) where you'll stand around in hangars and get talked at incessantly. However, it also manages to introduce a handful of genuinely interesting characters that fit into the expanded Star Wars universe well, and its tale of a high-ranking Imperial defector and the attempted revenge of his aggrieved pupil does, at the very least, manage to keep things relatively interesting right up until the final battle.
While time spent between campaign missions here can certainly be a little dull and clunky as you shift between those static areas and cycle through swathes of dialogue, things absolutely pick up once you take off from your hangar and get stuck into battle. There are numerous standout moments dotted throughout the thirteen missions that make up the story of Star Wars: Squadrons; desperately defending communications equipment from relentless TIE-fighter attacks, capturing a huge Star Destroyer, a frenetic battle at Mon Cala and a sequence that sees rebels make clever use of discarded munitions to cause heavy damage to Imperial forces. Over the course of these excursions you'll not only get to grips with how various ships behave and manoeuvre but, more importantly, how they fit into various attack and support roles which will in turn help your squad to victory once you jump into the multiplayer side of proceedings.
And it's this multiplayer aspect that's unmistakably the main focus of Star Wars: Squadrons. There may only be two main modes to dive into at launch, free-for-all 5v5 dogfights and the headline Fleet Battles - both of which take place across the same set of six maps - but Motive Studios has done such an excellent job of bringing the scale and spectacle of the series' signature space warfare to life, of replicating perfectly every little visual detail and audio cue, that it's hard to see a time when we'll ever get sick of jumping in for just one more pass.
Moment-to-moment, the action here is immensely engrossing stuff that sees you twisting and turning to lock on to human and AI enemies alike whilst switching power between your shields, engines and guns - á la X-Wing Alliance - in order to suit whatever situation you currently find yourself in. Need a big boost of speed to run down a tricky foe or make a quick escape through the mangled wreckage of some previous space battle? Hit left on the d-pad to route power to your engines. Coming in for a dangerously exposed attack run across the hull of a fully operational Star Destroyer? You'll want to divert all available energy to your lasers to maximise damage and ensure you've switched your shields to the front of your craft to soak up the incoming enemy barrage. You'll need to request resupplies, take time out of the fray to recharge your energy, cycle your targets between objectives and the core systems of huge enemy craft and ping threats for teammates in order to keep on top of things and succeed. You can double tap A to target the last enemy who attacked you, enabling you to manoeuvre yourself around them to retaliate or just get a desperate read on exactly where they're at and then flag them up for allies to focus fire on in order to shake them off your ass. There is, in short, a lot to take in when starting out.
At any one time here, whether playing in the fast-paced deathmatches that make up dogfights or the much longer, strategical tug-of-war scenario that is Fleet Battles, you'll be kept furiously busy managing your craft's systems as you fight and - especially in Fleet Battles - constantly switch between ship types when you die in order to better suit the situation your team finds itself in at any given time. Team composition can very often prove essential during tight matches and each of the four ships available to each side brings something different to the party in order for your squad to gain the upper hand. X-Wings and TIE-Fighters are the straight-up attack option here, Y-wings and TIE-Bombers provide essential heavy ordinance, U-wings and Tie-Reapers make up the supporting class - dishing out tactical shields, cloaking, repairs and life-saving supplies for teammates - and TIE-Interceptors and Y-wings give you fast-paced interceptor options.
Each of the four ship classes on offer also has unlockable options with regards to weapons, countermeasures, hulls, shields and engines which can be purchased using requisitions earned through combat. You may want to switch out your X-Wing's astromech droid in favour of a secondary weapons option on top of your lasers, for example - we found a combination of disabling ion torpedoes and homing missiles to be quite effective for crippling fast foes - or perhaps you'll discard your straightforward engines for experimental ones which strip you of some stability but also explode spectacularly upon your death, damaging and destroying nearby enemies in the process. All of these options provide the multiplayer here with plenty of little wrinkles and a healthy amount of tactical variety, and we can already see how dedicated squadrons of players who communicate effectively and organise their ship selections carefully will begin to absolutely dominate the battlefield.
For those who are chiefly flying solo though, there's still plenty of scope for good times with a bunch of random players in Fleet Battles, and the straight-up dogfighting mode also provides endless amounts of frenetically fast-paced fun. Tearing across the six excellent maps here - all of which provide a decent mix of wide open spaces to catch enemies off-guard and jumbled wreckage and interiors in which to hide or shake off a tail - is always massively entertaining stuff on account of the fact Motive Studios has nailed the aesthetics of the whole thing so wonderfully well. This really is a spectacular looking game that brings the classic space battles of the Star Wars universe to life in a way which we've never really seen before.
In terms of upgrades and unlockables as you progress and move through the ranks of your combat career here, things have been kept surprisingly simple. There are no loot boxes to be found anywhere and the requisitions and glory you earn during battle can only be spent on either unlockable ship components or a series of rather low-key cosmetic elements; paint jobs, cockpit toys, new characters, helmets, emblems for your ship's wings, etc. It may put some players who are more accustomed to busy battle passes and endlessly unlocking trinkets and chests off but, for us, as long as the developers continue to add a smattering of fresh cosmetics (and, fingers crossed, a few more maps and modes) down the line, it's a pleasingly unfussy system that allows you to instead focus your attention on the glorious space battles at hand as it's here that Star Wars: Squadrons really excels.
There are, of course, some tweaks and improvements that need to be made here and there. We'd love to see more points dished out during battle when providing vital support for more attack-minded teammates as right now racking up kills is the only really well-rewarded action. There's definitely also room for improvement with regards to the AI ships who help beef out teams during Fleet Battles, as they tend to be a little too easy to catch and kill, and don't really take a lot of work to shake off your tail or counter-attack.
These issues, and a couple of slightly long loading times aside, however, Star Wars: Squadrons manages to provide a truly engrossing take on multiplayer Star Wars space-battling action alongside a solid campaign that introduces some cool new characters, does a good job of showing players the ropes and tells a reasonably decent tale while it's at it. The force is definitely strong with this one.
Star Wars: Squadrons combines a solid campaign with a truly fantastic multiplayer element that throws players into an immaculately rendered vision of classic Star Wars action that contains enough depth and detail to satisfy hardcore pilots while still remaining accessible and fun for more casual players. There's not too much in the way of modes as things stand right now, and some players may be put off by the rather bare-bones upgrades and cosmetics on offer, but what is here packs a mighty fine punch, enabling fans of the franchise to live out their fantasies in epic dogfights full of truly iconic moments ripped straight from the classic movies. This is the best Star Wars space-battling action currently available on consoles and a must-play for Force freaks everywhere.