Star Wars Episode I: Racer on the Nintendo 64was the first Star Wars game I ever played — at around the turn of the millennium. To my 15-year-old self, the podrace had been among the most thrilling elements of what I felt back then was a pretty entertaining enough film (the present-day me could not sit long enough for beyond Qui-Gon Jinn’s excuse about Midi-chlorians) along with also the game certainly did it justice.
From absolutely replicating the acrid dusty environs of the Boonta Training Course on Mos Espa and shooting that strangely satisfying’wug-wug-wug’ noise of a podracer as it makes a sharp turn, to featuring the ultimate Sebulba fanboy, that lovable scamp Watto, who takes the time to hum Mad About Me (more popularly known as’The Cantina Band Song’) to himself, Racer seemed to have everything. If this was not all, the match was a complete blast when played with a buddy (or enemy too, I suppose) in split-screen multiplayer mode. And for a little while, it was a remarkably exciting game which kept you coming back for more.
But we’ll get to all of that in good time. Having the ability to zoom, stalk, prowl or drift throughout the galaxy in eight unique starfighters is a mouth-watering potential in itself. Particularly once you consider that although the experience of flying spacecraft of one class (whether in terms of managing, offensive abilities, speed or the capacity to absorb damage) differs sufficiently from that of the following, there are dissimilarities between the Republic and Imperial vessels of the same course.
For instance, in the Fighter class, I discovered the Republic’s X-Wing to be a little more nimble compared to Imperial TIE Fighter, while the latter’s weaponry seemed more powerful than that of the former. Right off the bat, making a difference both strategically and tactically, and is not too far removed from the way playing as FC Barcelona is tactically and a completely different experience when compared with playing as Real Madrid (even though they might have similar overall ratings) in modern-day football matches. And you’ll notice this difference after you change classes or alliances over the course of the match.
The latter is further split into Dogfights and Fleet Battles, which we will examine in a little while. In all likelihood, it is the story mode you are very likely to jump into after shooting up the game, so let’s consider that first.
This is a very interesting dynamic that lets you experience both sides of the conflict, casting you on a single hand into the heart of the Empire’s efforts to rebuild after being humbled in the Battle of Endor and on another, to the Republic’s attempts to consolidate its profits having only destroyed the second Death Star. If all of this sounds Greek to you, revisiting the first trilogy of films is in order. Amid turns and twists aplenty — of both the literal and figurative varieties, you watch a story of revenge, redemption, brutality and human character develop from both perspectives. And it serves as a nice way to acquaint you with all the arsenal of starfighters at Squadrons’ disposal.
At least that’s the premise.
Actually, the eightish-hour-long campaign style is a glorified tutorial, dressed as a narrative. Considering the game’s greatest draw, in pre-release advertising and publicity, continues to be its multiplayer component, this isn’t always a terrible thing. All things considered, I could think of a lot worse things than a campaign that teaches one of the core game mechanics, alongside an engaging narrative. Unfortunately for Squadrons, that is only partially true. Why?
The effort style teaches you the core gameplay mechanics and even slips you a couple of suggestions which can come in very handy in the multiplayer arena is totally true. What makes this so much worse is that there has been so much possible to get a story told from both sides of the battle that could make you empathise with both positions. What it rather turns out to be is a hodgepodge of idle tropes, worse dialogue and personalities that are about as memorable as Captain Gregar Typho.
If this was an incident of Family Guy, we would cut to a photo of the good Captain Typho taking a break from his duties as head of Padmé Amidala’s security detail in the Galactic Senate, looking to the camera and intoning,”You don’t know who I am.” But this is not Family Guy, so let us press on.
It requires a special skill to create characters, who seem to hail the most dull morasses of this Star Wars universe, but Squadrons claws. But that isn’t the most egregious part of the narrative mode. That honor goes to the cutscene-mission briefing-actual mission-repeat arrangement of the narrative across 15 chapters (including a prologue). While the perspective changes, the format remains identical whether you’re in Empire or Republic camp.
The hangars and briefing rooms are laid out in exactly the same manner and your teammates mill about at the very same locations, ready to provide some painfully dull exposition or backstory. The urge to hit’skip’ was quite powerful. Sprinkled in between the’warfare table’ cutscenes (where combat plans are laid out… very gradually ) are a few brief glimpses of outdoorsy distance action in the kind of brief cutscenes which do a much better job pushing the story along than most of the inside stuff.
On the other hand, things are much brighter. Dogfights are your normal Team Deathmatch-style affairs, with upto 10 players divide into teams of five, while Fleet Battles are a more sophisticated version with teams competing to destroy one another’s Capital Ships. It is somewhat like the dynamic of Counter-Strike married partly with that of Capture the Flag, where every round sees one group tasked with the defence of a Capital Ship, along with the other tasked with assaulting it.
Interchangeable starfighters and customisable loadouts (in regard to the types of lasers, munitions and defensive gear like protective defenses you wish to stock) lend themselves to a variety of different combat styles, each replete with their own strengths and weaknesses, and make sure that no two rounds are indistinguishable.
Besides customising loadouts, the ability to guide power to shields (and also choose which side of your vessel gets most protecting ), engines or weapons at the flick of a button is the most handy indeed. Coupled with a solid control system that sees roll and throttle assigned to the left thumbstick, pitch and yaw to the right along with weapons and munitions about the triggers, it’s the targeting mechanism — which tags either objectives, allies, enemies or whatever else you fancy — which makes this whole space flight company so much easier to navigate. On the aesthetic side, whilst space and its various components — stars, galaxies, nebulae, ships, asteroids and explosions — are pleasing enough to the eye, so it’s how the HUD makes sense for in-cockpit tools that makes for real immersion. I’d go as far as to say that what about the gameplay feels right: It is facile enough to pick up, but quite tricky to master, even at moderate difficulty levels.
Squadron’s difficulty overall is that besides the rich gameplay mechanisms, the bundle is just too thin to even justify a pricetag of Rs 2,499. There are six multiplayer maps on offer, which can be great fun for a while but just like Star Wars Episode I: Racer, that pleasure wears thing when you’re zipping around the exact same hulking mounds of debris or even tricky asteroid fields, and understand the ins and outs like the back of your own hand.
Ship conflicts have always held a special place in the Star Wars lore, if you’re talking about the Battle of Yavin (A New Hope), the Obi-Wan Kenobi-Jango Fett dogfight (Attack of the Clones), the Battle of Scarif (Rogue One) or the Escape From Jakku (The Force Awakens). And over time, we have seen a fair few games which have taken a solid crack at nailing this particular genre. While there have been several success stories such as X-Wing vs TIE Fighter and X-Wing Alliance, Squadrons supplies one of the very intuitive, challenging and rewarding experiences among Star Wars space flight/combat sims in terms of its gameplay . Everything disappoints, either instantly or in time.