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Saturday, October 10, 2020

Star Wars: Squadrons has Chris feeling like he's 20 years old all over again

For the vastest part I have moved on past video games.  These days if I play any game at all it's going to be something like a rewarding round of Go against a human opponent, or the miniatures game Warhammer 40,000 (either of which provides for keen exercise of the tactical mind).  You know, something physical with tactile sensation.  A few months ago I reviewed Gears Tactics, but then again Gears of War for me isn't so much a game franchise as it is an epic tale (along with the BioShock games and Halo).  And that came when we ALL needed something to keep from going totally bonkers from COVID sequestration from society...

But about that same time came word of Star Wars: Squadrons.  Electronic Arts' foray into what seemed like the first truly dedicated Star Wars flight sim since perhaps X-Wing: Alliance all the way back in 1999.  Oh sure, there have been others involving an element of space warfare.  But the still much-beloved X-Wing series went beyond "aiming and shooting" by adding power management, ordnance selection and other elements that made it truly feel like you were responsibly flying a real ship.  And then there was how 1994's TIE Fighter somehow made you glad to be blasting those Rebel insurgents into space dust!

No Star Wars game like that has come about in the more than two decades since X-Wing: Alliance.  In fact, the entire flight sim genre has seemed pretty much dead or at best in deep coma.  Would one be welcomed with eager arms today?

Based on the wild reviews and raving word of mouth about Star Wars: Squadrons, the answer to that question is an emphatic "Yes!".  So yesterday evening I took the plunge and bought the game.

And now?  I have felt like a 20 year-old kid all over again, that very first night when X-Wing installed on my MS-DOS machine (running on a 486-SX CPU with 4 megabytes of RAM and a 70 megabyte hard drive... yes, I'm ancient).

Star Wars: Squadrons is the X-Wing games all over again, updated to the nth degree.  I've played through the prologue and just a few missions into the main game but that's been enough to bowl me over.  It looks so new, and yet it is so beautifully familiar.  The cockpit layouts look almost exactly the same as they did for the X-Wing games over a quarter century ago: if you ever played TIE Fighter, your first moments inside Squadrons' standard TIE will be a rapturous return to warm surroundings.  The ever-trusty X-wing starfighter looks almost precisely as it did circa 1993.  Even the cargo vessels - those boxy ships we all thrilled to scan for legal goods or Imperial war materiel back in the day - make a faithful return to form.

Maybe I'm missing it so far, but the ONLY aspects from the X-Wings series that I've found absent from Star Wars: Squadrons are the ability to direct more power to front or rear shields, and getting to cycle lasers between one blast or the (slower but more powerful) four blasts at once.  Or maybe they're in the game and I've missed them.  If it hasn't been implied enough already, I've felt like a wide-eyed kid in a candy store playing this game.  It's been reliving a phase of my life that was well before all of the griefs and heartbreaks came over the years since.

Who'd have thought that a video game could make someone feel so spirited again?

There is the single player story mode.  There is also a multiplayer cross-platform function, which I haven't tried yet but some friends are due to be getting Squadrons soon and we'll likely be playing it together.  Which, I'm looking forward to hooking up with them and shooting those Rebel scu... errr, Imperial swine out of the sky.  Until then, there's plenty of time to practice with the single-player campaign.

Game studio Motive deserves a heap o' praise for not just delivering a solid combat flight sim, but making what some are hailing as one of the best Star Wars games in a very long time.  And from me especially, they get mega high marks for tapping into the vein of the X-Wing series and bringing that same spirit back to Earth for a new generation of gamers to discover and enjoy.

X-Wing: Squadrons is available now for XBox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows.  I know it's on Steam for PC users and it may be for sale on the online stores for the consoles.  It's perfectly playable via keyboard and mouse but for a more realistic feel I'll recommend a moderately priced flight stick.  I'm using an older Microsoft SideWinder Precision joystick and it works perfectly fine.