I discovered Star Wars when I was about twelve. My parents are not big science fiction fans, so my first encounter came through a video game: X-Wing. Last month, after some two decades of nothing substantial, a new Star Wars space shooter came out: Squadrons.
It’s VR, baby
Normally, I’d put a screenshot of the game at the top of the post. Instead, you’re looking at me with my VR gear. Like a lot of people, I’ve been seeking new ways to entertain myself during the pandemic. Of course, I’ve had it relatively easy. Well, mostly. So, my well-wishes to everybody who has it worse than me. But for me, the pandemic has also been a reason for some new things. One of these purchases was buying a friend’s VR headset second-hand.
I was always a bit skeptical about VR. Back in the nineties, I went to university, where they had one, but it was only available to research assistants and sometimes rolled out during — surprise-surprise — tours for prospective students. The long lines deterred me when I was a prospective student, and I never became a research assistant. We’ve had one at my job for years, at another department, but I never got around to having a go. And friends of mine went to a VR arcade, unfortunately, just as I was in Dublin. So, I never got to try it out, and was a bit worried it was like the Viewmaster of my youth, ‘cool idea, but not that great in practice.’
Boy, I was wrong. I was instantly mesmerized by VR. It’s awesome. Exhausting, but awesome.
So, when a VR-capable Star Wars space sim came along I had to get it.
So, when Star Wars: Squadrons came out, I dusted off my old joystick and put on my VR goggles, ready to go. There was a short 2D intro movie, followed by me inside a Star Destroyer hangar, looking up at a Tie Fighter…. Squee.
The first bump in the road happened as my Tie Fighter shot out of its docking clamp, me in the cockpit. It started spinning instantly. Well, dang, my joystick had not aged well. The rolling axis was messed up. You can set up a so-called dead zone for each axis, but I had to set it to roughly 80%, which is not a good idea. And after that, I quickly ran out of buttons. Well, dang. So, back to the online store for a HOTAS (hands on throttle-and-stick) setup.
Okay, so I shouldn’t have gone overboard. But… space-sim-X-wing-nostalgic-squee-VR-pandemic-need-comfort! Okay, so I bought a Thrustmaster 16000 set, as you can see in the picture above.
And then… it was f*ing awesome.
I haven’t actually written about the game yet, I realize. As I stated, it’s a space sim. You get to sit in the cockpit of a New Republic fighter (X-wing, Y-Wing, A-Wing, or U-Wing) or the equivalent Empire fighter (Tie fighter, Tie Interceptor, Tie Bomber, or Tie Reaper). And you fight in a squadron (hence the name Star Wars: Squadrons).
I’m more of a single-player kind of guy – I’ve long passed thirty and get my ass kicked by all the youngsters, usually. So I played the Single Player campaign. But in both single-player and multi-player you get to fly in your space ship and shoot at stuff.
Of course, X-Wing and its successor Tie Fighter were single player games, as was my other nineties favorite Wing Commander 3 and had varied missions requiring you to save shuttles, bomb capital ships, or simply destroy waves of enemies. It even had the trench run. Star Wars; Squadrons builds on that, with a similar mission system. Of course, times have changed, and a lot more is possible these days. So, there’s missions in asteroid fields, nebulae, and inside asteroids and space stations.
All in all, it’s pretty cool. Well, let me say: it’s awesome in VR. For me. It’s both a trip down memory lane, gameplay I enjoy (shoot stuff in space). To top it off, in VR I get to feel like I’m actually sitting inside an X-wing in the middle of a rebel fleet. Boyhood dream come true.
That said, I have noticed the occasional bug (like the first rebel mission glitching even after repeated restarts). Also, starting the game takes forever, like make-some-tea-and-wait-a-while forever. Could be my VR headset, which is designed for wireless use and only connected through a USB3 cable. Ah well, I still like it.
Star Wars: Squadrons is awesome. If you have VR and HOTAS, or are old enough for X-Wing and Tie Fighter. If none of these apply to you, you might still like the game, but I doubt it’s as much fun on a controller on a TV, or with mouse and keyboard on a PC.
Still, it’s the best space shooter I’ve played in two decades.