'Star Wars: Squadrons' is a perfectly pitched VR game
Star Wars: Squadrons feels like a master class in scoping. When I say this, I am not referring to the aiming system of a Tusken Raider rifle. Instead, I'm referring to the game's size, budget, and widespread VR support. Unlike Star Wars: Battlefront II and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, this isn't a $ 60 full-price title. Instead, it has been carefully set at $ 40, which confirms the notion that it is a smaller game with one simple goal: to deliver the most exciting and authentic Star Wars space battles to date.
The title is fully playable in VR, but you don't need a headset to enjoy it. This is a rare step in the video game industry. Most developers go one of two ways: they either make something that is primarily designed for TVs and monitors but has a secondary VR mode like the X-Wing mission of the original Battlefront. Or they do something like Vader Immortal, a game designed specifically for the unique features and limitations of VR. The latter category usually has a lower budget because the VR installation base is so much smaller than traditional consoles and PCs. The exception, of course, is when a massive corporation like Oculus is funding the entire game.
Seasons don't fall into one of those buckets, however. Instead, it's in the same one Resident Evil VII is in, and probably also in smaller titles like Tetris Effect and Superhot. These are games that can be recommended regardless of whether the end user owns a VR headset. You might prefer one style of play (I know a lot of people who believe PSVR is the best way to experience Resident Evil VII), but neither version is inherently inferior. It's a difficult balancing act that just isn't possible for some game concepts and genres. For example, you couldn't create a VR version of FIFA 21 without changing some of the basics on the field.
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However, a game like Squadrons has that potential. The inclusion of both play styles has dramatically increased the range of the game. This, in turn, has allowed EA to be more aggressive on price - which could increase the player base even further - and increase its production values. The eight-hour campaign is not the longest, but it is respectable by VR standards. In combination with the multiplayer suite, this is an attractive offer for any Star Wars fan, regardless of how you want to play.
To do this, developer Motive Studios had to create and rely on a very specific type of game.
In contrast to Battlefront II, for example, there is no way to move the camera behind the ship. You're always stuck in the cockpit, peeking through virtual panes of glass. Before I recorded the game, I was concerned about this design decision. I've looked at first-person perspective with racers like Gran Turismo Sport and Wipeout Omega Collection, but kept switching to an outside camera angle because I don't like it obscuring my view when trying to do a fast lap Time.
I feared that seasons would feel similarly restrictive and limit my ability to see what was going on around me. And these fears were justified to a certain extent. Part of the screen is always taken up by fictional computers, making it harder to keep an eye on fast-moving enemies. But this time I didn't mind the perspective. In fact, I enjoyed it. This is partly because my interest in spaceship interiors far exceeds hypercar cabins. I've always dreamed of sitting in an X-wing and the various controls have been engraved on my brain since I first saw A New Hope. Seeing, beeping, and flickering them all on the screen is satisfying in itself.
Star Wars: Seasons
This childlike joy goes beyond platforms. When you're wearing a VR headset, it's wonderfully fun to stare at your legs, covered in orange or black overalls depending on the side you're fighting for, or to quickly look to the left and see what's on yours Window rushes by. But the experience is just as compelling on a television or PC monitor. Every time you step on a new ship, you'll want to spend a good five minutes admiring the details that have gone into the seat, windows, switches, and displays.
The instrumentation is not only for show, but is also the primary HUD of the game. Some instruments explain how the ship's power is distributed. Others represent the gas and how much thrust you have left. And there is always one or two that demonstrate the structural integrity of the ship and, if you are lucky enough, the strength and placement of its shields. Each interior also has a virtual screen that confirms which ally, enemy or defense system you are currently pursuing in space.
As a result, these controls never feel disruptive or something to be mentally blocked. Instead, let them take a look. And during your first few missions, regardless of how you play, you'll watch them often.
The instrumentation is not just intended for shows.
Pushing a ship around in space is simple enough: using a controller, the left stick will adjust your speed (up and down) and roll the ship (left and right) horizontally, while the right stick will change your general direction. However, every ship has a half-throttle that is highlighted by a larger segment in the acceleration gauge that makes it a little easier to turn. In the heat of battle, you'll also have to switch between movement-, attack- and defense-optimized power profiles that are triggered at the push of a button and displayed on the dashboard with blue, red and green bars.
Star Wars: Seasons
Motives could have created an alternate HUD that works with an outside camera angle. But that was not the case. Instead, the company focused on a form of visualization that feels intuitive, whether you're staring at a TV or the inside of an Oculus Rift.
There is a lot to consider in the cockpit. Fortunately, most story missions start with a slow "Follow the Leader" section where you can experiment with the basic controls. Soon, however, you'll be shooting enemies with a mix of cannon fire and specialty weapons who, when using a controller, will be mapped onto the bumpers. The game will then introduce countermeasures against attacks and advanced techniques like boost drifting and custom shiploads.
The battle of the seasons is hectic and consistently fun. There are a variety of types of ships that require slightly different strategies for rainfall. If you are up against a lot of New Republic cruisers, you will likely want a TIE bomber as it has numerous armor and weapon options, such as: B. a Sienar team cannon that can pierce heavier defenses. Dogfights can turn into frustrating carousels on occasion - the way you spin and turn as fast as you can, but your opponent is doing the same and no one can actually line a shot - but for the most part, it's easy enough to track down your enemies and defeat.
The missions are linked by a story that is presented in a VR-friendly way. You embody two pilots who fight for the heroic Vanguard and sinister Titan squadrons. The prologue takes place during the original Star Wars trilogy, but the rest of the campaign takes place between the Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Just like the story from Battlefront II, she explores a new republic whose self-confidence is slowly growing and a weakened empire that seeks to recover after losing its leader, Emperor Palpatine.
Star Wars: Seasons
There are a total of 14 missions that switch between the perspective of the Titan and Vanguard teams. Before each mission, you can explore the hangar of your faction, speak to comrades and finally receive a hologram-assisted briefing from your commander. However, you cannot move like a traditional ego game. Instead, you have to move a screen cursor and jump between specific points in the 3D environment. The system is rudimentary, but works well in VR. I also appreciated that you can "inspect" your current Starfighter from different angles and, if you want, sit in the cockpit without having to worry about enemies, asteroids or satellites.
Navigating these environments feels strangely primitive on a television or monitor, however. And that's a shame because it's the only time the game has a particular style of play. Was the problem avoidable? Possibly if the developers had the time and resources to refine the hangar locations and implement a traditional movement system for non-VR gamers. But that's a lot of work for a relatively small part of the Squadrons experience. An important part of scoping is focus, and in this situation Motive probably made the right call. After all, the game is primarily a dog fighting simulator and not a narrative adventure like Tacoma.
That focus extends to the way the story is delivered. At the start of the game, you can choose what each of your pilots is called, as well as their gender, face and speaker. It's a nice idea with some obvious tradeoffs. They are never mentioned by name - simply Titan Three and Vanguard Five - and only speak occasionally during missions. Back in the hangar, your two characters are eerily silent, much like other legendary gaming heroes like Gordon Freeman, Doomguy and BioShock's Jack. Your combat ability will be enjoyed and will be enjoyed by mentioning where you were stationed between the prologue and the first mission. But you never get a personality like Iden Versio in the Battlefront II campaign. It is therefore up to you to fill in the blanks.
The game's supporting cast is great.
Thankfully, the game's supporting cast is great. Vanguard Squadron has personalities like Keo, an ex-racing driver who is slightly force sensitive, and Grace, the rebellious child of a family that makes TIE fighters. Titan Squadron, meanwhile, has Shen, a battle-hardened pilot held together by cybernetics, and Gray, a former police officer ready to retire. Chatting with these characters is completely optional. However, if you skip them, you will be missing out on some usually interesting backstories and perspectives. I particularly liked Sol's conversations examining the need for a new Imperial Senate after the death of Emperor Palpatine.
Star Wars: Seasons
I played through half of the Squadrons campaign on PSVR and the other half on my living room TV. I was torn between the two experiences, and that's a good thing. VR is a better representation of what it would actually be like to actually sit in a TIE fighter. The distance between the screen and your eyeballs can also better reproduce peripheral vision in combat. The tradeoff, however, is visual fidelity. The experience at PSVR was noticeably darker than my living room TV. When I really wanted to admire a mist, or when the anger billowed over Commander Kerrill's face, I took off the headset and played the traditional way for a while.
The ideal setup is of course a PC-operated headset and a compatible flight stick. However, most people do not have access to this type of hardware. And luckily it doesn't matter. Aside from hangar navigation, the game is still fun whether you're playing in front of a TV or a monitor. Motive achieved this by sticking to a smaller, simpler concept that revolves around a solid first-person perspective. It doesn't have the sweeping ambitions of Battlefront II, but that actually helps minimize features that make a style of play seem like an afterthought.
Squadrons is further proof that Resident Evil VII was no accident. With the right concept and design decisions, it is possible to develop a game that appeals to VR and TV audiences alike. It's a model that is admittedly difficult to replicate and unsuitable for some game genres like third party cover shooters. But it's one that studios should think long and hard about before starting their next VR project. If you can create a game that goes beyond the VR gamer base, in theory you can spend more and make more without having to rely on a blank check from Oculus or Sony.
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