Star Wars: Squadrons pays more homage to TIE Fighter than it had to
Get into the screaming spaceship
My first mission in Star Wars: Squadrons (which I shall now call Squadwarns for the sake of ease), saw me jumping into a TIE fighter to have a nose around a big asteroidy space dock thing, looking for refugees from the recently-burst planet of Alderaan. My space boss reckoned those refugees might be hiding in cargo transports, so he told me to scan some cargo transports. 'That looks familiar', I thought to myself, as I approached one of the big, blocky things. I'd seen that ship design before, you see.
And when the scan started, and the transport's model appeared in wireframe on my simulated cockpit's little computer screen, I had a real little moment. Because it was, of course, the exact transport design encountered in 1994's TIE Fighter. That was why it looked so blocky, I think: because if you were designing a ship for a 3D flight sim in the early nineties, it kinda had to be blocky. But what really did me in, was that the transport looked more impressive as a wireframe model on a deliberately rubbish retrofuturist computer screen, inside my computer screen, than it had done on my actual computer screen in 1994. Huh.
When the Squadwarns trailer came out back in June, I got really excited. As I said back then, while I've become pretty much indifferent to the constant nostalgia sell of Star Wars as a whole, playing TIE Fighter as an 11-year-old may be my most treasured PC gaming memory, and so my heart was ripe for plundering on that front. The next day, I posted a rebuttal to my own excitement, as I realised it was commercially unrealistic for anyone to make a proper successor to TIE Fighter in 2020. But I still hoped Squadwarns would have a go.
Well, I'm pleased to report that it has had a go. I'm only a few missions in to the single player campaign, but I'm assured it runs to the standard seven-or-eight hour mark, which is clearly some way short of the eight-billion-hour play time of TIE Fighter's campaign. Beyond that, though, there are plenty of buttons pressed for the wistful TIE Fighter player. You go to a concourse between missions, where you can't walk around (although you can look around now, at a bustling rebel or imperial hangar), but you can click on doors to go and do various pilot things! There are briefings, with little coloured outlines of the various ships that'll be present!
And most importantly, there's power management! Basically, you can choose whether to divert reactor power to your shields, your lasers, or your engines, to the detriment of the other systems' performance. In fact, calling it "management" might be a bit much, because power diversion is a binary, all-or-nothing thing, and you can switch between Shooty Mode, Tanky Mode and Zooming Mode. So yeah, it's been a little simplified.
'Simplified' is probably the word my experience with the game so far boils down to, actually. It's TIE fighter, but with 25 years of visual improvement (because yes, it is gorgeous), and it's also had a life-changing head injury that means it struggles with long sentences now. That's not to say the flight simulation is without nuance, mind. It's just that everything seems designed so that a newborn baby or an ordinary hound could comprehend it. I'll reserve judgement on the story until I've played it through, but so far it's fair to say that the beats of the writing are fairly... unambiguous, I guess is the word.
But I'd much rather Squadwarns ended up being a tiny bit bland, than just... shit. And so far "a tiny bit bland" seems to be the lowest bar it's likely to hit. I have the feeling it's going to grow on me, in fact. I want it to; put it that way.
I've not experienced the hardware problems a lot of people are griping about, so I can't comment on those. And I've not had a try at it with friends yet, or indeed in multiplayer at all. But barring a disaster on either of those fronts, there doesn't seem to be anything in this game not to like. I hope there's more in it to love than I'm seeing so far, though. It's pretty, for sure, but that's never really been what makes me fall in love with games. One look at that wireframe cargo transport reminded me of that.
Anyway, I'm going to review Squadwarns properly next week, once I've had a chance to play the whole campaign, and do some fights against humans. See you then!