Reviewlet: Star Wars: Squadrons

Star Wars: Squadrons plays very well, it’s a worthy modernised X-Wing. It does have a couple of snags, though. The VR support is somewhat flaky; it seems that my particular combination of an Oculus Quest with the Steam version of the game using Steam VR is particularly problematic. The procedure goes something like put the headset on, take it off, put it back on, peek out from under it at the monitor to check for any messages, gaze at pitch blackness for a while unsure if something might be loading, gaze at swirling patterns for a while longer, and finally something inevitably crashes; I haven’t yet actually managed to fly in VR. One suggestion was to refund the Steam game and buy it on Origin instead, but I’m hoping that a patch or seven should sort out the issues eventually.

A second snag is the control system. I have an old Saitek joystick with a built in throttle, twist-rudder, hat switch etc, nothing enormously fancy to accurately replicate all 400 switches of an actual aircraft cockpit, but I thought it would be sufficient. For the basics it works admirably: general flight, firing lasers and missiles, the hat switch allows for rapid deployment of power to weapons, shields or engines as required. Even in the simplified world of starfighters, though, you need plenty of buttons, particularly when you get into the finer points of targeting and issuing orders; when the game instructed me to press button 12 I had issues, what with the joystick only having six buttons and all. The game copes about as gracefully as it can (short of actually working out that button 12 doesn’t exist), a quick wiggle of the mouse and the on-screen instruction tells you to press the appropriate letter of the keyboard instead. One hand on the keyboard with the other on the joystick is functional enough as a control mechanism (at least outside VR, it might be trickier without being able to see the keys), though it does mean foregoing the throttle on the joystick. I had a quick look for a separate throttle controller, or entire HOTAS set, but it seems that the combination of Microsoft Flight Simulator and Squadrons has led to something of an international throttle shortage. Probably not a bad thing to save me from an impulse buy; the low-end sets have pretty variable reviews, decent sets are a good chunk of change for a controller that would almost certainly go back into storage for long periods.

Without VR and full HOTAS Squadrons is fine, a very solid game, but lacks that extra something to really set it apart. The story and voice-work do what they need to do, but your all-action character of Mute Pilot Frequently Present During Soliloquies doesn’t really give much of a sense of involvement between missions. I haven’t even finished the single player campaign, let alone stuck a toe in the water of PvP, it’s just not really forcing itself to the top of the “to play” list at the moment.

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