If you’ve ever watched any of the star wars films, then you’ve likely thought about what it’d be like flying around in one of the series’ iconic ships. We’ve been able to fulfil that dream to some extent in some of the older Star Wars games such as X-Wing, but the more recent Star Wars games have been lacking in some way or other. Now that seems to be remedied with Star Wars: Squadrons.
You follow two fighter-pilots in the final days of the Galactic Civil War, one on either side. You can customise their appearance to a limited degree, although the options are very limited. Once you have however, the gameplay more than makes up for it. Gameplay consists mainly of dogfighting: chasing and tailing enemy ships, locking onto them and then firing at them with everything you’ve got. But Squadrons is a little more strategic. You can direct power to either weapons, shields, engines, or have it balanced between all three, similar to Elite: Dangerous‘ power system. Additionally you can choose to focus your shields on your front, rear-end or spread it evenly across your ship, depending on where you’re being shot from most. Larger capital ships will have sub-systems you can target, and you’ll often be trying to shake missiles and enemy ships off your tail through tricky manoeuvres. You might also be asked to scan pieces of the environment, or other ships. It’s this kind of gameplay that will feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played games like House Of the Dying Sun.
Now Squadrons is fully playable in VR, and I took advantage of that using the recently released Oculus Quest 2, and the first thing that really stood out as a result is the HUD. It’s almost entirely integrated with your ship’s dashboard, and both sides have their pros and cons. Rebel X-Wings have windows you can look through all around you, but it’s actual HUD elements such as your power, hull and ship speed, are spread out across your dashboard. Imperial Tie-Fighters have a more closed space, with a single window to your front, but their HUD elements are more centralised. It’s through the details on these dashboards however, that you can see the amount of care the developers have put into the details of the ship. The style of the panels and the UI on them brings you right back to the original trilogy, the same sounds, colour schemes and tactile feeling.
The main thing that lets the game down however, is the lack of expressions in it’s characters. The cutscenes are fine, but when you talk to characters between missions in the game’s hub areas, it really feels constructed. Both of the playable characters are silent protagonists in these story moments, which I would argue doesn’t really suit the game, especially considering they sometimes talk for very brief moments during the missions. If it meant that we had one set character you couldn’t customise for either side, then I’d rather that, especially as the customisation system feels like a bare bones addition and incredibly token. It always feels like NPCs are talking at you, not with your character, going on expository monologues and having small moments of banter with other nearby characters. Additionally, their faces always seem to be mostly blank. They lip sync to their dialogue well enough, but they almost never smile, frown or have any real facial expression other than staring, cocking their head to the side, or turning to the character next to them. Mind you, the voice acting is done well, and as a result, radio chatter during the mission keeps you engaged with the story and the task at hand.
Now I haven’t by any means finished the game, not even close. As I’m writing this, I have not long finished my first session of the game, and I’m only a handful of missions into it. But at the moment, based on my current experience with the game, I’d highly recommend it. I haven’t tried the multiplayer yet, but already the story mode and practice mode makes it worth playing for me. I’ll likely do a full review of the game when I eventually finish the story mode, and have a go of it’s multiplayer modes.
Moving onto the Oculus Quest 2, I must admit, I was kindly lent the headset by my dad, with it already set-up. So while I cannot comment on how easy or hard it is to set up, I am happy to say that it is the best headset I’ve had a go with so far. Prior to this I had always pointed towards the Vive headset for being the best VR experience, followed by PSVR, mainly for its affordability, despite its exclusivity to Playstation. However, the Quest has considerably less cable management than the Vive, and is much more affordable, while still allowing you to play games through SteamVR. This allows much more free movement than the Vive allows, and it feels generally a lot less heavy. However, it is still a VR Headset, which means it will still be heavy enough to hurt your face a bit if you have it on for too long. Additionally, if you can’t get a stable internet connection, you will need to depend on a short cable connection to your computer, which limits your manoeuvrability, even when sitting stationary. You can purchase longer cables, but it does cost an extra $125 AUD. But if you can get a stable internet connection, then I can see this headset being leagues better than the Vive in that regard.
The other major problem is for those of us that wear glasses. With the Quest, if you need to wear your glasses to see properly, you can use a “Spacer” that comes with the headset, which allows more room in the headset for your glasses. However, I found that my glasses were held in place by the sides of the headset, sometimes putting it at an awkward angle, which would mess with the focus and blur the screen a bit for me. While it is fixable with a bit of fiddling around and fuss, it can get annoying, although it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker. One thing a fair amount of people have brought up is it’s speakers: they aren’t the greatest quality, but this isn’t that big of a deal if you own a good pair of headphones. As a result, I think the only major make or break detail for most people would be that Oculus is owned by Facebook and that you need to sign into a Facebook account to use it. I didn’t need to worry about this too much myself as the headset was lent to me, so I didn’t need to login in myself, but it may concern those who value their privacy and don’t trust big social media companies like facebook.
Shady social media companies aside, the headset itself is really well made. I had few issues with it, and it was very easy to fix the few that I did have. It’s much more affordable than most headsets, and it’s easier to move around in and doesn’t feel as limited. I had a really great time with the Oculus Quest 2 and I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a headset that is both this affordable, and enjoyable.