More than a hundred video games have made use of the Star Wars license over the past four decades. Few, however, have managed to create the illusion of actually being in those movies as effectively as the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games of the early nineties. Putting you in the cockpit of your very own starfighter, they allowed players to experience what it would really be like to take part in the saga’s epic space battles. It’s been more than 20 years since the last instalment, X-Wing Alliance, was released, but thanks to Canadian developer Motive Studios, the spirit of those games lives on, embodied in this unashamed love letter to the MS-DOS classics.
Squadrons allows you to earn your wings as part of the fledgling New Republic and as a cog in the Imperial war machine. The campaign, spread across 15 separate missions, could easily be seen as an extended tutorial for the game’s multiplayer. However, even if you have little interest in taking your battles online, there’s a wealth of enjoyment to be had from jumping into what proves to be a surprisingly engaging tale of betrayal and revenge. The story begins with a prologue set shortly after the Battle of Yavin in Episode IV, and then picks up post Return Of The Jedi with the Empire in ruins but the war far from over. Missions see you as the newest recruit in the New Republic’s Vanguard Squadron, helping facilitate a push against the Imperial remnant. Then, a few missions in, you hop battle lines and parachute into the Empire’s Titan Squadron, seeking to undo much of what your previous persona has just accomplished.
The campaign may be on the short side but there’s variety enough, with convoy escorts, straight up dogfights, a nebula ambush and even the theft of a Star Destroyer to keep things interesting, all the while building to a truly epic finale. The range of tasks also provides an opportunity to sample the different ships and loadouts, ranging from agile ship-to-ship fighters (A-Wing/TIE Interceptor), heavy ordnance bombers (Y-Wing/TIE Bomber), support vessels (U-Wing/TIE Reaper) and, of course, the versatile workhorse that is the trusty X-Wing or standard TIE. Each has their clear strengths and weaknesses and, as missions progress, it’s up to you to pick the right tool for the job at hand.
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- Read the Empire game review of. Vehicle mechanics are much improved, however — a delight given how much of the game can be spent in cars.
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Both Republic and Imperial squadrons comprise an assortment of distinctive characters, making your wingmen feel like more than just anonymous voices on a comlink and giving greater impetus to help them when they get in a jam. The forced conversations inbetween missions can feel rather stilted and inorganic, but the banter mid-battle adds significantly to the immersion, and further enhanced by appearance of some familiar characters, including Denis Lawson, who reprises his role as stalwart Rebel space jockey Wedge Antilles.
Anyone old enough to remember the original X-Wing will feel instantly at home behind the stick in any of Squadrons’ various cockpits. For the uninitiated, however, the level of complexity may come as a surprise. Unlike the Rogue Squadron titles, or the vehicular sections of Battlefront games, Squadrons puts you directly at the controls of your chosen ship, expecting you to keep an eye on the instrument panels, while managing your fighter’s shields and energy requirements — all in addition to the task of actually flying the thing. By diverting power to weapons, shields or engines you can adjust your performance on-the-fly to suit the situation. Strafing a corvette? Some extra oomph in weapons will help chew up their hull. Going toe-to-toe with a Star Destroyer? Maybe beef up the shields to take some of the heat, or fire up the engine to get the hell out of Dodge. Likewise, you can reinforce shields fore or aft to soak up incoming fire more effectively, use boost and drift techniques to bamboozle pursuers, all while having fine-tuned everything from blasters, to support ordnance, hull plating and engines to make your fighter perform exactly how you like it.
A gold-plated example of how to do Star Wars well.
Squadrons is as much simulation as it is arcade game and as such can be a daunting proposition early on, but one that will become second nature soon enough. Once you’re comfortable with the finer points of system management and familiar with the various cockpit readouts (which vary from ship to ship), the game offers an immersive Star Wars experience without peer. George Lucas’ films drew upon such WWII classics as The Dam Busters and Tora! Tora! Tora! as their blueprint for dogfights and that influence is fully felt here. As TIEs howl past, blasters spit towards their target and explosions rattle the cockpit, this is as close as you can get to living Star Wars’ frenetic space combat first-hand. Being able to free look around the cockpit ( clunky, seventies aesthetic reproduced in full) is an absolute joy — one magnified tenfold when experienced in VR.
Donning a helmet on either PC or PlayStation transforms Squadrons into what is arguably the single greatest Star Wars experience available. The ability to scan the starscape for fighters, glance across as you buzz the bridge of a Star Destroyer, and even cast a look back at the droid frantically trying to patch up your ship, is transformational. After a single mission played with the headset on, it’s almost impossible to imagine experiencing the game any other way. And while the PSVR’s limited resolution is a drawback, hooking the PC version up to an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive allows the game to completely envelope you and stands as the definitive Squadrons experience.
In terms of longevity, the multiplayer forms the spine of Squadrons’ lasting appeal. 5 vs 5 dogfights make up the appetiser, but the main course is undoubtedly Fleet Battles, which take the form of huge engagements that mix player vessels with AI fighters, all backed up by huge capital ships. They’re fun, lengthy and highly tactical matches, that see you take down enemies to swing the Morale meter in your direction, allowing you to take the fight to the enemy frigates and, ultimately, to down the flagship. Lose momentum and you’re back on the defensive, frantically trying to keep enemy bombers from your own fleet. Teamwork here is key, and while getting relentlessly pummelled when your wingmen wander off is frustrating, the sheer joy of hurtling through space at the controls of your fighter, weaving in and out of turbo laser fire as you pick off ship subsystems to gradually weaken its defences is such giddy stuff that you'll struggle to wipe the mile-wide grin from your face.
After more misses than hits with recent Star Wars titles, EA has knocked this one out of the galactic park with a game that clearly puts players first and mercifully avoids some of the more distasteful aspects of modern gaming — there are no in-app purchases of any kind here, with all unlocks, be they material or cosmetic, available exclusively through play and progression. Recreating the magic of the movies to spectacular effect, Squadrons is one of the most well-realised Star Wars titles to date, taking one particular aspect of the movies and recreating it with exceptional fidelity. For anyone who grew up playing X-Wing on an old 486, this will be a burst of glorious nostalgia. For everyone else this is a gold-plated example of how to do Star Wars well and among the best uses of the license to date.
If you’ve ever wanted to inhabit Lucas’ universe and dreamed of living out your fantasy as a daring Rebel pilot or Imperial ace, Squadrons absolutely delivers.
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After the disappointing remaster of Mafia II back in May, this ground-up remake of the original Mafia game is a bit more like it – although the emphasis is very much on 'a bit', as this rebuild crime classic isn't without its own faults.
Originally released in the misty depths of time mortals refer to as 2002, Mafia told the rise and fall of Tommy Angelo, growing from struggling cabbie to esteemed member of the Salieri crime family. That remains the case for the remake, albeit with newly recorded dialogue and performance capture to better place this remake alongside the cinematic gangster movies it's so clearly inspired by.
The core of the game is the single-player narrative, told in flashback by a desperate, harried Tommy a decade or so after the game kicks off in 1930. Early chapters double as tutorial, relaying the game's systems to the player while also cleverly pacing Tommy's induction into the criminal underworld – each step he takes into his new life delivers a new mechanic, from evading cops, to stealing cars, to fisticuffs, to weapons. By the time you're up to speed on the game's systems, Tommy's gunning down rival crooks and unable to wash the blood from his hands.
As a remake, don't expect anything of the depth and quality of Final Fantasy VII Remake though. While this is a visually resplendent world that developer Hangar 13 has created, there isn't as much to sing about in structural overhauls. Mechanically, Definitive Edition hews closest to Mafia III, although a 'Classic' difficulty mode aligns more closely to the 2002 version, with harsher limits on ammunition and more alert police responses. In either case, shooting only ever feels fine at best, and melee combat is clunky. The occasional moments where stealth is an option are great though – unfortunately, there aren't enough of them.
As a remake, don't expect anything of the depth and quality of Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Vehicle mechanics are much improved, however — a delight given how much of the game can be spent in cars. There are a host of vehicles to acquire – illicitly, usually – in the game, and the Definitive Edition introduces motorbikes for the first time. Although each will have their own performance specifications, at their best the cars and bikes here are a joy to zoom around in. There's a real pleasure in zipping along country lanes at speed, or swerving through city traffic while evading the cops.
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What may frustrate both new and returning players though is the rigid linearity of the game. For as much as Mafia riffs on the likes of The Godfather, this isn't a movie to be consumed passively, yet its habit of simply guiding players from shootout to car heist to shootout again often feels like it would rather be one. That the campaign offers few real opportunities to go off on a tangent is a shame, given the rebuilt setting – the fictional city of Lost Heaven, a glorious metropolis surrounded by lush farmland and beautiful lakes – begs to be explored.
To somewhat make up for this, there's the Free Ride mode, unlocked after completing the first chapter. This lets you explore Lost Heaven at your own pace, allowing you to drive around the vast world or wander on foot. Unfortunately, this highlights another problem – this heaven is empty. Sure, people wander the streets, helping build an atmosphere befitting a major city, but you can't really interact with them. Only a few select buildings can be entered. Fancy driving out to that distant house in the hills that you can see on your map? Go ahead – but don't expect to find anything there, apart from unusual sounds emanating from an inaccessible building.
If you're looking for a tightly told rags-to-riches gangster story set in a stunningly presented world, Mafia: Definitive Edition is worth your time. If you're hoping for more to do in that world, or reason to explore beyond the simple enjoyment of racing around and admiring the scenery, you may be disappointed.
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Buy now from Amazon onPS4 _or_ XB1_._