It's the stuff of every Star Wars fan's fantasies: a grand battle between X-Wings and TIE fighters, peppered with laser cannon fire and big explosions. That's what Star Wars: Battlefront promises with its newly announced Fighter Squadron multiplayer mode, and for the most part, it duly delivers. The question that lingers for me, though, is whether such 10 versus 10 dogfights actually make for a truly enjoyable gaming experience. I tried the thing here at Gamescom in Cologne and the answer still eludes me.
It's very realistic, but is it fun?
To keep gameplay perfectly balanced, the game's makers have made the X-Wings and TIE fighters functionally identical. You have the same weapons, the same elusiveness, and the same durability whichever side you're fighting on. You're also equally disoriented in both cockpits. The controls aren't the most intuitive to grasp and it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out the proper relationship between the left stick, which controls your aircraft's speed, and the right, which steers you around. Beyond the game's basic mechanics, you also have to adapt to being in a vehicle with momentum — this makes it difficult to stay constantly locked on to one target, and the targets themselves fly by at great speed.
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It's worth acknowledging the big "Alpha" label in the top-right corner of the screen, designating this as still a very early iteration in the development of the final Battlefront game. That being said, I didn't spot any bugs or aberrant behavior during my two rounds of Fighter Squadron with a group of fellow Gamescom attendees. It's just not a terribly accessible mode and it takes some refinement and adaptation before you're able to do anything more than stumbling around until a more skilled player picks you off.
The Millennium Falcon is a special guest superstar in this mode, though in order to get to fly it, you have to collect a special token during the match. These are positioned very close to the ground, and my best effort at swooping down to grab one resulted in an unfortunate, ignoble crash. Guess I'll just need to keep practicing. The EA reps who've flown the Falcon around tell me that it feels like being in a "tank in the sky," which would make a nice upgrade from the flimsy X-Wings I was in. Yes, it's the fighter's fault I got shot down so many times. Honest.
Star Wars: Battlefront will be released on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on November 17th.
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