Gamescom 2015: Star Wars Battlefront has the dogfighting you’ve been looking for (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

What was it?

Two rounds of the new Fighter Squadron mode in an X-Wing on the Solace map.

What did we learn?

— Flight controls much simpler than anything in Battlefield series.

— Arena relatively small but keeps you in the fight consistently.

— Evasive manoeuvres are on a meter, so must be used wisely.

— Accessible controls make some high-precision manouevers tricky.

How was it?

After many were left disappointed by the news that Battlefront won’t have space battles, Gamescom’s reveal of planetary dogfights through Fighter Squadron was most welcome. After getting the chance to play a couple of rounds in an X-Wing, I must say that I’m still as excited as ever about DICE’s multiplayer shooter.

The developer has wisely adopted the Titanfall philosophy of giving players both human and AI opponents to shoot, meaning you’re never left wandering for too long as you search for the next target. There’s always something to bring down (and more often than not, lots of bullets to evade, too). The pleasant surprise was that no matter how congested the air traffic, not once did an air collision destroy my X-Wing. At times I appeared to fly directly into a friendly, but it seems that DICE may have turned off collisions to keep people in the fight as much as possible. I mean, it’d be embarrassing to lose the galaxy because you didn’t check your wing mirrors, wouldn’t it?

Controls are much simpler than the air combat vehicles in Battlefield: the left stick governs your speed while the right changes direction. Bullets can’t be spammed thanks to the heat meter, while shields, rockets and evasive manoeuvres all have a cooldown period. The simplification of flight, however, seems to have come at the consequence of pulling off more intricate movements. Swooping down to the ground to pick up perks to refuel my weapons and shields or to gain some health back can prove impossible at steep angles, especially if you come in at high speeds. Which makes sense in reality, but then Star Wars is hardly known for its realistic physics.

The second an enemy is on your tail, targeting you with their rockets, your crew will send an alert. Evasive moves, again, can only be used once before requiring a recharge, so going too soon without strategy will see your chaser slow and then simply pick you off. It’s about timing, picking the moment to dodge and when to raise your shields in order to survive the fight. Thankfully, being the chaser is equally thrilling: trying desperately to get a lock on before a TIE Fighter gets away is tense and exciting, and the satisfaction of watching a ship explode into bits is great.

Points in the game are awarded based on what you do: it’s the first to 200, with one point awarded for killing AI, more for humans and a whole 20 for completing an objective. In the Gamescom demo the objective was to bring down enemy carrier ships before they exited the battlefield. As you play, there’s a chance you’ll get to fly the Millennium Falcon (on the good side, of course). Unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to get the perk, but speaking to others who did, they described the experience as like drawing a giant target on your back. As every ship, friend and foe, is visible on the HUD at all times, rather than on a limited radar in the lower left, the Falcon sticks out like a sore thumb.

Star Wars Battlefront’s Fighter Squadron is, essentially, about maintaining control while the world around you is going to hell. Everything is happening all at once: your job is to try and stay alive and maybe pick off a few ships along the way. It’s also immense fun. The first round I made but a single kill (more than a few suicides, though) and still enjoyed it*. It’s yet another mode that’s made me hugely excited for Battlefront’s November launch.

*Let the record show that I owned it in the second round, though.

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