As I load into Fighter Squadron—the newly announced multiplayer mode of Star Wars: Battlefront—I'm thinking of my editor. The aerial dogfights of the 10-vs-10 team deathmatch feel tailor made for people who, like Samuel, really like Star Wars. I think he'd find something joyous in the spectacle, as squadrons of X-Wings and Tie Fighters engage in ferocious bursts of conflict. More than that, Fighter Squadron, like so much of Battlefront, pays attention to the little details. It's simple things, like the way a spawning X-Wing pilot will declare "Red Fourteen, standing by," as the player is given control.
I'm not fanatical about Star Wars, but I am interested in how DICE is re-purposing aerial combat as a sci-fi adventure. Fighter Squadron builds upon the Air Superiority mode last seen in Battlefield 3's End Game DLC. Battlefront offers a more streamlined take on dogfighting. There are brief, timed objectives, but for the most part my team's job is to bring down Tie Fighters. We do, but not before the Imperials earn the 200 points needed to win the match.
Simplicity is Fighter Squadron's greatest strength, and the mode is extremely efficient at creating characteristically Star Wars moments. Movement is bound to the left stick (EA is demoing on the Playstation 4), and thrust to the right—a control scheme so easy to use that within seconds of spawning, I'm bearing down on an enemy pilot. By holding the left trigger, I can target my prey. It's not just a missile lock, but also an aim assist. By targeting a player, I'm given a wider radius to blast them with my lasers.
My enemy knows this. The game flashes up an alert whenever a player has you locked in. It instantly creates that classic dogfighting setup. I'm on their six, and they know it. It's up to them to outmanoeuvre me—utilising the D-pad's evasion options—before my lasers and missiles finish them off. It's an instantly exciting feeling, and it happens multiple times over the course of a match.
To create a sense of large-scale aerial warfare there are AI players to pad out each team. Naturally, they're not as good as their human counterparts, and as such provide less points when brought down. They're the cannon fodder, providing an unchallenging kill as a pace-breaker between the more involved process of human-on-human combat.
AI troop transports spawn infrequently as a bonus objective. Depending on their allegiance, your job is to attack or defend them. Most of the time, Fighter Squadron seems tuned to support players weaving in and out of their own specific battles with little regard for the overall picture. Here, everyone is pointed at a specific location, and told to converge for a large and chaotic battle. It doesn't always work out like that. The short duration of each transport's visit means that many players were left out of range.
Twisting and tumbling around the clouds of Sullust is plenty exciting, but not as exciting as twisting and tumbling inches above its surface. To encourage daring manoeuvres, DICE has littered the planet's floor with power-ups. Diving to the floor gives you chance to repair, or to reduce the cooldown timers on your ship's abilities. It also, if you're me, gives you the chance to get smashed into little pieces against a cliff. This happened many times.
A special power-up lets the player who collects it take control of a 'Hero' ship—the Millennium Falcon for the rebels, or Boba Fett's Slave-1 for Imperials. I didn't get to fly either, but their appearance is another flashpoint of action that shakes up the status quo. Hero ships boast higher attack and defence stats, and make for a tantalising target for the opposing team.
Fighter Squadron bolsters Battlefront's multiplayer line-up with some enjoyable and easy to play aerial combat. I'm not convinced there's much tactical depth here, and—having played both—I'm far more convinced by Eve: Valkyrie's potential for enduring appeal. But Fighter Squadron is just one part of a much larger package. If you do really like Star Wars, it brilliantly captures the feeling of flying with your very own rogue squadron.