I have no need for the petty foot-based battles of filthy rebels and shiny Stormtroopers, adorable prequel droids and Order 66-awaiting clones. My star wars take place in the heavens of Battlefront II’s Starfighter Assault mode, so good it should be its own game.
Star Wars has a history of producing very good games focused solely on space battles. The X-Wing series, Rogue Squadron, Starfighter—these are games that delivered the experience of participating in the starborne battles that set my young imagination on fire back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Then there are games that treat space battles as more of an afterthought, catering mainly to the fans who like to dress up in robes and armour and swing around replica laser swords (good, fine people). Games like 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront, in which a well-meaning EA Dice turned air battles into games of “whoever can spin the longest without throwing up wins.”
Battlefront II’s Starfighter Assault mode is part of a larger, mostly foot-based endeavour, but it feels like a standalone space combat game.
It’s the sounds of the ships screaming through space, the “plut plut plut” of the lasers. It’s the sense of speed when the boosters kick in, the light and imagined heat of a narrowly-missed explosion. It’s the way the camera moves around the ships, as if everything’s moving so fast that whoever or whatever is filming it all is struggling to keep up.
It’s Criterion Games, is what it is. The studio behind Burnout—no stranger to speed, funky cameras and explosions—got its hands on space combat this time round (Criterion did the speeder bikes in 2015’s Battlefront), and they did a bang-up job. It’s near-sensory perfection, or as perfect as flying an imaginary spaceship can get. Combined with outstanding maps that have players flying through massive Star Destroyers rather than just near them, dodging the scenery instead of admiring it, Starfighter Assault is one of the best arcade-style spaceship dogfighting games ever made.
This is Heather playing, by the way. She gets the back pats.