It's difficult to look past the furore surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2 in order to appreciate the work that's been put in beneath the loot boxes. So pernicious are the game's microtransactions that they seep into almost every facet of the game, and while EA has now removed them altogether while they "fix" the mess they've created, the black hole of enjoyment its loot boxes created still lingers on. This is deeply unfortunate, because while I've found its Galactic Assault and other such multiplayer modes to be relatively fun, its Starfighter Assault is such a delight that it's a crying shame many Star Wars fans will skip over it.
Though I've been playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 for nearly two weeks now, the underwhelming space combat of DICE's first Battlefront caused me to initially overlook Starfighter Assault this time around. What a mistake that was. Starfighter Assault is the highlight of Battlefront 2's multiplayer offering by a considerable stretch, with it replicating the grandiose space battles of its namesake and completely renovating the shallow aerial combat of its predecessor. It's also a treat for Rogue Squadron fans, providing a spiritual successor to the overlooked series that propels Star Wars space combat into the current generation.
Criterion Games, the studio behind the Burnout series and three of the best Need For Speed games, handled the space combat in Battlefront, and it shows that another developer has taken over the reins. Whereas Fighter Squadron saw players dogfighting in a mostly empty sky, Starfighter Assault packs its space battles with debris from destroyed spacecraft, or Kamino waves crashing up against the perennially rain-soaked Kamino clone base. In Fighter Squadron, the aerial arena in which you battled was made to feel busier by way of inserting AI spacecraft into the mix. In Starfighter Assault, Criterion has made its environments so busy that there's no need for unnecessary padding.
Ducking and weaving through the remnants of a Star Destroyer is genuinely thrilling, as not only does it introduce an element of strategy and nuance absent from the first Battlefront's space combat, but it also makes each encounter feel like part of something much bigger — y'know, like an actual war in the stars. Fighter Squadron just threw players into the middle of an unorganized bout of aerial target practice, whereas Starfighter Assault replicates the thrilling space battles we've seen on the big screen.
But Star Wars Battlefront 2's dogfighting isn't just a visual spectacle; the way the ships handle has been dramatically overhauled, too. In DICE's first Battlefront, space combat was as diluted as possible. The aiming reticule remained fixed to the center of the screen, only straying from its path when using an auto-aiming ability, and there being a sense of detachment from your ship as a result. As such the only real tactic was to stay directly in line with the tail-end of your enemy's ship, and to shake off a player shooting you by way of listlessly swerving into nothingness thanks to the complete lack of cover provided by its environments.
On the other hand, Starfighter Assault's reticule darts around the screen depending upon the movement of your ship, veering left and right as you suddenly bank into a direction, and with it looking like it's going to fly right off the screen as you desperately try to evade enemy gunfire. Unlike Battlefront, where your targeting remained just as precise while performing loop-the-loops as it did when flying in a straight line, in Battlefront 2 the nail-biting intensity of a high-speed pursuit in the midst of galactic warfare is replicated by its erratic HUD.
When you manage to successfully pursue an enemy through hurtling asteroids and, against all odds, line up your crosshairs on their ship and finish them off once and for all, it's an exhilarating feeling that was nowhere to be found in its predecessor. With aerial combat requiring you to realistically shoot ahead of the enemy in accordance with the distance between your ships, each elimination feels like a proper pump-your-first-in-the-air moment.
Starfighter Assault isn't intended to be Battlefront 2's standout mode, with it only boasting five maps and Galactic Assault placed at the forefront of its presentation. However, if you can overlook the shenanigans with its loot boxes and its baffling progression system, those who miss the Star Wars-tinged dogfighting of the Rogue Squadron series will find plenty to love here. Forget Battlefront 2 — give Criterion the resources to make a brand new Rogue Squadron game and I'll personally help them print the money it'll make.