Squadron 42 looks like it cost the millions it should have, but we're not sold on it yet


Over a decade after announcing Star Citizen, mastermind Chris Roberts has finally declared that its Squadron 42 singleplayer campaign—just a piece of the bigger Star Citizen "persistent universe," which has raised over $600 million in crowdfunding—is feature complete and entering the "polish" phase.

No release date has been announced, and polishing may take "some time," Roberts warns in a nearly 30-minute trailer celebrating the milestone. I'll refrain from trying to guess a release date—who knows with Star Citizen—but the video does give us a wide-ranging tour of a big and complete-looking singleplayer campaign with space combat, first-person shooting, and performance-captured war speeches. Here are the biggest takeaways from our best look at Squadron 42 so far, as we see it:

  • They really went wild with the celebrity actors

  • The puzzles look straight out of Half-Life 2

  • We're not blown away by the space combat

  • No surprises in the first-person shooting

  • But maybe stunning planetary approaches can carry it?

There are so many celebs

Chris Livingston, Senior Editor: I know we just got Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077, but it still feels distinctly Call of Duty: 10 Years Ago to cast a famous actor in a videogame and make the character they voice look exactly like them. It's genuinely distracting seeing so many CGI movie stars strolling around: Gary Oldman, Gillian Anderson, Mark Strong, Ben Mendelsohn, John Rhys-Davies, and Mark Hamill. Am I in space or backstage at the Independent Spirit Awards?

It's especially off-putting since CGI is less convincing when you're looking at a face you're already familiar with. I think they should have invented new faces for all this talent—but then I guess that defeats the purpose of hiring celebrities.

The exception is Mark Hamill. It's never not enjoyable to see Mark Hamill, even if he's CGI.

Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor: Same thought, but for Gillian Anderson.

Those environmental puzzles look half-familiar

Chris: Environmental puzzles, eh? OK, what have you got? Looks like lifting a barrel with a gravity gun. Putting a crate on something to make it heavier so it lowers. And turning a big red wheel back and forth so something goes up or down.

I'm not saying these won't be fun or challenging, just that it looks to me like CIG's take on Half-Life 2's environmental puzzles, and those puzzles are 20 years old at this point. (There's even a section where you drive a boat through a canal while an enemy flies overhead.) If I have to go into a sub-basement to restore power to a generator to get an elevator working, I will not be surprised.

Tyler: I thought it was funny that they mentioned "updated rope tech," because that's only exciting if you're keen on the kinds of puzzles made possible by rope tech—puzzles about putting weights on things to make them go down, I'd wager.

I do think the various puzzle-related industrial interfaces look cool, though. I don't know why the player has to fill up a barrel with hydrogen or turn a red wheel to make a big rotating platform go up and down, but the animations are pleasing, even if this does mark the 10,000th time a red wheel has been involved in a videogame puzzle.

And hey, that rope tech is pretty nice. There are also a few pretty darn majestic-looking environments scattered among the otherwise dispassionate sci-fi grime in the video. It may all be too Half-Life 2-ey, but it's not without ambition.

Space combat definitely needs that polish

Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: I'll admit I was quite impressed with some of the cinematic bits and environmental shots in this Squadron 42 showcase. Those clouds? Mm, cotton candy. But for all the parts where someone was actually playing the game… I dunno, man, I'm not yet convinced this is a game I'd want to play.

The space dogfighting footage consists of about a minute of someone holding down fire on a machine gun to spray 5,000 bullets in the general direction of a ship that's barely visible in the distance, while hyping up a "new precision targeting mode." So much of a good space dogfight comes from feeling like you're in the cockpit and controlling your fighter with a throttle and stick, so maybe this is a lot more fun than it looks—but it looks quite dull.

For Squadron 42's first real showing in half a decade, I really expected better than "zoom in and press the trigger until they die." Maybe the full campaign will prove me wrong, but so far nothing I'm seeing looks as much fun as Star Wars: Squadrons, a game made in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the budget.

Tyler: It's easier to be excited about Star Citizen's persistent universe, where it's fine if the individual elements look a bit generic or unexciting, because you're expecting wild stories to emerge from your interactions with other players. I've seen pilots scoop up their freefalling friends in planetary orbit—that looks fun, but yeah, I wonder if it translates well to a singleplayer game where it's just you and some AI wingmates blasting AI bad guys.

The first-person shooting looks pretty standard, too

Tyler: The FPS bits remind me a little of the old EVE Online FPS, Dust 514, and the new one that was just revealed, Vanguard. Efforts to be futuristic but grounded make it look a bit dull: pop up from cover, hold the reticle over an enemy for a bit, and then hide and reload. I haven't been drawn to the shooting in Star Citizen's in-development persistent universe, and I'm not especially drawn to this, though there are some highlights.

I like the look of the destructibility we glimpse—a bit of concrete cover crumbles at about nine minutes into the video—as well as the detail that guns can malfunction, seen at 20:20.

The coolest bit of infantry maneuvering happens at about 12:50, where a cutscene squad spacewalks up to a ship and points their guns into the cockpit. I'm not sure I've seen a stagecoach robbery in space before, and I basically always like zero-G shooter levels (even though you'd think they'd be hard to do well), so here's hoping there's lots of that.

(But also, surely infantry weapons can't penetrate the cockpit of a spaceship, and hitting the thrusters would vaporize that whole squad, or at least send them into orbit around the nearest planet.)

Planetary approach looks sick

Chris: I've watched this little clip about 10 times now, the approach to the planet that takes place at 11:19. Maybe it's that it's just so refreshing to be in a spaceship that's actually going somewhere after playing Starfield last month (in which space travel is just a series of cinematic scenes) but it looks amazing. I hope there's a bunch of that kinda thing.

There are some interesting looking environments to pilot your ship through elsewhere in the video, too, from massive space stations to weird rocky places filled with fog and crackling lightning—I'm not even sure if it's on a planet or an asteroid or what. While I agree with Wes that the space combat didn't look particularly great, it looks like there are some really exciting places to fly our ships.