Squadron 42 looks to be happening, and thanks to its recent ‘I Held the Line’ deep dive video we’ve been treated to proper glimpses of deep space traversal, interstellar combat, FPS action, cinematic cutscenes, and… boats! The hype behind Squadron 42 has ebbed and flowed since its first announcement and Kickstarter over ten years ago, and whilst this is indeed a cinematic presentation and not actual gameplay the future seems bright for this generation’s Wing Commander – enough to make Starfield developer Bethesda look over their shoulders.
Squadron 42 is now ‘feature complete’
The headline from Cloud Imperium Games’ Squadron 42: I Held the Line deep dive is that Star Citizen’s standalone single player campaign is now ‘feature complete’, with development now focused on what they dub ‘the polishing phase.’ According to CIG, this means extra emphasis is now being placed on the game being fun by “optimising and fine-tuning all aspects of the gameplay experience to deliver an unprecedented cinematic adventure.” There’s still no solid release window for Squadron 42 though, so it’s likely the polishing phase will take considerable time to complete.
Development split into ‘strike teams’
With development moving into the polishing phase CIG have reorganised their structure into self-sufficient strike teams giving each team the autonomy to focus on individual areas of the game to deliver the best experience overall. This means that art-driven teams, performance capturers, or staff concentrating on gameplay can hone in with laser precision on their specific areas before it’s all combined into a unified whole come Squadron 42’s release.
Improvements made to spaceship piloting mechanics
According to CIG, immense attention has been placed on the feel of your character as they pilot their ship, with emphasis on interstellar combat encounters adding to the overall immersiveness of the spaceflight experience. The spacecraft manoeuvres on offer are designed to give a tactile impression of being a pilot. From firing weapons, taking hits, or firing afterburners to evade attack, to the new precision targeting mode, closer engagement distances, and enhanced enemy ship AI with more varied behaviours, space combat is set to be the premium feature of Squadron 42.
Dialled in gameplay appearances
CIG’s Senior Game Director Richard Tyrer speaks on Squadron 42’s deep dive video of dialling in gameplay features including ship flight models for both atmosphere and space, covering master modes, control surfaces, HUDs, and multi-function displays. What’s clear in this statement is CIG are spending a great deal of time focusing on the minutiae of the experience, extracting as much as they can from minor detail to create the most believable big picture possible.
Overhauled scanning, targeting, and marking systems
When in space flight, there are now much more efficient methods to highlight key objectives, mission targets, and high-level scan information thanks to the overhauled scanning, targeting, and marking systems. This means that the overall view in space remains as clean as possible with the capability to highlight only mission critical objectives on screen.
Improved environmental design
How your character seeps into the world crafted around them has seen major improvements too. Additions include environmental puzzles unique to each location, but the overall goal here is to contribute to fulfilling Squadron 42’s overarching story through world building. Whether it’s when navigating the debris of an exploding star or creeping through the confines of a dusty air vent, environments are believable with the state of mind of its inhabitants also given key consideration.
Enhanced character animation
A core requirement to add a grounded sense of reality to Squadron 42’s improved environmental design has been to craft new, enhanced character animations. According to CIG, character interaction with the world must exhibit tactility. To do this, they’ve made sure any interaction with the environment – closing an air vent valve or force opening a blocked door, for instance – is physically represented in character animation.
Special mention in the I Held the Line deep dive goes to the military multi-tool, a single handheld device that integrates numerous attachments. When activated, this essential device bears the appearance of Half-Life’s Gluon Gun, but it’s deployed by CIG here as a tool to move objects around the environment at distance to solve puzzles.
Wealth of improvements to FPS combat
With advances in looting, stealth, and character balance alongside more lifelike weapon feel including better locomotion and realistic scopes, first person combat in Squadron 42 is said to have received significant improvement. There’s also a new and improved FPS radar and scanner system in play, which in practice casts a digital neon net over the battlefield to highlight enemy locations and mission specific objectives. There is a risk-reward with the radar and scanning systems in that engaging the scanner emits your location to opponents too. CIG clearly don’t want to make things too easy; engaging opponents in gunfire looks to be a tactical, drawn-out affair, definitely not run and gun.
Maelstrom powered destructible environments
Adding further carnage to gunfights is what CIG term Maelstrom powered destructible environments. Additional layers of dynamism are how CIG describe the benefits to such a system, but aside from the visual bombast of concrete confetti spewing across the battlefield, the ability to destroy the very foundation of your enemy’s cover is another tactical element which can be deployed to great effect. To facilitate this, a raft of rocket propelled weaponry and grenades look to be included in your arsenal.
Improved enemy AI
Enemies will be wise to your tactics though, with CIG promising enhancements to opposition AI. They’re now equipped with hundreds of combined traits, which hopefully means they’ll behave strategically, and perhaps unexpectedly, on the battlefield, ramping up the challenge across a host of unique FPS combat encounters, forcing players to hone their skills and tactical prowess to survive.
Focus on embellishing moments in existing narrative
Rather than make wholesale changes to Squadron 42’s ten-year developed storyline, the development team instead have opted to embellish moments in the existing narrative. Narrative Director Dave Haddock speaks of adding subtle interactions to augment the mood, enhance character development, and support gameplay. More lines of dialogue, including wild lines for various enemies encounterable on foot and in the cockpit, have been captured, with a host of diverse responses when exploring the galaxy the net result.
Cinematic animation overhaul
Heartfelt cinematic storytelling is the beating heart of Squadron 42, with characters providing performances to support the action. To give their performances opportunity to shine, CIG’s Cine team will be focusing on finalising edit-lock on all performances big and small during the polish phase. Demonstrated in the deep dive via a graceful before and after screen swipe, CIG is putting a lot of effort into realistic lighting showcasing the cast and their emotions in the best light possible, with fluidity between gameplay and cinematics a smooth as silk. Final shot compositions have been adjusted to best portray the drama too.
Enhanced social aspects
Between missions, players will have access to hub areas – spacecraft carriers and briefing rooms, that sort of thing – but despite the intergalactic backdrop CIG are keen to ground these environments in real-world feel. There are elements of inspecting, repairing, and refuelling your spacecraft before your next mission, but also these areas are stuffed with NPCs who’re going about their daily routines. Engineers loiter throughout the warehouse, inspected spacecraft returned from battle; medics hover through the corridors of the medical wing discussing how best to treat their patients. Every non-player character has a part to play, and it’s another vital step in providing a rich immersiveness to Squadron 42’s universe.
New space stations
New space stations are set to be introduced on a massive scale, with their unique functions and time in service reportedly the key aspects CIG have considered when establishing their tangibility within Squadron 42’s universe. Principal to achieving this is the incorporation of distinct artistic styles to each station as players progress through the game.