Star Wars: Battlefront
Star Wars has had a troubled history as a videogame IP. There have been some fantastic games that have taken place in Lucas’ galaxy far, far away, including favorites like Jedi Knight, Knights of the Old Republic and The Force Unleashed. But, for every stellar Star Wars game, there are a handful of stinkers like Jedi Power Battles and Masters of Teräs Käsi to remind us that lightsabers and wookies are no substitute for excellent game design and thoughtful execution. Now, EA has a force grip on the Star Wars license and is set to release a cluster of games over the next several years, most of which are still under wraps. Their first effort, Star Wars: Battlefront, is upon us and has set the bar high for all future Star Wars games under the EA label.
Battlefront, you say? Indeed, the name might sound familiar to you, as a game of the same name was released for PC and other platforms some ten years ago (with a sequel coming a few years later). The earlier Battlefront games were generally regarded as some of the better Star Wars titles to be released. They were massively multiplayer online Star Wars battle simulators, spanning locations across all six movies and even some of the novels, and were played for years and enjoyed by millions. With the Battlefront reboot, EA is looking to revisit this idea of a Star Wars battle simulator, and who better to develop such a game than the folks at DICE, best known for their work on the Battlefield series? You’d expect DICE to deliver a fantastic Battlefront experience, and, thankfully, they have.
Right from the start, one thing is clear: Battlefront just oozes Star Wars. Very few games have managed to capture the IP so reverently and with such a tenacious attention to detail. Because of this, a typical match of Walker Assault, the game’s flagship multiplayer mode, can almost be overwhelming. Overhead, X-wing starfighters and TIE fighters roar by, their laser cannons deflecting off of shields and tearing through hulls. On the ground, stormtrooper armor bounces and scrapes together, as imperial soldiers rush a cadre of rebel forces. “Blast ‘em!”, a stormtrooper yells, as the rebels come into view. Near the center of of the battle, the mechanical groan of an AT-AT can be heard, the ponderous vehicle’s limbs propelling it steadily towards its target.
The little details are accentuated by the fact that Battlefront is a visual tour-de-force, both technically and artistically. Never has there been such gorgeously-modeled snow in a videogame – snow which realistically deforms under the weight of soldiers and vehicles, such as the spindly-legged AT-ST. And it’s not just Hoth – all of the five environments (Hoth, Tatooine, Endor, Sullust, Jakku) are gorgeous and accurate to the movies (well, trailer, in Jakku’s case). Endor is especially impressive, with its dense wooded environment, destructible trees, realistic foliage (that shifts as you brush through it), exquisite waterfalls and razor-sharp textures – all at a steady 60 frames per second. It’s DICE wizardry, through and through. The one caveat to this sublime visual experience is that the game renders at 720p on Xbox One, which is just about as low as you’ll see on the console. What that means is that it’s a bit harder to make out movement far off in the distance and pixel crawl is apparent, but even so, the game is a show-stopper.
So, the presentation is arguably the best ever in a Star Wars game, but what of the game’s mechanics and design? Thankfully, DICE has delivered the goods in these areas, as well. Mechanically, Star Wars is definitely not a Battlefield game with a Star Wars skin. This is a good thing, as Battlefront (or Star Wars in general), was never about hardcore science fiction or combat simulation. You won’t be crouching to increase accuracy (aiming down sights and crouching has no effect in this regard), fiddling with gun parts or modding your vehicles with special features and tech; Battlefront is unabashedly an arcade-style shooter experience, which falls in line with the original games of the same name and other fantastic shooters, such as Quake III: Arena and Unreal Tournament. There is a progression system which leads to some new abilities and special ordinance (like the rocket pack and thermal detonators), but for the most part, DICE have kept things streamlined, which means the game is able to stay true to the Star Wars license.
Another way Battlefront differs from Battlefield is in its utilization of a unique power-up system. In Battlefront, one of your ability slots is reserved for one of the many different power-up items strewn about the battleground. Some of these are vehicles, while others give you the ability to step into the shoes of legendary characters, like Luke Skywalker. Others are random in nature, and provide you with massive grenades, shield domes to protect comrades, rocket launchers and stationary turrets, among others. The beauty of this system is that players aren’t staring at the map screen, waiting for a vehicle to become available; the game encourages everyone to get out there and play. This also means you probably won’t always get access to the vehicles or items you want during any given match, but that makes the moment when you do nab the coveted Hero power-up even more exciting. The system is fair, refreshing and surprisingly functional.
Content-wise, Battlefront is weighted heavily on the multiplayer side of things. There are nine adversarial modes, including the aforementioned Walker Assault (which is an absolute blast, pun intended), some standard multiplayer shooter variants (capture the flag, control the node, team deathmatch), and a handful of others. Heroes vs Villains is especially noteworthy, as it allows the player to utilize notable Star Wars characters such as Han Solo, Darth Vader and Boba Fett on a more frequent basis and have it out on smallish maps, where battles quickly get intense. It also serves to highlight just how fun playing as these characters are, with each having his or her own unique strengths, weaknesses, abilities and strategies. The only mode that is not recommended is Hero Hunt, due to it consisting almost entirely of running for your life from one of the heroes or villains, all the while trying to snipe someone else’s kill of said hero/villain.
If there’s anything negative to be said about Battlefront, it’s that there isn’t a lot to do if you don’t plan on playing the main multiplayer modes. You do have the ability to play against bots by yourself or with a friend (online or locally via split-screen), and the survival mode is good fun, but if you are looking for a single-player campaign or robust single-player features, it’s best to look elsewhere. Another niggle is the spawning system, which seems to be a common issue with nearly all multiplayer shooters. There are times when you will be spawned very near a group of enemies, or one (or sometimes a pack) will spawn near you, so it’s best to quickly scan your radar and environment when entering the battlefield. It happens rarely enough that it’s usually a surprise, but it’s a blemish worth noting. Some would ask for the option to choose your spawn location or spawn into vehicles, but, as mentioned earlier, this system results in players sitting on the map screen, waiting for a preferred spawn location or vehicle to open up, which is far from optimal.
Star Wars: Battlefront is one of the best games to feature the license in a long while. If you are a Star Wars fan and also enjoy online multiplayer shooters, well, then you aren’t reading this review because you’ve already gone out and bought the game on launch day. If you are Star Wars aficionado, but not much into online shooters, Battlefront is still recommended, as its level of polish and accessibility is such that it just might make you a fan of the genre. For shooter connoisseurs, the game is also recommended, but only if you don’t demand the carrot-on-a-stick progression approach featured in games like Call of Duty. Battlefront brings back the immediacy and fun of shooters from a bygone age, and the fact that it’s also a really good Star Wars game is just the icing on the cake.