Just in time for the new Star Wars movie, EA and DICE have rebooted a popular game from the franchise’s past in the form of Star Wars Battlefront. With two previous games giving players the chance to jump into large scale conflicts on the side of the Rebels or Empire, having the developers responsible for the Battlefield series of games seems to be a natural fit.
Where the game shines like a supernova is in the presentation – there has never been a Star Wars game that nails both the look and the sound of the movies in quite the same way that Battlefront does. Not only are the characters and vehicles amazing recreations but the environments are some of the best looking you’ll see this year. It is a genuinely stunning experience. The UI is very clean and perhaps overly utilitarian but is propped up by some clever idle animations that have some of the same oddball humour the movies would throw at you from time to time.
Audio might just be some of the best I’ve heard on a console, especially the surround sound mixing. DICE have been brilliant at this for years now but here it really hits home. During one of the co-op missions on Endor I could literally track the falling drop pods as they screamed overhead. It is scarily accurate and adds a dimension to gameplay that is often overlooked.
The games forsakes a classic style campaign in favour of a set of missions that can be played either solo or co-op. With the game potentially crossing trilogies with the arrival of the new movie, it probably made sense not to date it too quickly by having a campaign set in an evolving timeline with the new generation of movies on their way. Most are play once type affairs but the developers try to add some replay value by setting additional challenges.
However the Survival mode will be worth visiting again; it pits you and a friend against increasingly more difficult waves of enemies and makes for a fun diversion from the rest of the content, especially if you only have a few minutes to play. As a whole the missions are a nice way to become familiar with the controls and features of the games in a more forgiving environment, just don’t expect that to be where you will want to spend the bulk of your time.
The first multiplayer mode that you will likely jump into will be Walker Assault – a ten to fifteen minute escort mission where players must face one or two AT-AT walkers approaching their base. During their battle, both sides are fighting over a pair of beacons which are used by the Rebels to summon Y-Wings which take down the walker’s shields and make them vulnerable to attack. The game becomes a race as each side tries to press their advantage with the Imperial having the advantage of time and the Rebels that of focus in their objectives.
Dotted around the map are icons that when you stand over them they will give you additional weapons or opportunities to respawn in vehicles on the map. Having the chance to man the guns of the AT-AT is fun while it lasts. This is also the way that can take on the role of iconic heroes from the movies and cause some serious havoc. My first chance to play as Darth Vader was awesome and let me rack up a pile of kills thanks to his saber throw ability that almost counts as an instant kill. All these map based upgrades are timed and require you to spend a while finding their locations so you may find it takes time before you get a chance to try them out.
Other modes are Star Wars themed spins of common multiplayer game types. An example of that is Droid Run which plays out like a capture and hold game but a twist being that the locations to hold are actually droids (GNK “Gonk” droids, or rubbish bins with legs) that wander around the map forcing you to be constantly defending from a mobile position. They are fun diversions that bulk up the game modes but are unlikely to be the ones you’ll return to.
Of the other multiplayer modes, one that evokes the most gaming nostalgia for me is Fighter Squadron which gives players a pretty good approximation of what a multiplayer death match mode from the classic Rogue Squadron games would be like. If anything, it makes me wish there was more in the game related to the ships. Being constrained to an area on a map tends to have ships circling around each other but if it cent into space we could have capital ships spread out and squadrons going head to head, straight out of Return of the Jedi.
One unfortunate gripe I have with multiplayer is how the groups are managed – there doesn’t seem to be a real lobby available for players to jump into games together automatically, rather, each player has to jump into the session themselves. Though the UI does prompt you when it is time to join, it is still quite possible to not notice it and be sitting there waiting for the game to start. Having everyone able to follow a team leader would make this process so much easier especially when one game ends and the next is about to begin.
Like Battlefield, the FPS controls here are spot on and you will quickly feel right at home. There is not a lot of complexity to them which will make this one of the most accessible shooters out there now. This also allows the in-game “cards” to be mapped sensibly to the bumpers and Y button (on the Xbox controller); soon you’ll be leaning on those a lot as you raise your levels and gain more gear.
A tip I’ve found useful early on is to get into the settings for flying vehicles, swap the sticks and also invert them. At least from my own experience I’ve found DICE’s vehicle controls to feel like they are set up the wrong way around. And when it comes to modes such as Fighter Squadron it’ll be a lot easier to play when you have more a familiar set up.
Content is unlocked over time as you play the game and is gated via a levelling system and through purchasing using credits earned during play. Items accrued this way include new weapons, additional card abilities (short use powerful weapons, grenades, etc that need to recharge after use) and new skins for your characters. Early on there will be some frustrations as you’ll find yourself vastly underequipped against seasoned players but if you can persevere you’ll soon be packing some more competitive gear.
Additional content will be available over time starting with maps to coincide with the release of The Force Awakens. Even more will be accessible via a season pass that will eventually double the amount of maps available in the game.
Star Wars Battlefront is a difficult game to heap universal praise on. Fans of the movies will go bananas over the presentation which captures the look and sound of the movies better than anything that has ever gone before it. However those same fans may feel let down by the multiplayer centric approach of the game which shoves rookie players into the deep end early on and might drive them away in frustration.
With so many games from the franchise having strong narratives (EA’s own BioWare team were responsible for both Knights of the Old Republic RPG and The Old Republic MMO), the lack of it here is noticeable. So EA’s first stab as the exclusive Star Wars developer will give players a taste of what a modern Star Wars game can be but it may still leave them wanting more.
The game is out now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Reviewed on Xbox One.