Star Wars Battlefront
The Good: Great graphics. Amazing attention and recreation of details. John Williams music. Walker assault!
The Bad: Limited maps. Mostly ordinary multiplayer variants.
The Ugly: Abysmal dogfighting. Terrible single player experience.
For a guy who was a teenager in the 80’s, who saw Star Wars in its prime before the re-edited versions and the mess of the second trilogy, Star Wars is in my blood. Oh, I’m not planning to convert to Jedi anytime soon, and if pressed I’ll confess that I like Star Trek more than Star Wars, but from the very first bars of John Williams’ music and the Lucasfilm logo, Battlefront had my adrenaline pumping. A multiplayer FPS with blaster fire! Fly X-wings, ride speeder bikes, drive AT-STs! The opportunity to play as Han Solo or Darth Vader! That excitement however was quite short lived. Beyond serving as tutorials, the single player experience is almost non-existent. The multiplayer, boasting a number of variants but not a lot of maps, is for the most part a Star Wars veneer, a very thin veneer, over extremely ordinary gameplay. Often Battlefront fails by believing that sticking Star Wars scenery and weaponry and music onto plain old deathmatch makes it somehow new and special – it doesn’t – and the multiplayer market is far too crowded for another “me too” to catch my interest.
Battlefront starts with a very polished UI, something like the tile structure of Metro, smoothly allowing the player to maneuver through the menus (note: I’m not a big fan of Metro and don’t use the tiles in Windows 8, but here it works). The top-level menu choices are only single and multiplayer. Single player is just tutorials and what they call co-op games. The tutorials, well, they’re tutorials. There are five of them, and they do an adequate job of laying out the basics even if I was done with them inside of half an hour. The co-op games are some of the multiplayer variants played alone or with a friend against terrible bots. And when I say terrible, I mean terrible. It’s not clear to me if they even understand the objectives of the missions. I think these would be more accurately called multiplayer tutorials. The multiplayer game has an astonishing nine – at least I think it’s nine – variants. One initially gets the feeling that there is a ton of gaming to be had, but many of them beneath the excellent Star Wars paint job are rather ordinary (deathmatch, CTF, capture control points), and with a limited number of maps (and players – maps in my experience are frequently half empty or worse) that thins out all those choices quickly.
There are two multiplayer modes that might gain some fans and are the strongest part of the game. One is called Heroes vs. Villains in which the three rebel heroes (Luke, Leia, Han) face off against the three Imperial Villains (Vader, Palpatine, Boba Fett), each side with three ordinary troops in support. A match lasts six rounds, each player getting a try at each role (note: I kinda suck at Leia and Fett). The maps are a little on the small side and there are only a handful of them, but the overall mechanics of the multiplayer is uniquely very Star Wars. The other mode that I like, that I actually think is the best, is walker assault. These are massive 20v20 matches on huge maps in which one team (the imperials) is trying to escort AT-ATs to some rebel target while the rebels try and hold the line. I often felt as though I was participating in the seminal battle scenes of the original Star Wars trilogy, the air filled with blaster fire, surrounded by explosions, Tie Fighters and Y-wings screaming overhead. This mode suffers slightly in that only four maps are available, but they’re very big so it will take a little while to tire of them. If I’m still playing this game at all a week from now, this is what I’ll be playing.
Completing games, scoring kills, wins, mission objectives and whatnot, are rewarded with credits. These can be used to unlock new weapons, but the selection is astonishingly uninspiring. They come with adjustments in range, fire rate, cool down, and accuracy, but they are all just blasters. In this sense, Battlefront has provided a very approachable system for new players in that advanced players can’t credit-buy their way to near invulnerability. Credits can also be used to unlock other accessories like grenades, shields, healing, proximity mines, jet packs, etc. You can carry up to three accessories of your choosing into combat. The accessories have better variety than the guns, though I expect most people to find their favorite three and stick with them, but they’re fun to spend credits on unlocking if only to try them. I may as well stick in here that pickups are scattered around the maps, and these range from the kinds of accessories you can unlock with credits to vehicles to taking on the role of one of the heroes, which can be a pretty good game changer applied at the right moment.
By far the game’s weakest component is the flying. X-wings, which I remember from the X-wing game (IMHO the pinnacle of Star Wars games) as being nimble and thrilling, in Battlefront maneuver like shopping carts with one bad wheel. This is true of the entire fleet – A-wings, X-wings, Tie Fighters and Tie Interceptors. The controls are slushy and inexact, and the craft themselves are fragile, blowing to pieces in just a couple of shots. The addition of a lock-on function in the flight controls makes shooting them down while dogfighting child’s play, turning multiplayer dogfights into insta-death and making it essentially impossible for the skill of the pilot to make a difference in the outcome or for any type of team strategy to develop.
I felt at some moments that the mechanics of a great, or at least good, game was buried under all the blandness. At its best, the rousing soundtrack and faithful recreation of so much classic Star Wars scenery against some piece of gameplay that was singularly Star Wars can really put you into the movies. At its worst, I’m playing CTF (only substitute “cargo pod” for “flag”) in a half empty game, playing on the same map I’ve played on ten times because there are only a few to choose from, but, hey, I’ve got a blaster and I’m dressed as a storm trooper, so, Star Wars, right? Maybe not.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on a digital copy of Star Wars Battlefront for the PC provided by Electronic Arts.