On November 1st of 2005, the house of Lucas passed down a double dose of Star Wars goodness. Episode III made its DVD debut and Battlefront II, the sequel to the “best-selling” Star Wars game of all time, Battlefront, was released across a variety of systems. Now since the original game had become a fantasy squad commander’s dream come true, would the sequel be able to deliver the same kind of unbridled joy as the original? Battlefront II delivers on many fronts, but stops just short of becoming a classic due to its tragic lack of focus in any one area that would make it shine above what has come before.
Since the original was a resounding success, the developers attempted to refine what had worked the first time. This sequel does retread old ground that the original covered, and the development team countered that by, well, giving players more of it. This is where the new game’s weaknesses come into play, as the quality of the “new” material ranges from great to very awkward, and tends to leave players with a feeling of “yeah, and?”
For starters, there’s the “new and improved” Galactic Conquest mode. This mode puts players in a turn-based situation as they traverse across a stationary map while taking part in various types of enemy encounters. At times you will seek to attain control of an enemy planet via land battles, and other times you will face enemy fleets via space combat. The plan is of course to eventually control every planet in the galaxy before moving on to the next. The newly added ability to take battles into space is this game’s biggest and best addition, even if controlling these ships when dogfighting seems to be more difficult than it needs to be. Landing on capital ships and sabotaging them from within is quite satisfying as well.
In order to answer one of the main gripes about the original game, the developers included the ability to control “Heroes,” which translate into playing as a Jedi or similar character whose name you have actually heard before. This is accomplished by the top player on either side earning enough points to unlock and become said hero. In gameplay terms this translates into the best players on the map becoming high-profile, highly powered characters and causing much mayhem. Along with the ability to now pilot through space dogfights, this is the second much-ballyhooed feature added on for this sequel, and although it sounds great on paper in practice it’s, well, mediocre. Is it fun? Yes, since most of the heroes are saber wielding Jedi (or Sith) and it’s fun to run around hacking at people in close-quarter combat. Does it get dull and anti-climactic? Yes, since blindly running around doing the same swings over and over again gets dull real fast. It’s almost like the hero characters are regular characters with a new skin… not as fun or triumphant as it sounds.
The other mode offered for single-player fun is the “Rise of the Republic” mode. This interesting mode offers players the ability to command the “501st” legion of clone troopers from their beginnings all the way to the time that they would become the elite stormtroopers under Anakin Skywalker’s (and Darth Vader’s) command. The missions in this mode are a bit more linear in fashion, and consist of a lot of “objective based” scenarios instead of the ‘defend and conquer’ structure of the previous mode. Both of these single player modes, however, suffer from the same fate of poor A.I. This should actually come as no surprise to most; picture the large-scale battles of any of the Star Wars films and then try to imagine your game console controlling the intelligence of everything on the screen except whatever the player may be controlling at the time. Pretty tough feat, eh? Many times your troops will decide to do something completely different from what you have in mind and end up either getting in the way, getting stuck, or generally just wandering around aimlessly.
This brings up a point to be made with the Battlefront series: it should be a “multiplayer only” title. There, it has been said. The single player mode does have its neat moments and it does provide some degree of thrilling gameplay, but it gets old really fast when all of the battles seem to play out the same and you’re struggling with the AI as much as the enemy. A lot of publishers are not very keen on releasing titles with no single-player component, however, and here we are with games like the Battlefront series that really only get to shine in multiplayer, and online multiplayer particularly, and are a little bogged down in terms of quality by their single player component.
The Xbox LIVE support is a robust, 32 player battle of epic proportions. There was some visible network lag at times, mainly on maps that were running with the maximum number of players. This wasn’t a chronic issue, but it did pop up every now and then. When there are actual human beings running things on these maps, the battles tend to play out the way one would imagine they would in the movies. Even lesser-skilled players tend to be more interesting than the best of the single-player AI.
As you would expect, the game sports a brilliant graphical presentation. Models look slick and textures are “top-notch-first-gen-Xbox pretty.” Some frame rate stuttering does rear its ugly head at times, but it’s never to the point of becoming unplayable. The music and sound effects are straight out of the movies and speak for themselves… it is Ben Burtt and John Willams’ brilliant stuff that has won academy awards in years past.
All in all, Star Wars: Battlefront II is more of the same from last year, with a few additions tacked on for good (and not so good) measure. If you loved the first game, you will be in familiar territory once again… the feeling of déjà vu hits hard on the maps you’ve played before. Battlefront II is also a great way to recreate those childhood fantasies of being smack in the middle of Hoth, Mos Eisley, Dagobah and the like, but in order to really experience the fun the game can offer you will need either a bunch of friends to play with or an Xbox LIVE account.