I don’t know about you, but I’ve been mighty nervous about DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront. Not only is it the chief video game companion to the first in a new trilogy of Star Wars films, but it’s also bearing the weight of both the original Battlefront games and the Battlefield franchise. Star Wars, Battlefront and Battlefield are all things I grew up with and/or have spent countless hours obsessing over. Naturally, this means they’re all things that are dear to me.
Let’s put that in perspective. In a scenario where Battlefront is Just The Worst, this isn’t like Michael Bay ruining the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for me. This is like Michael Bay ruining the Ninja Turtles, Darkwing Duck and pizza for me all at once, then setting fire to my pants and pushing me down a flight of stairs. It would be heartbreaking. Many, many tears would stain the ground. I’ve no doubt someone would make a movie out of the ordeal.
Keep in mind the ludicrous melodrama you’ve just read, because I’ve spent the last couple of days with my face buried in Battlefront, and I’m anxious to tell you how it went.
I think it’s important to kick things off by letting you know that if you’re expecting a direct clone of Battlefield, but with AT-ATs, X-wings and speeder bikes in place of tanks, choppers and jeeps, stop that right now. Battlefront shares a lot of its DNA with DICE’s much-loved series of chaotic military sandboxes, but it’s very much its own thing, and not just in terms of its hugely iconic theme. Battlefront is Battlefield stripped down to its core and rebuilt with a different purpose in mind – and many of its changes are guaranteed to rub people the wrong way.
For one thing, there’s far less stuff with which to tinker, and there are no soldier classes from which to choose. These days Battlefield is packed to bursting with a vast array of unlockable goodies for each class, so much so that the game is immediately intimidating to newcomers. Not only is there a vast tree of unlockable toys, but weapons and vehicles can be customised in a number of ways to suit your tastes. Battlefront, by comparison, has a far smaller arsenal of weapons to unlock and is pretty minimalist in terms of customization options (not counting the cosmetic unlocks for your character – you’ll find tons of these).
As you progress through the ranks, you’ll unlock a range of different blasters, and you’ll choose one of these to serve as your primary weapon. The various blaster pistols and blaster rifles have the usual assortment of stats to consider, and they’re each intended to serve a specific purpose. There’s one blaster that functions as a space shotgun by dealing massive damage at extremely close range, for example, and others that cater to the “high fire rate, low damage” approach. They all work as you’d expect, but there’s no way to individually tweak each blaster. The same goes for all the game’s vehicles. Personally the shrinkage in modification options doesn’t bug me in the slightest, but it’s something to consider if you’re expecting the same level of personalisation as Battlefield.
“I can’t think of another game carrying the Star Wars name that so successfully captures the essence of the films and their action sequences.”
Compensating for this is the Star Card system, which essentially represents special abilities. You’ll gradually unlock a plethora of different Star Cards, and between matches you can build hands of three Star Cards to take with you into battle. Two of the Star Cards are abilities that can be used infinitely but have cooldown timers between each use, while the third set of Star Cards are abilities that carry a limited number of charges. The former includes fancy tools like thermal detonators, Wookie bowcasters, jetpacks and flash grenades; the latter Star Cards do things like modify your blaster shots to do increased damage to vehicles and shields, and instantly cool your blasters when they overheat.
There’s one final Star Card which lets you choose a character trait. Traits help you out by enabling faster health regeneration (yes, your health regenerates; after all, there are no medics or assaults here to keep your internal organs in their desired positions), decreased damage from explosives and more. I like the Star Card system. It’s elegantly easy to understand, it works well, and it allows for a fair amount of versatility during skirmishes – but I do wish there was some form of class system in the game. Having medics and engineers and dedicated snipers to choose from naturally encourages interesting team dynamics and requires that you and your allies maintain some semblance of class balance if you hope to win. And while there’s still plenty of emphasis on coordinating with your team in Battlefront (though it’s largely dependent on the game mode you’re playing), here it’s more about slamming your head against the enemy’s forces again and again until one of the teams slips up, and unlike in Battlefield (and by extension the original Battlefront, which closely followed the formula of DICE’s earlier games) the scales seem tipped more towards individual player skill than clever team tactics.
Even though the fundamentals have been shaken up, Battlefront will still be instantly familiar to Battlefield fans. The game’s maps are enormous and intricately designed, with multiple paths to take that’ll allow you to sneak up on the folks looking to kill you. Naturally, there’s an enticing assortment of iconic Star Wars vehicles to pilot (or swear at when you’ve been killed by one for the umpteenth time), and tearing through the clouds in a TIE interceptor or stomping around in an AT-ST is deeply satisfying. I’m not fond of how you acquire these vehicles, however. Rather than finding them physically stashed at your base and scattered around the map, vehicles are presented as nothing more than floating power-ups. Grab one, find a safe place to activate it, and you’ll magically reappear behind the controls of a fancy new death machine. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach, but it feels a touch too game-y and impersonal relative to what I’m used to.
The use of these power-ups extends beyond the vehicle spawns. You’ll find similar power-ups that provide one-shot special abilities to deploy – like blaster cannon turrets and awesome droid companions who’ll roam the map scanning for enemies and zapping them with their blasters. These power-ups are also how you access one of Battlefront’s most cunning features: the inclusion of playable characters from the original trilogy. Depending on whether you’re fighting for the Rebel Alliance or the Empire, you’ll occasionally spot power-ups that let you spawn as heroes and villains like Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, Leia Organa and Darth Vader, and they’ve each got their own distinct set of abilities. These characters are massively entertaining to play as, and in the right hands they’re capable of turning the tide of battle because they’re far more resilient than the ordinary troops. Their movement is sometimes bizarrely floaty and hilariously unpredictable though, so expect to die a few weird deaths here and there.
Game modes on offer include variants of the usual TDM, CTF and point capture modes, as well as a number of interesting proprietary modes like Fighter Squadron and Walker Assault. In Fighter Squadron, everyone takes to the skies to engage in an aerial dogfight, and heroes/villains are playable in the form of the Millennium Falcon and Slave I. Walker Assault is Battlefront’s signature mode, and it encompasses every aspect of the game in one huge, 40-player battle wherein the Rebels are attempting to stop rampaging Imperial AT-ATs from reaching their targets. There are infantry-only modes, as well as a few others that are heavily reliant on the hero/villain characters. The various modes on offer are very exciting (some more than others, obviously), and they’ll likely keep you satisfied for a long time to come. I’m especially fond of the infantry modes like Cargo and Droid Run.
If you’re looking for a significant solo experience, Battlefront is not the place to look for it. Don’t get me wrong: there’s some quality single-player and cooperative fun to be found in Survival mode (which sees you and a friend facing off against waves of Empire forces – this is easily the most entertaining of the solo/co-op options) and the various Battle missions, but they’re not much more than a distraction from the game’s multiplayer. That said, I’m grateful that they exist, especially since they’re inevitably far more meaningful and enjoyable than the typical throwaway solo campaign would’ve been, and they have plenty more longevity.
Battlefront’s greatest strength lies in how captivating it is from moment to moment. DICE has perfected the art of making their virtual war zones ferociously immersive, and Battlefront proves that once again by using the Star Wars licence to intense effect. I can’t think of another game carrying the Star Wars name that so successfully captures the essence of the films and their action sequences. There are Star Wars games that present far more broad, interesting Star Wars scenarios, that make more significant use of this galaxy far, far away and genuinely enhance the overall mythos, but none of them manage to feel quite as Star Wars as this. The way it looks, the way it sounds, the subtle nods to the films (like the cinematic screen wipes as you change scenes, and the occasional Wilhelm Screams that punctuate deaths) – everything ties together so seamlessly, so masterfully that it’s practically impossible to remove the enormous, goofball smile from your face as you tear through the forests of Endor on a speeder bike. And then slam into the side of a hollow tree trunk, leaving nothing but a beautiful explosion to remind the universe that you ever existed. It’s glorious.
I realise that there’s a fair chunk of this review that might make it seem like I’m disappointed by Battlefront. And in some ways I am, purely because it’s not quite what I assumed it’d be. I feel like a bit of an ass comparing it to Battlefield as much as I have, because it deserves to be treated as its own thing – but I’m pretty sure Battlefield is the yardstick by which most people will measure it, so it’s not like I’m being completely unreasonable. Battlefront has been designed to cater to a larger audience – this is something DICE has been very clear about – and it shows. As a result there’s a purity to it that makes it a blast to pick up and play. You’ll still need to concern yourself with a familiar flood of equipment choices and hails of (laser) bullets and that one dick in a tank (or an AT-ST, whatever) who JUST WON’T DIE, but the alterations and simplifications make its flood of information feel less overwhelming.
That, and it’s just so damn Star Wars. Every time I lay eyes on the snowy wastes of Hoth, every time that theme song starts, every time I hear the high-pitched whine of a TIE fighter, I get goosebumps. Of course, it helps that it’s easily one of the best-looking and best-sounding games out there (seriously, it’s incredible). The presentation of the entire package is utter fan service, and there’s fantastic attention to detail crammed into every facet of it. And most importantly, it’s loads of frenzied multiplayer fun. If you’ve even a passing interest in Star Wars and/or multiplayer shooters, Battlefront is exactly what you need.