Star Wars Battlefront is a classic triple-A game: beautiful, expensive and DLC focused. The real question is, is there substance beneath the style… or is DICE just after your money?
Well, it’s impossible to find someone who hasn’t heard of Star Wars nowadays. With the hype that’s been drummed up over the seventh major episode in the film franchise everyone around the world has Star Wars firmly entrenched at the back of their mind, and for gamers that means side by side is DICE’s upcoming gaming reboot of the original Star Wars Battlefront series.
After a truly stunning gameplay trailer DICE finally followed up with a playable open beta a while back, and if I’m going to be honest from the moment I first started playing I was truly blown away by it all. I have more or less no choice but to give up my status as a cynic when it comes to my first impressions of this game: for that first weekend with the beta I was a child again marvelling at the incredible universe I’d fallen in love with so many years ago.
I defy any genuine Star Wars fan to NOT take that perspective out the gate… the game just IS Star Wars in a way that’s hard to describe. Unlike many recent games Battlefront doesn’t have the burden of needing to create a new universe for players to explore: instead they’ve focused on perfectly reproducing the look, sound and feel of Star Wars down to its very bones.
And they have succeeded. As you first run around firing your blaster, piloting AT-STs and X-Wings you are simply in pure sensory bliss: the raw visual and auditory immersion is like no other Star Wars game, hell like no other videogame I’ve ever played. It’s honestly hard to put into words… I actually found myself not caring about my deaths or whether we won or lost, I was too busy being completely blown away.
I suppose that’s to be expected from some if not most casual gamers nowadays, so I should probably point out I am definitely a competitive gamer through and through; I tend to play a lot of games like League of Legends and Blazblue so I can test my skill and wit in a fair and balanced environment which I can immerse myself in. Nowadays unless I’m reviewing a game it’ll almost certainly have some form of competitive multiplayer, but after playing this beta I realised I’d forgotten how to just play games for FUN. I hadn’t felt the way I’d felt playing Star Wars Battlefront since I was a child: I actively turned OFF the HUD and was amazed by how good it felt just to experience the game, something I take for granted nowadays as a seasoned gamer.
That first day rushed by like a blur… It was a long time before I started getting angry, and believe me I got very pissed off with Star Wars Battlefront eventually; after all, you can only stay in the opening hype sphere for so long before certain thoughts start appearing and taking root in your head: Why do the Rebels almost always basically have to lose? Why when air combat is so important for victory can literally anyone get into a fighter when they are so very limited? Why does Vader occasionally sound like a total moron?
You see, when you spend 5 days straight playing the same Star Wars scenario and seeing a very similar ending 90% of the time, it gets boring. For the same reason I wouldn’t want to watch the battle for Hoth a hundred times in a row, I was tired of watching the rebels lose again and again and again and more than that I was tired of experiencing that loss again and again and again. After that much time playing it, as was inevitable, the immersion began to break down.
What does all of this mean for Battlefront? Well it’s pretty simple actually: Battlefront is not designed to be the BEST competitive game. Believe me, DICE have been making Battlefield successfully for years, if they wanted to make a competetive game they could've found a much better universe to abuse. The importance of the story, universe or aesthetic in Call of Duty, League of Legends or Counter-Strike isn’t nearly as important as the gameplay is, after all they’re all designed to be competitive games. It’s why you either don’t see a single player option or get a lacklustre one in the three of them; it’s just not necessary and it’s certainly not what people buy them for anymore.
Battlefront is conceptually closer to games like The Walking Dead by Tell-Tale Studios or Until Dawn, strangely enough. Both games have incredibly unique gameplay options available, but they’re both based around the story both games tell. If the story wasn’t there, the gameplay elements simply couldn’t thrive on their own. Yes, that’s what I’m saying: if Battlefront wasn’t set in the Star Wars Yniverse it wouldn’t be a game worth buying. That may seem like the kiss of death for a Triple-A spinoff game, but the funny thing is, it isn't just 'set' in the Star Wars Universe. It's part of the Star Wars Universe.
And that means a lot more than it sounds like. While I know it sounds like bad form to say a game’s good for the universe it’s set in as opposed to its gameplay, I think some creative credit is due to those who strive to and eventually succeed to replicate someone elses creation in a different medium from the original. As anyone who’s seen Charlie Kauffman’s Adaptation will know, transitioning an already existing fictional world into another creative medium is an incredibly tricky and risky process, no more so than in gaming: how many bad game to film adaptations have we seen over the years? Remarkably, Star Wars Battlefront really captures the essence of what the world fell in love with all those years ago, even if it has to break a few game design rules to do it.
Star Wars Battlefront similarly isn’t trying to be the COD killer or the next Battlefield: it’s trying to create an interactive Star Wars Battle Simulator (for lack of a better term). It doesn’t have to be perfectly balanced, it doesn’t have to have revolutionary combat dynamics… it just has to be Star Wars through and through.
This may seem obvious, but it’s an important consideration in deciding if the game is worth buying. For example, graphics in a game like League of Legends or a Fighting Game are nice, but far from what makes or breaks the game. Case in point, 90% of fighting games are in 2D because it matches the gameplay better than 3D, despite 3D models being far more 'realistic'. In Star Wars Battlefront, however, the quality of the sound and graphics is of vital importance because it’s specifically got to feel like you’re in the Star Wars universe, fighting a real battle for the Empire or the Rebel Alliance.
Gameplay is of course still very important, but it’s far more important that the feeling of playing matches the original trilogy more than anything else. There are certain new elements to the gameplay which are pretty neat which fit the tone very well, but when applied to a game world really fuck with a balance team's existing priorities: you use a blaster not a conventional weapon, so you fire lasers not bullets. Lasers (as per Star Wars history) have no drop over distance, and therefore can be used at any distance. Of course there’s the issue of travel time, but as shown in the beta plenty of people are good enough to snag cross map kills with any given rifle, meaning it's next to impossible to balance these weapons totally. You also have no secondary, so customisation purely involves changing your primary and selecting three rechargeable abilities to use. You also get the opportunity to pick up various power-ups around the map which give you special weapons and equipment as well as the occasional vehicle and hero spawn.
It all comes together feeling very arcade-like, almost like a game out of time. In fact, for a game criticised ahead of this beta many times for being a Battlefield clone, it’s different in all the right areas. There’s never one thing that makes you forget you are playing a Star Wars game… if anything everything endeavours to remind you of it.
And now we come to what was in my opinion by far the most controversial thing about Battlefront at the time of its beta: its structural imbalance. Let me put this very VERY clearly: the beta’s Walker Assault mode on Hoth was fundamentally unfair.
I’m not making this up, this isn’t me being a noob or complaining for no reason: it’s been more or less agreed amongst reviewers that the Empire was put at an almost comical advantage at the time of the beta's release. With a more complicated objective, zero ground vehicles and a huge requirement for teamwork the Rebels were losing over 75% of their games overall. This did frustrate me a lot as a competitive gamer at first, but at the same time I kinda liked it; after all, wasn’t that the point of the original trilogy? The Rebels ALWAYS had it harder, always had to fight better and were always outmanned and outgunned. Even if it became annoying after a particularly long play session it did fit the aesthetic of Star Wars and deserves the spotlight as Battlefront's most unique anti-formula gamemode.
Now since the beta DICE have made the sides a fair bit more balanced: the walkers that you have to destroy have a huge weak spot beneath their bellies to help ground troops deal damage (before you needed air supremacy or a lucky orbital barrage power-up to destroy a walker) and many of the new maps available on full release feature all new ways to deal extreme damage to the behemoths. The beta was also rife with immersion breaking bugs and DICE’s quality assurance department have done a remarkably excellent job at sorting them out. The flight controls and turret sensitivity have been tweaked a lot from their uncontrollability in the beta. If there was and is one thing still noticeably missing, it’s a true mouse sensitivity option on PC; basically a deal killer for most if not all PC gamers. Imagine playing with someone constantly artificially accelerating your crosshair movement in a game where weapons have to be precise. Yeah, it sucks.
Last but not least, the voice work on the heroes, while arguably well done bearing in mind none of the original actors were used, is still somewhat dissapointing. While the rest of game truly captures what makes Star Wars great, there’s something grating about hearing Luke, Darth Vader and Boba Fett spouting lines their actual counterparts wouldn’t be caught dead saying. That being said, it’s more than made up for by other very Star Wars-ian features that restore your immersion quickly: If an allied wingman dies in the air, a common quote to hear over comms is, "they came from… BEHIND-" mirroing Gold Leader's death cry over the Death Star trench in a New Hope. The Wilhelm Scream that was made famous by Star Wars returns as a death sound effect which plays at random (it's possibily the funniest and coolest audio you can hear) and various camera shots from the Junkyard Wastes and Endor Walker Assault maps directly match those used in the original trilogy, to the point where I was often killed by my nostalgia flashbacks alone.
And now we get on to why I do recommend you get this game despite its flaws: the sheer amazing variety of the content available on full release. While many reviews will tell you scathingly that the game only has 4 maps, it’s more true to say it features 4 planets, with each planet having a variety of different maps depending on the mode’s player count. There’s also an insane amount of customisation available, from appearance to the game’s Star Cards and weapons. What I find most impressive is the game’s inclusion of a variety of male and female models for both the Empire and the Rebellion, something other shooters could truly learn from *ahem* Call of Duty. All in all, the game just feels… really complete. It definitely deserves its price tag, and even if most triple A games seem underwhelming for their prices, don’t make the mistake of writing off Battlefront for the same reason.