It almost feels unreal to be playing a new Star Wars: Battlefront game. For roughly a decade, Battlefront III was the go-to ‘Why Haven’t They Made This Because Everyone Wants It’ game, but any hope of actually seeing it brought to life seemed like the a fool’s dream. But it is 2015, Star Wars Episode VII is coming out in December, and Star Wars Battlefront hits stores in a month. DICE’s version of the legendary series is a fundamentally different experience to Pandemic’s classics, but even in beta, it’s a damn good shooter, and without a doubt the best Star Wars game of this decade so far.
Authenticity is a big part of what make’s DICE’s reboot work. Every blaster bolt fired has a sense of weight to it, and every explosion feels exactly as Earth shattering as a devastating ion blast should. The attention to detail present in Battlefront’s production values is legitimately staggering – though there’s nothing resembling the urban destruction on offer in the Battlefield series, each map feels malleable, like the player’s actions within their space has a very real impact on their surroundings. Said surroundings also have a big impact on player models, as they duck and weave to avoid oncoming blaster fire, and subtly divert their attention to overhead TIE fighter bombardments – these are minute details, but they go a long way to helping Battlefront faithfully recreate Star Wars conflicts.
Three maps are currently available: two multiplayer games and a single player/co-op experience. The latter takes place in the winding canyons of Tatooine, and pits one or two players against several waves of increasingly hardy stormtroopers and AT-ST’s. Unlike the Battlefront games of yore, the stormtroopers here are spot on in terms of their artificial intelligence – just smart enough to present a challenge, but still dumb enough to successfully replicate the ever incompetent grunts of the Empire’s armies.
As for the multiplayer modes, Drop Zone is a small, 8 vs. 8 excursion revolved around capturing escape pods (akin to capturing command posts in classic Battlefront), while Walker Assault pits an army of 20 rebels against 20 imperials, AT-AT walkers and all. Drop Zone is my preferred mode at the time of writing, because it’s easier to get a foothold on Battlefront‘s quirks when you don’t have 20 snowtroopers breathing down your neck. Walker Assault is a positively overwhelming experience, both for better and for worse. Taking place across a huge section Hoth, the Rebel Alliance must protect uplink terminals in order to call down Y-Wing support, whereas the Empire must shut down said uplinks, whilst protecting their AT-AT’s. I’ve yet to see a rebel team win at Walker Assault, the cards are so heavily stacked against them.
Thankfully, Battlefront takes certain steps to make itself more easily digestible to scrubs like me. Presumably aware that they’d be dealing with a larger audience than the Battlefield elite, DICE has ensured that less skilled players can still gain the upper hand by procuring handy power-ups scattered across the map. They drop randomly, so there’s no room for power-up hunting, but finding Smart Rockets, Y-Wing support, or even the the chance to play as Luke Skywalker can make the game that little bit more enjoyable for shooter novices, and adds an extra layer of complexity to an already chaotic battlefield.
Being able to switch between first and third person views is a nice touch too, and each perspective comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. First person mode is obviously a little more accurate, but it restricts your viewing capabilities, whereas third person allows for better battlefield awareness, and easier strafing manoeuvres, but makes close aiming much more difficult.
As impressive as Battlefront already is, there are still issues present, though most of these are probably beta restrictions. Only four types of blaster are available, and most of them behave very similarly to one another, both in terms of range, rate of fire, and damage. Secondary items are available as a means of customizing your character somewhat, but on the whole there aren’t many ways to recreate classes from the original games; no snipers, no mechanics, no medics etc.
Vehicle and hero power-ups do a great job of spicing up proceedings, but there needs to be more variety within Battlefront‘s fundamental moment to moment gameplay, in order to make each soldier feel individually powerful in their own right.
Again, it’s unlikely that most of these issues will be present in the full game, and it’s impressive just how little is wrong with the Battlefront beta. To DICE’s credit, they’ve created an uncanny replica of Pandemic’s original gameplay loop: i.e. players funnel their way through small canyons and corridors out into wider fields and trenches, whereupon they hurl a volley of thermal detonators before trying to pick off vital headshots. The only major imbalance issue is the aforementioned “Rebels Never Win on Hoth” situation, which at least feels true to the Empire Strikes Back canon, if a little unfair to play out.
I encountered one or two slow texture loads, but on the whole, I could get the game running at a steady 55-60 fps on ultra, and that’s on a fairly old rig. As far as I can tell, PC players should I expect a well optimized launch build come November (although anything can happen).
This might not be the Battlefront you remember, but that’s not inherently bad. Even at this early stage, DICE has created a gorgeous looking Star Wars experience, one that captures the excitement and intensity of the series’ largest battles.