Star Wars Battlefront Review
I have a love-hate relationship with Star Wars Battlefront. Well, hate is too strong a word here, but there are some things about the game that are a big disappointment given how well other parts of the game are implemented. Let's start with the good...
Star Wars Battlefront captures, the look, feel, and sounds of some of the iconic locations of the original trilogy in ways that no Star Wars game has done before. The maps in the game are some of the best looking that I've seen in a shooter, the technical impressiveness of the graphics made even more so by the fact that they look like they are taken straight out of the films. As you run through the trenches of Hoth, into its ice caves, and through the Rebel base, you can't help but have the feeling that you've been there before. That's because you have been there before time and again with each viewing of The Empire Strikes Back. There's so much attention to detail here that you even see things like falling ice crystals in the tunnels in the rebel base that are knocked loose by the concussions unleashed by the battle raging on the surface. Yes, just as in the movie. The sounds in the game are all spot-on, with everything from the pew-pew of the blasters to the roar of a TIE fighter's engines meticulously recreated and indistinguishable from the original sound effects.
A lot of the work obviously went into creating the game's levels, but it seems that this consumed all of the effort that went into the game's presentation. While the levels are some of the best looking available in a shooter, everything else is a bare minimum. The menu system is so plain that it's disappointing - after you hear the opening refrain from the Star Wars theme during the cycle of splash screens shown at the game's launch, you're dumped into a small collection of menu pages that feature a few tiles on a totally white background. It doesn't look like anything was touched after some placeholder menus were put in place early in the game's development. And the tiny handful of cutscenes that play before some of the single player levels consist of fifteen second sequences used to set-up the levels with no more story content than "we're about to have a battle". The total Star Wars immersion created by the matches is broken every time you complete a game and return to those stark white screens.
As for the gameplay, the game supports multiplayer matches and a collection of single player/co-op challenges. However, there's no question here as to where the game places its focus, and that's squarely on the multiplayer mode. Sadly, there's no single player campaign in the game, and one can only imagine that had a campaign been included here that was crafted with all of the care used to make the multiplayer gameplay look so authentically Star Wars it would have made Star Wars Battlefront one of the best Star Wars games ever. Instead, we're presented with the missed opportunity of a collection of bot and arena battles fought on the multiplayer maps. Battles mode lets you play a team deathmatch style battle with AI-controlled teammates and enemies on each of the game's maps. The bot AI is pretty poor, and it's easy to win these matches on the first difficulty levels. The highest difficulty level presents a little more of a challenge, but that's more because your health is reduced so that two shots can kill you and due to the complete ineptitude of your AI teammates to do anything more than just pad the other side's kill total. Survival mode is a little more interesting in that it has you taking on waves of enemies in an arena style battle; 15 waves of attackers in all. Again, the enemy AI makes it pretty easy to get through the lower difficulty levels, whereas the increased damage that they do at the highest level will make you need to be at least a little strategic about things. Battles mode is pretty forgettable, they're all one-and-done matches that you won't care to spend much time playing. Survival mode is better, but it's more of something that provides for an occasional diversion rather than a game mode that will keep you hooked for hours on end. In summary, don't buy Star Wars Battlefront if you're only interested in single player play. It's a multiplayer game with a few extra modes tacked on to it so that it can check a box and claim that it includes single player content. Now that that's out of the way, let's move on to the multiplayer gameplay.
Star Wars Battlefront serves up nine different game modes, each of which is played by selecting the tile for the mode that you want to join from the multiplayer menu screen. Battlefront provides the smoothest connection for jumping right into a multiplayer match than in any of the DICE shooters that I have played on PC before. For once I didn't have to struggle with firewall settings and PunkBuster installs before I could even get into a multiplayer match, and it's nice to just select a mode and go rather than having to sift through a long list of servers first. I know that some gamers like finding a few favorite servers and making friends with the other regulars on those servers, but in reality it simply made finding and connecting to a game an ordeal for everyone who wanted to just jump into a match.
The game features a straightforward progression and loadout system that looks like it was designed to be accessible to those who don't spend a lot of time with multiplayer shooters. Playing in matches rewards gamers with experience, experience leads to level gains, and level gains make more weapons and equipment available to be purchased. The credits that serve as the game's unlock currency are tied to experience earned in matches as well - earning experience earns a corresponding amount of credits. There are no classes in the game, leaving specialization and playstyle to depend on a player's selection of a loadout. Loadouts are pretty simple in the game - you can select a primary blaster weapon, two pieces of equipment, and a single ability. The initial blasters that are available to new players are so poor, that you'll just have to take your lumps for your first few matches and grind your way to a better weapon. Blaster don't use ammunition, but they can overheat with too much use and leave you without a weapon while you wait for it to cool down. The tendency to overheat and the time it takes to cool down vary by blaster, so if you're the trigger happy type you'll want to take this into consideration when selecting your primary weapon.
Equipment includes an assortment of grenade types and also specialty weapons as well, so if you want to carry the equivalent of a shotgun or sniper rifle into a battle as your secondary weapon you'll need to use one of your two equipment slots to do so. All equipment requires a short recharge time after use, so while it may seem natural for you to have to wait for another grenade to become available after using one, it will conversely seem odd to fire off a couple of shots from your sniper rifle and then have to wait for it to recharge before you can use it again. Abilities are basically weapon related perks, and when activated provide short-term benefits like increased accuracy or a resistance to overheating. Beyond the selection of equipment and abilities there's no weapon or other loadout customization options, and the number of blasters and pieces of equipment available is relatively limited. Gamers who play shooters often should be able to tear through all of the unlockables in a relatively short period of time.
Additional one-time use items can be found during the matches by picking up one of the tokens that spawn on the maps. These include things like rocket launchers, gun emplacements, and the ability to call in an orbital strike, and on some maps they give you the opportunity to pilot an X-Wing or TIE Fighter, or to hop behind the controls of an AT-ST walker. These tokens are first-come, first-served and are not tied to battlefield performance in any way, so anyone can collect a few quick kills with an orbital strike rather than it being something for exclusive use by the person already running away with the match to further pad his or her stats.
Some of the game modes also allow players to take on the role of a hero or villain. The heroes fight for the Rebel Alliance and include Luke Skywalker, Princess Leah, and Han Solo, while the Empire's villains include Boba Fett, Darth Vadar, and The Emperor. In addition to very high hit point totals, each hero and villain has a unique set of three special attacks, such as Vadar's Force Choke and Luke Skywalker's Force Push. Playing as a hero can be fun - you can take out a number of enemies using a lightsaber or Force Lightning - but it's not as much fun for everyone else who suddenly finds themselves facing a bullet-sponge on the battlefield that will have a negative impact on their kill-death ratios.
The game modes are a mix of the new and the tried and true given new names. Blast is team deathmatch and Cargo is straight-up capture the flag, with the flags replaced by, you guessed it, a cargo package. Droid Run is a control style match in which the control zones are replaced by droids that plod around the map. It probably sounds more interesting than it is, because it essentially takes away the defensive side of the equation from control style matches and usually has players running around in a circle around the map flipping switches on the droids back and forth. Drop Zone is a variant on control that will invoke thoughts of hardpoint in Call of Duty players. Teams fight for control of drop pods that crash into the map at different locations over the course of the battle, and if a team successfully defends a drop pod they're rewarded with a drop of special item tokens. The attack/defend mechanic that was lost in Droid Run is in full force here, making Drop Zone one of the game's more enjoyable basic modes.
Fighter squadron is also a team deathmatch variant, but this mode is fought entirely in the skies in a battle of X-Wings and A-Wings versus TIE Fighters and TIE Interceptors; a battle made more hectic by the addition of AI-controlled fighters on both sides. Your choice of ship is entirely an aesthetic one, as the simple flight model ensures that they all handle in the same way and each ship is equipped with the same weapons systems. Speed is controlled by allocating power between the engines and weapons with the W and S keys in a simple exchange of speed for weapon strength that usually means you'll head into battle at full speed after spawning and then move everything to weapons once you've joined the fray. Three keys are tied to canned evasive maneuvers, but otherwise dogfighting success is tied to your ability to keep the mouse cursor on top of enemy ships. Hero units are available in this mode, too, in this case the Millennium Falcon and Slave I. Their inclusion here is rather unbalanced - their hit points are so ridiculously high that players have quickly figured out that the quickest way to rack up the kills with them is to simply ram other players out of the sky. Overall I had some fun with this match, but I can't help but think that it would have been both more fun and more compelling if there was some complexity to the ships and the flight model that made the mode more than an arcade shooter.
Two of the game's modes are hero-focused, Hero Hunt and Heroes vs. Villains. Hero Hunt is a team-based game in which three players on each side are randomly given the chance to play one of the game's heroes or villains while the rest of the players spawn into the match as regular soldiers. The goal of each round is to eliminate all of the enemy heroes before they eliminate yours - regular players can respawn but heroes can't. Heroes vs. Villains is a variation on Hero Hunt, except that there are only six players, all of whom take on one of the hero or villain characters. I definitely preferred the Hero Hunt mode between the two - the battles were more interesting when they involved rebel soldiers and Stormtroopers, and Heroes vs. Villains seemed to always degenerate into a mob scene with players button-mashing attacks and special abilities while jumping around each other.
Supremacy mode features 20-on-20 battles that feel like they come out of a Star Wars movie. The teams fight to take and keep control of several strategic locations on the map, and all of the game's heroes and vehicles are accessible by finding their corresponding tokens on the map. While it certainly adds to the excitement to see TIE Fighters and X-Wings zipping around the skies during a battle, the truth is that they don't really have that much of an impact on it. They can't take and hold control points and trying to strafe ground troops is a rather fruitless endeavor, so in practice they're really just there to fight each other in an ancillary battle.
Walker Assault is by far the game's most unique mode, an objective based one in which the rebel team must work together to stop the Imperial Walkers while the Empire team tries to prevent them from doing so. If the rebels can capture and hold key uplink locations, they can call in air strikes from Y-Wing bombers that leave the AT-AT Walkers vulnerable to attack for a short time. The maps these battles play out on are massive, filled with interior locations and tunnels, as well as the large open spaces across which the AT-ATs make their methodical push towards their goal. If the rebels can destroy all three AT-ATs before any can reach that goal, they win the match; otherwise the Empire scores the win. Walker Assault is so much more fun than the other modes, it makes you wish that the game had more of these objective based modes.
As much fun as Walker Assault is to play, there are some issues with the basic gameplay in Star Wars Battlefront that are disappointing. Spawn camping is a rampant problem in all of the basic game modes, Blast, Cargo, etc., a problem that I had thought was safely relegated to the past. It's incredibly frustrating to have the game drop you into one instant death after another because it insists on spawning you into the same spot while an enemy just sits there scoring one kill after another. Also, the game's weapon selection places an emphasis on medium-ranged engagements, and it's most often the case that the player who has a weapon with the highest rate of fire wins. The respawn rates on grenades is simply too fast, and so every encounter begins with a grenade volley from both sides, and why is there even a refresh rate on a sniper rifle? And as cool as seeing heroes appear on the battlefield may be from a visual perspective, they are completely unbalanced in any mode outside of Hero Hunt and Heroes vs. Villains. Is it fun to fire an unending stream of headshots at Boba Fett while he calmly walks towards you to collect a melee kill that you both know he will get? Not really. And lastly I should mention that you may have trouble if you intend to play the game with a gamepad instead of the keyboard. There's enough of a lag while aiming that I quickly gave up on using a gamepad entirely.
So that love-hate thing I noted earlier? I love the look of the game and its authenticity when it comes to capturing the sights and sounds of Star Wars, while I hate that the presentation outside of the battles is so bland. I love Walker Assault and Supremacy modes, but hate that other modes are just good for an occasional diversion and the rest are basically forgettable. And I hate that there's no single player campaign and that the game just tacked on a few bot-driven modes. Overall, I have to say that I certainly had some fun with the game, although I can't help also feeling some disappointment with it. Strip away the Star Wars license and you're left with something that at its core is a rather pedestrian multiplayer shooter, and that is certainly going to have an effect on its staying power. Once the initial wow-factor and novelty wear off, it may not be a compelling enough package to keep you coming back to it.
Final Rating: 70% - It looks great, but it is in need of more substance behind the style.