20 November, 2015

Review – Star Wars: Battlefront

There’s a palpable glee, a joy that only the white of a Stormtrooper’s armour, or the hard angles of an Imperial Star Destroyer can evoke in me, and those are two things Star War: Battlefront packs in abundance. I have made no secret of my addiction to (most things) Star Wars and that’s a double-edged sword I think; yes, it has a certain thematic advantage over my tastes, but when it is done a disservice few people are better placed to decry it. What will Battlefront’s flavour be I wonder; the sweet zest of glee or the sour tang of disappointment?  

Review Star Wars: Battlefront banner

Star Wars: Battlefront

Some multiplayer shooters feel tailor made to produce awesome moments; they set up spectacular scenes or indeed dumb ones with apparent ease, like DICE’s previous works in the Battlefield series. Others choose to deliver a tighter, more competitive experience, such as Activision’s Call of Duty titles. There are far less examples of multiplayer shooters that deal in the low stakes, relatively simplistic fun in the manner exhibited by Nintendo’s Splatoon. Yet when I think of how to best contextualise my feelings on Battlefront I settle into a joyous and I believe very rare spot somewhere between the awe-inspiring former and the grin-inducing later. That’s not a role I was expecting Battlefront to fill, nor even that I thought could be filled, but in hindsight it is exactly where a successor to LucasArts’ renowned series should be in 2015.

Battlefront is a simple game, while that may sound like a criticism; that complexity is clearly the better alternative, I believe that it is the game’s greatest strength. It can be played in either first or third person, like the original Battlefronts and feels completely unlike the Battlefield series – I play almost exclusively in third person and love the movement and shooting. The dynamics of Blasters play a large part in this; there are only eleven in total, falling into a handful of categories, from my time with the first nine, they all feel pretty different and equally viable, with range being their greatest differentiator. Blaster rounds look awesome, sounds awesome, and kill quickly, but even if you’re having a particularly bad match the game’s instant respawning has your back. Rather than possessing ammunition, Blasters overheat from overuse, they’ll cool down after a few seconds but there is a Gears of War style active-reload mechanic enabling you to vent heat immediately. While Battlefront is entirely divergent from Battlefield, a hint of that franchise’s environmental destruction remains, though it is more for visual flare than gameplay impact; trees will splinter and collapse, small rock formations explode.

Star Wars: Battlefront sullust stormtrooper

Broader equipment use is managed with a card system, you can take two pieces of gear into battle, including grenades, sniper rifles, and jetpacks, use is restricted by a cool down timer.  There’s also an ability card slot that uses charges, purchasable with in-game credits or acquired through on-map pickups, examples include Focus Fire, which reduces the spread of your Blaster for a few seconds, or a Scan Pulse which detects nearby enemies. Around level fifteen, a selection of comparatively expensive trait cards unlock, these are passive buffs such as; reducing explosive damage. You can only equip one at a time and they occupy a different slot, but rather than remaining static, they increase in potency as you rack up more kills in a single life; each has three levels of effect. The equipment system is straightforward but your card selection is meaningful, it forces you to make tough decisions about your preferred style of combat, and I really enjoy its purity.

The cards, Blasters, and character customisation is all level gated and requires purchasing with in-game credits earned by playing matches, there are no microtransactions. One’s feelings on the character customisation could I believe, hang entirely upon one’s desire to uphold the Star Wars lore. The location of a match decides how the troops look; Hoth will always feature Snowtroopers for example. With a couple of high level exceptions, the player can only change their character’s face and gender, there are plenty of options, and by default the Imperials all where helmets.  The Rebels can choose from a handful of alien species, while the Empire boasts Scout Troopers and the sick, glossy black Shadow Troopers, but again they require a high rank to unlock.  I appreciate the system as it allows a sense of character and ownership that random models wouldn’t, whilst also maintaining the uniform quality of the battles, but as a form of progression it is clearly less compelling than other games with wider character customisation. There are also unlockable diorama models, but that is basically the polygonal equivalent of concept art. 

Star Wars: Battlefront tatooine stormtrooper squad

Star Wars: Battlefront lacks a single player campaign, which having played DICE’s last few titles does not strike me as a significant loss, though there is a certain perceived hole in Battlefront’s offering because of this. Previous Battlefront titles have offered campaigns of various sorts, including the Battlefront II’s story of the 501st Legion and Galactic Conquest mode, however it must be remembered that both were collections of AI-controlled bot matches on multiplayer maps, which DICE’s Battlefront does indeed allow. 

There are a couple of co-op modes labelled as ‘Missions’, all of these can be played solo if you prefer, and the co-op maybe online or local spilt screen (only on the consoles). Firstly, there are a handful of tutorials, then the semi-competitive Battles and Hero Battles (battles containing hero units, as the name suggests), these are small scale bot-matches in which teams must collect tags from fallen enemies and deny the enemy team their own. Battles are effectively the game mode ‘Kill Confirmed’ from the Call of Duty series, which happens to be one of my favourite the modes out there, but disappointingly it isn’t playable in the full competitive multiplayer. The second co-op mode is Survival, in this you and your partner tackle a series of increasingly difficult waves of enemies and capture the occasional drop pod full of supplies.  There are multiple tiers of difficulty, it uses a life pool, and games are scored; all typical stuff for this kind of mode. I’ve had fun playing both modes, but they lack any structure to encourage repeated play, though you do earn credits.  

Star Wars: Battlefront walker assault Hoth AT-AT

Battlefront’s competitive game modes range from the gigantic pitched battles of Walker Assault, to the small parties of Hero Hunt, to the airborne maelstrom of Fighter Squadron. In all there are nine modes across twelve maps, with two additional maps coming free in early December. Walker Assault is Battlefront’s headliner, it’s an asymmetric forty-player mode that sees the Rebel forces mount a fighting retreat in the face of an unending Imperial assault, spearheaded by AT-AT walkers. The Rebels must capture and defend uplink stations to allow Y-Wing bombers to plot an attack run, in order to disable the AT-AT’s shields and allow the ground forces to inflict damage directly. A match progress across the map in three phases, at each phase the Y-Wings that have been locked in launch their attack, the more bombers the longer the Rebels can damage the walkers. The Imperials must simply escort their walkers so they can open fire on the Rebel shield generator or transport ships, depending upon the map. These matches are lengthy, lasting approximately twenty or more minutes and capture the spirit Episode V’s Battle of Hoth perfectly. Playing as the Empire I enjoyed a sense of inevitable, unassailable victory, whether storming the Rebel trenches by foot or raining cannon fire from the bulky head of an AT-AT. While I felt an air of grim determination when defending the Rebel Alliance, for those on the receiving end of an Imperial assault, survival is the best you can hope for.

Earlier I mentioned the Battle of Hoth, and Hoth is indeed one of the planets portrayed in Battlefront, but each of the four profoundly different planet’s host a Walker Assault map. The same long maps are used for Supremacy, a tug-of-war style objective mode in which both sides hold a single active capture point at any time, the match moves back and forth along the map until one side holds all five points. Aside from snowy Hoth, Battlefront visits; the dry and arid Tatooine, the dense forest moon of Endor, and the craggy volcanic world of Sullust, each has three very distinct maps for use in different sized game modes. The maps are tightly constructed with unique dynamics; it’s more than just visual differences. The extremely dense jungle of Endor is a completely different arena from the open snow drifts of Hoth, or the rocky ravines of Tatooine. Endor offers the treetop verticality of the Ewok villages, high above the downright claustrophobic forest floor. Sullust and Hoth share a similar design in that their larger maps consist of a one large open channel, flanked on either side by a web work of tunnels and bunkers that are a natural venue intense fire fights.

Star Wars: Battlefront tatooine leia

Vehicles including starfighters are effectively on-map pick-ups, alongside equipment like Thermal Imploders and Squad Shields. You simply walk over a floating symbol of the vehicle and activate it like any other pick-up and your character will drop to one knee as if calling in air support in a movie¸ you then respawn in the vehicle. It is an odd system to behold, at least initially, especially as a Battlefield or original Battlefront player, in both games you jumped in vehicles spawned on the map. This new system mostly avoids the implausible scenario that occurs in the aforementioned games; that someone would leave ranks of unoccupied vehicles no more than a quick jog from the frontlines – though there are inoperable Snow Speeders in the hangers on Hoth. But more importantly, it increases your chances of being able to use them; players can’t skulk around the rear areas of the map waiting for them to appear, you just stumble upon them, often in active combat areas with as much chance as anyone else. Furthermore, they spawn almost as quickly as players do; I haven’t had to fight for use of any vehicle. It is a system well suited to Battlefront’s relatively casual action.

Star Wars: Battlefront x-wing fighter squadron

If you’re just dying to slip behind the controls of a TIE Interceptor and scour the skies of X-Wings – a craving I frequently suffer – then there’s a mode just for that. Fighter Squadron features short matches that are in effect, a single on-going vortex of dogfighting between mixed teams of players and AI pilots, there is no ground combat. They last only five minutes, and have simple objectives; kill enemy pilots, protect your shuttle, and destroy the enemy’s – each faction has a transport ship, a Lambda or Gallofree respectfully, that flies through the map during the match. It’s an enjoyable mode, a palette-cleanser if you will, but there are only two types of ship on either side and it resembles a skirmish rather than a battle; matches are straightforward, with no back and forth. I would love to see an evolution of Fighter Squadron, whether a similarly scaled but more objective-oriented multiplayer mode, or something co-op with greater direction.

Heroes (and villains) are handled like vehicles in terms of how you acquire them, with three available to each faction; Luke, Leia, and Han represent the Rebels, with Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and Boba Fett on the Imperial front. Heroes are far more durable and lethal than normal troops, though Leia and Han both wield blasters and play like beefed-up soldiers, Boba has a blaster too, but between his jetpack, rockets, and flamethrower he’s a death machine in a league of his own. Bringing Leia or Palpatine to the field will allow other players to spawn as special, heavier trooper with different loadouts; their bodyguards basically. In the case of Palplatine it’s the shocktroopers with the red markings, seen on Mustafar in Episode III. While it is certainly a minor point, it’s the kind of nod to detail that I love, and in this case it actually affects gameplay, making it doubly cool.

Star Wars: Battlefront sullust shocktrooper palpatine guard

Heroes have two modes of their own; Hero Hunt and Heroes Vs Villains. The former is a nine player mode that pits a squad of eight against a single hero, whoever kills the hero spawns as the next hero; the player with the most kills wins the match. The problem with Hero Hunt is that crafty hero players can lead the hunters on painfully long trek across the maps, I much prefer Heroes Vs Villains. This mode is round based; all the heroes and villains spawn each round alongside a squad of troopers, whichever team kills the other’s hero’s wins the round. Playing as a hero or villain can be a blast, but if I’m being totally honest, confronting one is often times more exciting, you can be killed in some many great looking ways.

Star Wars: Battlefront Endor Darth Vader

Star Wars: Battlefront is one of the best looking game I’ve played, which is saying a lot because I picked it up on the Xbox One, the weakest of the systems I could have chosen. It goes beyond mere technical visual quality, though even on that front the presentation is sublime; the Blaster vibrant fire, stunning environments, startling fidelity of the animations. The performance is fantastic too, delivering 60 frames per second pretty consistently from what I could tell. I could go on and on seemingly indefinitely, but Battlefront is the kind of game that has to be seen in motion to be truly appreciated.

Whether exchanging blaster bolts with a single enemy in an ice cave, or strafing a raging battlefield in a starfighter, Battlefront is breath-taking and evidently devoted to the Star Wars movies. You hear it in every sound effect, including the liberally applied Wilhelm Scream and naturally, the frequent bursts of John Williams’ music. You also see it in the animation; the postures of the models when firing different weapons, the brooding malevolence Darth Vader exudes when he raises his crimson blade to deflect blaster fire, and even in the death animation. Though the transitions and screen wipes when spawning have got to be my favourite touch, in most other properties their presence might appear horribly garish, but it is part of the Star War cinematic identity and feels right at home in Battlefront.

Star Wars: Battlefront Endor swamp drop pod

The user interface, both the heads up display in the matches and the menus outside of the battles, are some of the best I’ve seen. They’ve got a clean and contemporary style, and are extremely easy to navigate, unlike those of DICE’s Battlefield 3 and 4. Additionally, loadout and character unlocks can all be managed from inside the game lobby, which is obviously very convenient. Equally pleasing is the friends and party system that completely bypasses the Xbox One’s terribly inelegant invite system, a feat which should not be overlooked.

Star Wars: Battlefront review great The manner in which Star Wars: Battlefront acknowledges and evolves the gameplay concepts that made the original Battlefronts so loved, into a form not only suited but welcome in today’s multiplayer shooter landscape, is nothing short of amazing. There’s a simplicity and unique elegance that we’ve seen elsewhere quite recently, in titles like Titanfall and Splatoon; Battlefront knows what it wants to embody and it does so with its whole essence. As was the case in both of the above games, I can respect, but do not share the opinion that the game lacks in content or value. At most, I would like to see the starfighter specific offering be expanded into something larger, its current form is fun in its own right, but ultimately tantalising. Battlefront excels as both a multiplayer shooter and a vehicle for Star Wars, and the best part is that it’s remarkably easy to enjoy.

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