Reviewing Stars Wars Battlefront has been like a game of critical tennis. It’s seen nearly every positive countered with a negative, the rally going back and forth at breakneck speed with the deciding point as likely to come from one side as the other. One moment it’s scaling the heights of Empire Strikes Back, as its battles repeatedly culminate in a quintessential moment of pure Star Wars, then it dips into the kind of farcical guff you probably slept through in Attack of the Clones.
There’s obviously no need to explain what Star Wars is; you’d have to have been living on Alderaan to not know even the the tiniest thing about the franchise, but you may not be aware what kind of Star Wars game you’re in for with Battlefront. The incredibly lazy answer would be ‘’Battlefield with Star Wars on top’’ yet it differs in as many ways as it is similar. Yes, you can fight as ground troops with an array of weaponry (95% lasers, for any laser enthusiasts out there) and take vehicles into battle, but the likely accusation of a reskin is because DICE is behind it and it, of course, also works on Battlefield. The core ideas are definitely mined from the military shooter, but the overall goal of Battlefront is to be highly accessible in a way Battlefield cannot be. It is abundantly clear that EA and DICE wanted this to be a game for all ages and abilities. This is mostly a positive thing, but yes, there are drawbacks to making a game for everyone.
Your first interaction with SW Battlefront is likely to be the mini game you play as the game proper installs. This small slice of being Darth Vader massacring rebels on Hoth is a rather fitting prologue for what is to come. Initially there is immense joy to be had in stomping around as the galaxy’s biggest badass, flinging the lightsaber about and force-choking fools. A few minutes of this is easily better than the soulless mess that was The Force Unleashed 2, but beyond a few minutes the appeal lessens as you begin to see it for the distraction it is and wait impatiently for something better. That perfectly described my time with Battlefront in general.
From stark white backgrounds that sit behind tiled menus reminiscent of an EA Sports title, to the game itself, which looks nothing short of spectacular in places, the front end of Battlefront is typically slick-looking and full of vibrant colors and instantly recognizable people, places and things. The Jawa transport sits looming on Tatooine, the treetop homes of the Ewoks on Endor, and the icy Rebel base on Hoth stand among the iconic scenery on display in Battlefront and DICE has done a marvelous job in recreating the dreams of childhood for a generation. Never has a game quite captured the majesty of the Star Wars films like this. In full flow, it rides so close to recreating those silver screen moments that you can’t help but grin from ear to ear. Problem is, only a handful of the game’s modes really reach that point, leaving the rest of it with a sense of emptiness I’ve not felt in a long time (namely after leaving a screening of Attack of the Clones).
A tutorial is probably meant to be your first port of call, and while it could give you some pointers and XP, it, like all of the meagre singleplayer content in Battlefront, is an afterthought. It houses none of the escapist joy of the online portion of the game and you’d be far better off just winging it unless you’re trophy hunting or somehow desperate to learn basic functions via the medium of tedium.
In fact, all single-player modes in Battlefront are tedious joy vacuums, even throwing in a friend to help out can’t make modes like Survival fun. When seen next to the larger multiplayer you notice how much the maps feel like sets rather than living breathing worlds. The pandemonium of multiple players battling across land and sky makes the likes of Endor and the rest feel alive, rather than a slightly aggressive tour of a film studio. Each mode is varied, set with starred challenges to overcome on three different difficulty levels, and you get time trials, points scoring and, as mentioned before, pure wave survival, among them. The survival mode is the most noteworthy as it feels a lot less like an extended tutorial than the rest, but like I touched upon, it is nowhere near as fun as where the game is primarily focused; multiplayer.
The standout, centrepiece of Star Wars Battlefront is easily Walker Assault. In this, you take up the role of a Rebel or an Imperial as with every other mode, but here two teams of twenty try to fulfill their objective. The Rebels need to prevent a pair of Walkers from reaching an escape ship by holding certain uplink points on the map and giving themselves tickets to enable air support to help drive back the Imperial menace sooner. The Imperials must take out the Rebels, prevent them from activating uplinks and ensuring the Walkers arrive at the rescue ship relatively unscathed so they can blast it out of the sky. Walker Assault utilizes the entirety of each of the four planet’s maps as the battle rages on over big expanses. With 20 vs. 20, this initially feels like greatest thing ever. The screech of ships flying overhead, the various kinds of laser fire flying around the battlefield like a huge outdoor rave and the iconic Star Wars scenery come together to produce an exhilarating tour De force. This is the sort of spectacle you want to show off to non gaming folk on a big screen with the surround sound on. Just don’t let them watch long enough to start questioning why the Emperor is flipping about in a battle he’d not need nor want to participate in.
That’s right, big name heroes and villains can show up to lend a hand in the fight, and you can be one of them! A chosen player gets a turn at being one of three heroes (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo) or three villains (Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and Boba Fett) depending on which side they’re playing on. These special characters carry unique skills and a tougher resistance to gunfire and explosions. To control them is very empowering the first two or three times, and seeing them on the battlefield leaves you with a sense of dread, but the illusion is shattered whenever a player is using them in the wrong way, flailing about like a child with a cardboard tube pretending to be Darth Vader instead of actually playing as him. Still, as perk systems go, it is a fun, simple one.
Supremacy is also a big scale battle, but more based in the realms of Domination. It’s good fun too, but the effect isn’t nearly as strong as Walker Assault. Fighter Squadron sees a full on aerial battle between two teams of ten and while a bit limited, it is pleasingly easy to get into and a highly enjoyable way to spend a few minutes at a time. I’ve grown rather fond of this mode, playing it for half an hour at a time before I move on to another game.
Battlefront’s simplicity and ease of use is a big plus for those of us short on time, and it also allows a wider audience to experience these epic battles with little guidance. You can compete with people who’ve accrued everything to a decent standard and not come back a few days later to find everything is now impossible because you couldn’t put six hours a day in. In many ways, Battlefront is the anti-hardcore shooter, designed for all to enjoy and devoid of fiddly perk management and skill shots. While this does wonders for the likes of Walker Assault and Fighter Squadron, it means that smaller ground-based skirmish modes are all ever so slightly different variants of the same deathmatch/capture formula, and without the need for actual skills, it becomes pedestrian, mundane and almost entirely not worth your time once you’ve played a couple of rounds. Blast is a straight up unapologetic team deathmatch and is probably the strongest of these remaining game modes because of the 10 vs 10 set up.Hero Hunt pits one hero or villain against a team of regular players and is somehow more disappointingly terrible at it than the similarly-themed shooter Evolve, while Heroes vs Villains gives each team a full set of three special characters to compliment the three ground soldiers who will attempt to protect them from the opposing sides forces. It’s… alright to try once or twice, but the sets of heroes and villains are badly balanced in favour of the villains and the novelty wears thin rapidly. Droid Run, Cargo and Drop Zone play like one good mode split into three average ones. Perhaps this was to make it appear like there was more to offer, but combining the three into a singular game mode would have been a fine addition to the better ones already available.
The real shame about Battlefront is that even the greatest parts get old far too soon. With little in the way of tactical depth in the game and a troubling lack of maps that seems to stem from a choice to hold a few of them back for the season pass, Battlefront looks set to have a short shelf life for many weaned on the industry’s leading shooters like CS: GO, CoD and Battlefield. As a game you pick up and play for an hour here or there to get a quick fix of Star Wars euphoria, Battlefront does so superbly. It’s only when you mainline it for hours at a time that the shallowness becomes a problem and boredom sets in. You’ll still get 15-20 hours of joy out of it before that happens so it isn’t exactly a terrible investment, but if you’re after a deeper, more engaging shooter then this isn’t the one you’re looking for.