“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” This is the initial response to playing Star Wars Battlefront that you can expect from any self-respecting Star Wars fan. In my case, I may be more of an ‘avid’ fan, still owning all of my 1977 era Kenner figures and having hoovered up most of the Star Wars novels since Timothy Zahn reawakened the franchise in 1991, but then Star Wars seems to evoke that kind of fandom in a large proportion of people. There’s something magical within the mythical tale of the Skywalker family, and in Star Wars Battlefront, DICE have potentially come closer than anyone before them to capturing that feeling.
Without a single player campaign to speak of, you’re able to jump straight into the games multiplayer modes, which are set up for anywhere from 6 to 40 players, but it recommends that you first tackle the Missions mode, either solo or co-operatively. Quite refreshingly, you can play in split-screen as well as online, just as you can play in first or third-person views, and those returning to the series will be pleased to know that the third-person view is wholly successful, ultimately proving to be my viewpoint of choice.
It’s definitely worth playing at least a few of the Missions, as they represent a the game’s tutorial, teaching you the controls, and putting you in the pilot seat of various craft. It’s perhaps no surprise that the first time I hopped on a speeder bike I failed the mission, as I slammed into trees and rocks at every opportunity, but I soon got a hang of the slightly unintuitive controls – the left stick controls your speed, while you steer with the right. The vehicle controls were something I struggled with in the beta, but here, with some explanation, they gradually became clearer and easier to use.
Alongside the training missions, you also have access to Battles and Survival. All of the levels in this mode award you with stars and credits for completing certain tasks, from reaching the end of the level in a set time, to taking out a particular number of enemies. You can also choose the difficulty level here, with a run on Master difficulty boasting the most rewards. Throughout these sections, and particularly when in control of speeders, walkers or spacecraft, the spirit of the Rogue Squadron games came through, which surprised me, given my previous struggles.
Survival mode is a relatively standard horde mode, with wave after wave of enemies coming after you, and supply pods dropping into battle which you have to claim in order to gain access to powerful weaponry to assist you. You’ll need that weaponry if you want to take down the larger enemies like the AT-STs that appear, as without them it becomes a bit of a grind, particularly when you play on your own.
The multiplayer portion currently plays host to nine different game types, with Supremacy being the closest to the original Star Wars Battlefront as I remember it. The push and pull as you battle over a chain of control points keeps every encounter tense, and on the whole competitive. Vehicles are utterly lethal in the right hands mind you, and an AT-ST has never prompted as much fear as it does here. Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the ‘respawn, run towards objective, die, repeat’ cycle that occurs with Battlefield games, but I never found myself put off. Instead, I was still eager to get back into battle, to try a different tactic or route to an objective.
What is made clear in the rush towards your objectives is the lack of traversal options, which look all the more ridiculous in third-person as you see your trooper struggling to surmount a small ridge. When even Halo has thoroughly evolved its movement system, Battlefront feels outdated, and the unlockable jump pack doesn’t do much to improve things, its overly long cool-down preventing repeated uses.
Of those nine game types, things start to feel very similar. The epic Walker Assault – which you’ll have played if you took part in the beta – remains an unequivocal highlight, especially as it draws together all of the gameplay strands into one mode. However, Supremacy, Cargo, Drop Zone and Droid Run are ultimately all variations on the same ideas, heading for an objective and collecting or protecting it once you’re there.
Blast is Team Deathmatch by another name, and is successful enough, facing off in teams of ten, with you dropping randomly into either the Rebels or the Imperials. Meanwhile I found myself consistently returning to the Fighter Squadron mode, where, shorn of the land-locked troopers, you’re able to indulge in airborne battles which I found very enjoyable, though some more variety to the available craft such as B-Wings, or perhaps a T-16 Skyhopper, would really have helped to fill it out. These modes do also feature Hero vessels, with the Millenium Falcon and Slave I appearing, and on the whole causing utter chaos while you and your team mates fire everything you have at them.
Hero Hunt and Heroes vs. Villains also change things up somewhat, placing you in the boots – and cloaks – of the most iconic characters in the franchise. However, the thrill of playing as Darth Vader or Han Solo is easily tempered by spawning as a standard trooper who’s woeful abilities will see you wiped out time and time again. When these heroes appear in the main modes, they promote a real sense of dread, but when placed in the confines of these maps, they can quickly become over-powered and dull.
The biggest draw, of course, is that it all looks and sounds like Star Wars. I know people have talked about it being nothing more than a Battlefield skin, but the detail goes so far beyond that. You get the sense that the development team are truly versed in Star Wars lore, and their desire to replicate the world has been incredibly successful, marrying superb visuals and sound effects with the unmistakeable strains of John Williams’ iconic score.
In one of the training missions you’re piloting an AT-ST in defence of an AT-AT, while Darth Vader gives you orders and you shoot down A-Wings. Then a Star Destroyer appears in the sky. The feeling of being part of an epic battle, set in the Star Wars universe, is undeniably alluring, and frankly irresistible to someone that has grown up with the series, and DICE have nailed the atmosphere perfectly.
On Xbox One, performance is generally very smooth in-game, though there are some noticeable instances of texture pop-in on vehicles and the landscape, primarily in pre-game fly-bys or in the singleplayer missions. It certainly didn’t cause me to lose focus, but it’s a shame when the graphical fidelity is otherwise pitch-perfect, though it seems to be a common feature of the Frostbite engine running on current-gen consoles.
Ranking up in the multiplayer modes allows access to unlockable ability cards and various blaster types, new character skins, as well as different emotes that become available as you rank up in the multiplayer mode. There’s quite a lot to unlock, though whether you’ll be driven to is another matter.
A number of the eleven blaster’s differences are barely perceptible, and most handle very similarly, though the 24 different ability star cards and collectible special weapons help to broaden the experience. The game’s focus is not in its armoury, though. It’s about putting you in a large scale battle in the Star Wars universe, and at various points that’s where Battlefront excels. You also have the mission modes, and their star rankings promote repeated plays, but they’re too few in number – totalling seventeen – and simply don’t offer enough variety.
While the singleplayer and multiplayer missions take place on a few different maps, you’re limited to four planets – Hoth, Tattooine, Endor and Sullust. I would have loved to see more on offer, and though extra locations will be added later that doesn’t really help with the initial sense that there’s not enough meat on the game’s bones. Oddly, I kept thinking back to Splatoon at launch – another multiplayer game that I love – but which at first had nowhere near the level of content it does now. The problem is that, unlike Nintendo thus far, EA are charging more money for upcoming expansions to Star Wars Battlefront.
The training missions actually showcase what could have been, with different objectives and play-types, all set on a range of planets, evoking memories of playing Rogue Squadron II on the Gamecube. I can only hope that DICE intend to implement more similarly themed missions in the game’s forthcoming DLC.
While it’s likely that following the beta the EA servers are ready for the punishment liable to be dished out to them, for a brief period it’s worth noting that I couldn’t access the public servers on Sunday night, which went live to support EA Access’ early access to the game. While you clearly can’t get into the online multiplayer while they’re down, you’re also seemingly locked out of the offline singleplayer or co-op mission modes, which is yet another example of utterly pointless connectivity simply to retain access to up-to-date ranking leaderboards.
Star Wars Battlefront owes a great deal to the original entry in the franchise, and has managed to retain its spirit. What DICE have done is create what is arguably the most faithful and graphically coherent representation of the Star Wars universe we’ve ever seen. However, while that alone is incredibly alluring, there’s currently not enough variety to the multiplayer modes, weaponry or the single player content compared with other entries in the series and within the FPS genre. Undeniably, if you’re a Star Wars fan, Battlefront remains one of the year’s most essential purchases – and you can probably add an extra point to the score below – but you will have to rely on, and invest in, DICE’s future plans for it to be an experience you’ll return to time and time again.
Version Tested: Xbox One