Tom Powter reviews Star Wars Battlefront…
Star Wars Battlefront is both parts a stunning recreation of the much-loved original trilogy of films, and a disappointingly barebones first-person shooter. It’s interesting to see just how true to the films developer EA DICE’s vision for the game was – the world they have created is perhaps the most convincingly Star Wars has ever been brought to life in a video game before. On the larger maps, full-scale war unfolds, with TIE fighters screaming overhead amidst a flurry of red and green laser fire. The familiar hum of a lightsaber signals death for all those in the vicinity, and the game world encompasses everything that fans adore about the franchise. The game’s fundamentals betray it however, and beneath the glossy sheen, there’s a very limited experience to be had.
Let’s start with the good, and there definitely is plenty to commend here. Star Wars: Battlefront might just be the prettiest game I’ve ever played on a console. The four playable planets (at the time of writing this review, the free DLC, Jakku, has been made available only to players who pre-ordered the game. As such, I will not be writing about it, as this review will target the base game at launch) Endor, Tatooine, Hoth and Sullust are immaculately realised and almost look to have been ripped straight from the films. Endor is the clear standout, with dense canopies of towering trees casting nets of shadow across the undergrowth, while imposing Star Destroyers hover lazily above tranquil lakes. Babbling streams are seen running amongst the rocks and the sunlight filters naturally between the trees to create one of the most believable battlegrounds I’ve ever seen in a video game.
The other areas are almost as impressive, though often sparser than Endor. Tatooine is a sun-bleached landscape, often with endless blue skies overhead. The rock formations allow for twisting turns and narrow passageways, making Tatooine one of the more unpredictable maps. Hoth meanwhile is a barren wasteland of ice, with glittering snow and vast, open plains. Sullust, the one planet never actually visited in the films, is also visually stunning – it’s an industrial planet, made up of sharp and striking greys and blacks. Often you can see lava flowing through deep cracks in the surface, giving off the impression that you’re fighting a dangerous battle on what is already a volatile planet.
The original trilogy of Star Wars is fondly remembered for a number of reasons and one of those is that the world presented to viewers was so believable in its construction. Everything is battered, bruised and lived-in, right down to the scuffs on the sides of X-Wings, or the dirty uniforms of rebel soldiers who battled through the harshest of conditions. This game absolutely nails that aesthetic and truly gives off the impression that you could be in one of the films. It’s an experience unlike any a Star Wars game has previously delivered. By using a new method called photogrammetry, DICE has managed to essentially replicate objects and items from the films perfectly into the game and you know what – it works.
Extremely high-resolution textures, especially on the rocks of Tatooine and Sullust, never cease to impress – even when zoomed in through a scope. Rather than muddy, the textures continue to pop. The game’s lighting and particle effects are also stunning – there’s a burst of crimson sparks whenever a laser strikes anything. Shadows move realistically across the landscape and everything comes together to paint one hell of a picture.
It’s not just the graphics that amaze however – the sound design in this game is absolutely top-notch too. Laser fire sounds exactly as it did in the films, meaning you can be forgiven for wanting to hold down the trigger for an extended period in order to get the full effect. All the iconic noises are present, from the roar of starfighters in the atmosphere, to the buzzing of a nearby lightsaber. DICE’s ambition was to make the player feel as though they stepped foot into the world of Star Wars, and they’ve almost completely and utterly succeeded. You’ll notice that I’ve spoken a lot about the game’s presentation – that’s because it’s undeniably the best aspect of Star Wars Battlefront. Aside from jarringly terrible voice acting on the game’s hero characters, everything else is of the optimum quality. The gameplay however is a different matter.
For starters, this is absolutely a multiplayer only experience. Sure, there are several single-player ‘missions’ and a rather basic survival mode, but it’s a pitiful offering of filler content at best. While DICE should be commended for including split-screen local multiplayer for these modes, what’s here certainly doesn’t make much of an impression. You have a number of basic tutorial modes to get you started, before moving onto ‘battles’. These are quite literally basic matches against the AI, wherein you can choose to play as a soldier, or one of the six heroes of the game – Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia represent the Rebel Alliance, while Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and Boba Fett channel the Dark Side. Once you’ve exhausted those modes – and believe me, you will – the best part of the ‘single-player’ content is a relatively standard survival mode. It’s up to you to try and survive fifteen increasingly difficult waves of enemies and well, that’s about it. There aren’t really any parameters available for you to tweak – it’s all just…well, plain.
So there’s no campaign, no galactic conquest of any kind. What is there to do then? As long as you enjoy multiplayer shooters, there’s a bit on offer – nine game modes are available to play at launch, with more promised down the pipeline. Their quality varies. For instance, Supremacy and Walker Assault are more akin to the massive, full-scale war games offered by Battlefront’s sister series, Battlefield, while the smaller modes like Drop Zone, where teams of eight must capture falling pods, and Blast, a typical deathmatch, offer a more intimate experience. The quality between these modes varies wildly – for instance, both the large modes are exciting and intense, with 40 players battling it out in one huge brawl amongst massive set pieces, while some of the smaller modes can simply feel like additional content tacked on to the package.
Supremacy, which is a mode in which capturing the zones is essential, features vehicles like the AT-ST and aerial combat, as well as the occasional appearance of player-controlled hero characters. Similarly, Walker Assault, Battlefront’s only real unique mode, sees you trying to prevent a colossal AT-AT from reaching and destroying a rebel base (or aiding its stampede, if you’re the Empire). It too features an enormous amount going on at once on-screen and is perhaps the truest representation of an epic Star Wars showdown. There is a true novelty to running across an intensely detailed, war-torn battlefield, while fighters blitz the skies overhead. Occasionally you’ll see one of the heroes dancing across the rubble, dishing out massacres left and right (the heroes are terribly unbalanced also – Boba Fett can take to the skies for an almost unlimited amount of time, making him by far the most versatile and dangerous. Meanwhile, Emperor Palpatine is left to languish with weak bursts of electricity that run out far too quickly). It’s in these large modes that DICE’s vision of bringing true Star Wars battles to life is properly realised – and it’s also when the game is at its best.
That isn’t to say that some of the other modes aren’t worth your time either, and there’s actually some good stuff in the smaller game modes that’s likely to get overlooked. Drop Zone for instance is fast-paced and interesting, forcing you to always be on the move as you converge on zone points that need capturing. Then there’s Heroes vs. Villains, that sees the beloved characters of the franchise take on each other in climactic battles. However, a lot of these smaller modes miss their mark completely – Cargo and Droid Run are two of the worst offenders, with poor scoring systems meaning that most of the match will simply see you running around like a headless chicken waiting for that crucial final minute. Hero Hunt, in which seven players team up on one Hero, can be interesting, but more often than not it’s hugely frustrating. In fact, it seems fundamentally broken – whoever lands the final hit on the Hero becomes the next Hero, but this seems wrong to me. It should be whoever deals the most damage. It’s in this approach that we see where one of Battlefront’s greatest issues lies – it’s simplicity and accessibility.
This is not a deep game. There are only eleven weapons in the game, with no upgrading available whatsoever, so those of you who were hoping for intricate levels of customisation can forget it. Speaking of customisation, the character customisation is insultingly bad – you can unlock ‘generic rebel face number 17’ and you can’t even change the hair colour – even the menus, which generally look clean and sharp, actually give off an air of sterility that betrays the game’s exceptionally basic underlining features. The actual gameplay itself has been designed in such a way as to be accessible to people of all ranges of skill. However, this design choice has essentially crippled the game – firefights boil down to whomever shot first is most likely to win, with luck playing a bigger part than skill in most instances. After having played Halo 5, where fights become an intense duel, involving numerous outcomes, Battlefront’s approach to shooting is devastatingly basic. Hold down the trigger and really hope you win. That’s about it.
This simplicity permeates the entire package. There are only four planets available at launch, and although they look wonderfully pretty, there really aren’t many maps to play on. Even the small variants are essentially just cut out sections of the larger ones. With barely any maps, no single-player content and very little else to do in the game, the sparseness of Star Wars: Battlefront becomes painfully evident. Even as a huge Star Wars fan, I have a difficult time overlooking what this game truly is – a run and gun arcade shooter, boiled down to its simplest form. Even the flying controls, as seen in the rather boring Fighter Squadron mode, are incredibly easy. Sure this means that newcomers have a good time jumping in, but where is the skill ceiling? Where are the hidden manoeuvres that make it worthwhile for shooter aficionados to stick around and learn?
Once you’ve marvelled at the spectacular world on offer here, you’ll realise there isn’t much else to marvel at. Star Wars Battlefront is perhaps the best recreation of Star Wars in a video game ever – at least on the surface. What DICE misses however, is the sense of fun that Star Wars always carried. Battlefront quickly divulges into a die, respawn and repeat fest. If you’re better at shooters than the average player, you may have more fun with this often-unbalanced game, but the novelty wears thin quickly. I have enjoyed my time with the game, no matter how cynical this review sounds – but my time with the game won’t be overly lengthy. Hopefully the inevitable next Battlefront title will introduce many of the aspects missing in this skeletal package. For now though – may the Force be with you (for however long you decide to keep playing anyway).
- Absolutely gorgeous. Possibly the best looking game ever on a console.
- Sound design is quite literally out of this world
- The maps are well-designed and interesting, with verticality and choke points
- Moment-to-moment gameplay is decent, though lacking in many areas and unlikely to hold the average player for too long
- Considerable dearth of content. There’s no real single-player content here whatsoever, and only a handful of good modes
- Game mechanics are incredibly simple, meaning most fights boil down to luck and who has the bigger weapon
- Horrendously bad hero voice acting breaks immersion