Star Wars Bat­tle­front

PC, PS4, Xbox One


Pub­lisher EA De­vel­oper DICE For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin US Re­lease Novem­ber 17 (US), 20 (UK)

Few games come more freighted with ex­pec­ta­tion than DICE’s Star Wars

Bat­tle­front re­boot, the first­born of EA’s ten-year part­ner­ship with Lu­cas­film and Dis­ney. For starters, this will be the first heavy­weight Star Wars ti­tle since Dis­ney ac­quired Lu­cas­film and ter­mi­nated a num­ber of trou­bled but promis­ing projects, among them Star Wars 1313 and First As­sault, as well as Lu­casArts’ devel­op­ment arm. DICE must also reckon with Episode VII, due out the fol­low­ing month, which is surely aim­ing to wash away all mem­ory of the pre­quel tril­ogy. So this Bat­tle­front must set the tone for the new film while pulling its own se­ries out of a tail­spin, a sto­ried hia­tus that has lasted a decade on home con­soles.

It’s no sur­prise, then, that the de­vel­oper is play­ing things safe. Where its pre­de­ces­sors strad­dled the orig­i­nal and pre­quel trilo­gies, pit­ting droidekas and Sep­a­ratist cruisers against Stormtroop­ers and Star De­stroy­ers, DICE has limited it­self to the gad­gets, events and set­piece bat­tles of Episodes IV–VI. All are painstak­ingly recre­ated, the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of ac­cess to the old props, lo­ca­tions and ef­fects. The mul­ti­player maps (DICE will say only that there are more than eight) jump from the glit­ter­ing des­o­la­tion of Hoth to the canyons of Ta­tooine to the dense red­wood forests of En­dor. We’ve seen a pre-al­pha in-en­gine ver­sion of the lat­ter in mo­tion, run­ning on PS4, and it’s com­mend­ably hard to dis­tin­guish from the source ma­te­rial. Speeder bikes wail along stream beds, Stormtrooper ar­mour gleams among in­di­vid­u­ally an­i­mated ferns, and AT-ST walk­ers are that familiar blend of ter­ri­fy­ing and com­i­cal.

DICE has em­ployed

pho­togram­me­try to recre­ate the film’s mod­els, whereby pho­tos are taken from key an­gles, then com­bined to gen­er­ate a 3D vir­tual ob­ject. Bat­tle­field’s Frost­bite en­gine has also been up­dated to sup­port physics-based ren­der­ing, so that light­ing af­fects ob­jects dy­nam­i­cally as though they were com­prised of real ma­te­ri­als. You can pick out the ma­chine brush­marks on the han­dle of a lightsaber, and the crosshatch­ing on the grip of Han Solo’s pis­tol. It’s the usual dis­play of high fidelity from DICE, but the stakes have never been higher. As our be­hind­closed-doors demon­stra­tion un­folds at the heart of the Star Wars Cel­e­bra­tion in Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia, thou­sands of cos­play­ers tramp the halls out­side wear­ing dizzy­ing com­bi­na­tions of pa­per clay and poly­styrene foam. Suf­fice it to say that should DICE make sim­i­lar de­vi­a­tions from the hal­lowed Lu­cas­film for­mula, they will be no­ticed.

There’s less pres­sure, how­ever, to cleave to the de­sign of pre­vi­ous Bat­tle­fronts, but DICE

has made a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sions to Pan­demic’s work, while in­tro­duc­ing a few proven ideas from Bat­tle­field. The onus is once again on gi­gan­tic bat­tles – the largest modes sup­port up to 40 play­ers, the small­est, eight – with ex­ten­sive use of ve­hi­cles. In news that raised a cheer dur­ing the game’s re­veal cer­e­monies, you can switch to third­per­son view for a tac­ti­cal ad­van­tage while you’re shel­ter­ing be­hind ob­jects or co­or­di­nat­ing a group. Some weapons have scopes, but ac­cord­ing to DICE GM Pa­trick Bach, there’s no iron­sights view, a seem­ing re­turn to a more civilised age of mul­ti­player shoot­ers, a time be­fore aim down sights be­came the ac­cepted stan­dard.

Bat­tle­field’s in­flu­ence is

most clearly ap­par­ent in Bat­tle­front’s pro­gres­sion sys­tems. XP re­wards for head­shots, nemesis kills and streaks ac­cu­mu­late be­low your crosshairs, and weapons or items are un­locked in­di­vid­u­ally in the or­der of your choos­ing. There are no classes, how­ever; in­stead, the new Bat­tle­front puts heavy em­pha­sis on its map powerups, which in­clude anti-ve­hi­cle weaponry, de­ploy­able en­ergy shields and the abil­ity to sum­mon a Y-Wing bomber run, much to the dis­plea­sure of any nearby AT-AT pi­lots. But the pick of the lit­ter are the care­fully hid­den op­por­tu­ni­ties to respawn as Hero or Vil­lain char­ac­ters, such as Darth Vader and Boba Fett. The for­mer made his de­but at the cli­max of our pre­sen­ta­tion, crush­ing a wind­pipe with the Force while bat­ting away blaster shots with his free hand. In the words of de­sign direc­tor Nik­las Fe­graeus, a Hero or Vil­lain char­ac­ter is ef­fec­tively the map’s boss, ca­pa­ble of turn­ing the tide of battle if given ad­e­quate sup­port. It’s an in­trigu­ing shift to­wards the asym­me­try of a Left 4 Dead, but se­ries vet­er­ans may mut­ter darkly about Bat­tle­front II and its ram­pag­ing Yo­das.

Se­ries vet­er­ans may also take um­brage at the ab­sence of outer-space maps. There’s dog­fight­ing aplenty, but it all hap­pens within a planet’s at­mos­phere, the idea sup­pos­edly be­ing to avoid too com­plete a sep­a­ra­tion be­tween regular gun­play and battle on high, though a tight sched­ule and the dark side of DLC may also have played their part. We have mixed feel­ings about this. On the one hand, prior Bat­tle­front games have treated us to ma­jes­tic se­quences high above the sur­faces of Cor­us­cant and Na­boo, in which pi­lots in­vade han­gar bays to dis­man­tle cap­i­tal ships from within. On the other, DICE’s games are gen­er­ally at their best when pow­er­ful ve­hi­cles are pit­ted against ag­ile, te­na­cious in­fantry.

But there’s un­equiv­o­cal con­cern over sin­gle­player, limited at the time of writ­ing to Mis­sions, which are “crafted chal­lenges” based on fa­mous movie mo­ments that sup­port splitscreen or on­line co-op. Bat­tle­front doesn’t have a tra­di­tional cam­paign and, as we send to press, a DICE pro­ducer has con­firmed there will be no Ga­lac­tic Con­quest mode, a re­playable metagame from the orig­i­nal

Bat­tle­front in which the player and an AI gen­eral wres­tle for pos­ses­sion of the map list, earn­ing tac­ti­cal bonuses for ev­ery planet con­quered. If, as it seems, the sin­gle­player game is limited to Mis­sions, it will be a dis­ap­point­ingly light­weight propo­si­tion, and wor­ri­some given the fail­ure of Evolve and

Ti­tan­fall to pop­u­larise the idea of a boxed shooter with­out a cam­paign.

The rel­a­tive ab­sence thus far of real­time ter­rain de­for­ma­tion is qui­etly re­veal­ing, too. Pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to knock apart 3D ob­jects for tac­ti­cal gain is one of Frost­bite’s sig­na­ture tricks, but per­haps Lu­cas­film has con­cerns about the abuse of its fa­mous as­sets. It’s a pity, be­cause Star Wars has al­ways done a good line in cre­ative de­struc­tion (Battle Of En­dor log traps aside), and this tech is ide­ally suited to let­ting play­ers lop off the bridge of a Star De­stroyer as a way to wind up a close-run match. The bal­ance of power that un­der­pins Star Wars:

Bat­tle­front ap­pears to be firmly in Lu­cas­film’s favour, though, with lit­tle sense that DICE has been granted much artis­tic li­cense. Star Wars has suf­fered from a sur­feit of top-down con­trol in the past; the IP’s new own­ers could do worse than to loosen their choke­hold.

There’s no iron­sights view, a seem­ing re­turn to a more civilised age of shoot­ers

The game will let play­ers com­mand AT-AT walk­ers, which serve as mo­bile fortresses, but will you be able to pi­lot them?

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