E3 SPECIAL EDITION FEATURING
STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT JUST CAUSE 3 HORIZON: ZERO DAWN METAL GEAR SOLID V HOLOLENS PROJECT MORPHEUS STARVR
Despite the familiarity of its constituent parts, little can prepare you for the moment you step out into the howling wind and snow glare of Star Wars: Battlefront’s Hoth battlefield. Snowspeeders, X-Wings and TIE Fighters scream overhead, and the ground shakes under the weight of each plodding step of the AT-ATs we’re charged with defending. Bursts of blaster fire sear the air around us, and their targets’ bodies. But still our Imperial teammates push forward to quash the rebels, forebodingly stylish light-grey winter capes flapping heavily in the blasting gale.
It’s an overwhelming slug of nostalgia, and one that successfully delivers the atmosphere of the original films through a combination of perfect recreations of audio effects and the original trilogy’s distinctive visual style. DICE has pulled off a feat similar to The Creative Assembly’s achievements with Alien Isolation, perfectly capturing its source material’s retro sci-fi aesthetic while bending it into a new, interactive shape. As a result, Battlefront looks distinctive and has an easy charisma.
That the game excels at graphics and audio is hardly surprising, given that it’s being developed by the studio behind Battlefield, nor should it shock you that combat exhibits the same snappy, weighty responsiveness that’s synonymous with DICE’s games. But fans of the earlier Battlefronts hoping for a modernised version of the mechanics that they remember will have to acclimatise to DICE’s vision. You can still make use of the colossal AT-ATs that are lumbering through the level, for example, but you’re not able to steer them – the machines move along their own path, at their own pace. You’re given access to the powerful weapons onboard instead. Your time in the gunner’s chair is limited as well, although you can extend this by scoring sufficient kills.
You gain access to that devastating array of guns by finding and collecting a spinning token from the field. Other tokens will hand you full control of AT-STs, X-Wings and TIE Fighters, allow you to play as Hero or Villain characters such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, or simply furnish you with special weapons such as orbital strikes. The setup works well, creating a fresh-feeling dynamic that sits somewhere between Battlefield and the previous Battlefront. Better still, along with the tighter design of the map that we play on, it contributes an increased pace while ensuring that the action feels denser.
Our 40-player Walker Assault battle was an exhilarating rush as both teams clashed over Uplink Stations dotted across the map. If the rebels activate a station and defend it for long enough, a Y-wing bombing strike is
called in against the AT-ATs, weakening their defences and providing a window during which all weapons – even hand blasters – can chip away at the walkers’ armour. During these moments, the AT-ATs are also vulnerable to spectacular, though tricky to execute, Snowspeeder Tow Cable Takedowns. Those fragile craft don’t take long to buckle under a hail of fire from an AT-ST, though.
The map itself is made up of a wide central plain threaded with a warren of trenches, the labyrinthine corridors and hangars of the rebel base, and a cliffside pathway, which means there’s plenty of opportunity for surprise flanking manoeuvres and bottleneck firefights. But as an Imperial trooper, you might equally choose to march alongside the AT-AT, protected by the threat of a towering dispenser of hot plasma death.
The dynamic of the battlefield shifts as the fight goes on. Uplink Stations will eventually run out of power if the Empire continually manages to prevent them being activated, eroding the rebels’ ability to hold back the advance. And in a nod to Levolution, events on the battlefield will reflect which side is winning at the time. Dubbed ‘battle beyond’, the system is designed to bolster player feedback without resorting to blatant UI notifications. If the Alliance are ahead on the Tatooine map, for example, a Star Destroyer will slowly fall from orbit in flames, crashing into the ground. If you’re fighting for the Empire when that happens, it might be worth reevaluating your tactics.
Players carry their choice of blaster into the fight, as well as three additional abilities grouped into hands of so-called Star Cards. For example, you might take barrage, shield and jetpack cards with you if you fancy playing a more defensive game, while a more aggressive hand might replace the first two with a heavy weapon and anti-personnel grenades. There’s no ammunition to worry about: your kit simply replenishes after a cooldown period, while your blaster will overheat if fired continuously for too long. Weapons feel suitably threatening, quickly inducing a fatal case of the ragdolls in unshielded opponents, and shields soon fail under sustained fire. The eruptions of powder snow, distinctive sound effects, and vibrant beams make for tense, memorable encounters.
DICE has also shown off a more intimate mode called Survival. It’s a Horde-style setup: you jump into the uniform of a crash-landed rebel and attempt to survive in the face of 15 increasingly deadly waves of assassins. The co-op mode can be played splitscreen, and things quickly ramp up as groups of easily dispatched Stormtroopers are backed up by, among other threats, heavily armoured Shocktroopers, sniping Scouttroopers and optically camouflaged Shadowtroopers. The stomping of an unseen AT-ST as it makes its way towards you through Tatooine’s canyons is particularly unnerving, and rounding a corner only to run into one turning its guns on you is a moment of gut-churning panic.
You’re outfitted with the same weapons and tools that are available in other modes, but rather than find ability tokens in specific locations around the level, they’re delivered in escape pods sent down to you by command. Capture and then successfully defend one to earn more powerful single-use weapons, including orbital strikes, which will provide you with an essential advantage over your hunters’ greater numbers. Of course, playing with a friend will also mean you can take complementary abilities into the field.
DICE has pulled off an encouraging first showing for a game so steeped in expectation and nostalgia. It won’t please everyone: those hoping for a Battlefront sequel like the early games will disappointed, while some diehard fans may take umbrage with, say, TIE Fighters dogfighting in-atmosphere, even if it’s a rousing addition when space battles are off the table. Nonetheless, DICE’s reverence for its sources of inspiration is clear, and it’s heartening that it hasn’t prevented the studio experimenting with new ideas, or tweaking mechanics forged in the Battlefield series to deliver a vivid new interpretation of Star Wars’ greatest moments.
Players carry their choice of blaster into the fight, as well as three additional abilities