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

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