Star Wars Battlefront
This may or may not be the shooter you’re looking for. Either way, if you approach Star Wars Battlefront expecting a reskinned Battlefield or Call Of Duty, you’ll be disappointed. DICE has engineered a user-friendly shooter designed to welcome the genre’s uninitiated masses along with catering for the stalwarts. And this attempt to untangle the vagaries of online shooters sets an agenda and focus that feels at once rejuvenating and maddening.
On first contact, however, Star Wars Battlefront will dazzle. The Frostbite 3-powered environments look astonishing, with Hoth, Sullust, Tatooine and Endor brought so vividly to life that you’ll likely spend half of your first few matches sightseeing. And this dazzling artwork is backed up by a quartet of standout modes: Walker Assault’s epic struggles conjure up powerful memories of the original trilogy, packing in every Star Wars fantasy you could wish for, whether it be tripping AT-ATs in a Snow Speeder or valiantly failing to defend an outpost against Darth Vader. Drop Zone and Droid Run, meanwhile, offer two pacy twists on King Of The Hill. And Fighter Squadron is an unexpected delight, evoking those stirring first moments with Rebel Assault and Rogue Leader, and offering thrilling aerial combat. It’s difficult not to get caught up in all the excitement as DICE nails every reference and sound effect, and all but casts you in the films – in the process making up for every bad Star Wars game that’s ever let you down.
But the unthreatening structural simplicity that underpins this sensory assault will likely be a source of contention. Some will appreciate the uncluttered design, the efforts to even the playing field, and the focus on fantasy fulfilment, while others will bemoan a perceived lack of depth. DICE hasn’t set out to match the nuance or tactical chops of Star Wars Battlefront’s stablemate or peers, granted, but it’s far from a shallow game – just a little undercooked. Battlefront dumps predefined classes in favour of Star Cards, interchangeable perks that you carry into battle in hands of three. There are two varieties of Star Card: standard cards provide items like grenades, sniper rifles and shields, which are unlimited but curtailed by cooldown timers, while Charged Star Cards are fuelled by charge tokens picked up during battle and proffer weapon mods or abilities such as temporarily improved aiming stability or the capability to scan for nearby enemies and mark them up for yourself and allies. In addition, you can wield a Trait card. The effects of Traits become more powerful as you get kill streaks throughout the match, and include Survivalist – which speeds up health regeneration and, once fully levelled up, even gives you health for each kill – and the stealthy Scout card, which enables you to dash about without showing up on enemy scanners.
On paper it’s a mutable system that offers more flexibility than traditional locked-down classes, enabling you to fine-tune your character’s specialisation and create your own subclasses according to preference. But while the mechanism’s solid, the game’s reward structure doesn’t encourage its use. The leaderboard results at the end of each match betray Battlefront’s focus on kills over anything else: during one Walker Assault session playing as the rebels we helped defend a couple of uplink stations through judicious use of Squad Shields and grenades, then spent the rest of our time in a T-47 offering suppressive fire support and even taking out one of the Empire’s behemoths with the ship’s tow cable – a tricky-to-pull-off instant kill. Despite our selfless heroism, the modest handful of player kills we amassed along the way ensured a thirdfrom-bottom placing. This blunt-feeling approach to scoring saps the appeal of experimenting with different play styles, as none will level you up half as quickly as a murdering spree. While not being properly recognised for your contribution does little to erode your personal sense of achievement, it does mean the subtleties of the interplay between all those custom specialisms can feel lost among the explosions and headshots.
But any semblance of subtlety is abandoned entirely when it comes to the playable Hero and Villain characters. Inhabited via token pickups found in each map, these iconic roles give you a short time to play a tank in iconic garb armed with a selection of unique abilities designed to cut swathes through the opposition. Encounter Darth or Luke on the battlefield, and they’re extremely tough to kill and capable of cutting you down in a second. But taking charge of these characters is a different matter: control feels abrupt and skittish, and there’s no real sense of connection when your lightsaber touches enemies. More problematically, the characters without lightsabers like Han Solo, Boba Fett and Princess Leia are much easier to kill, and feel disappointingly brittle. The result is a collective of special characters that have gravity but little weight – and this renders the Hero Hunt and Heroes Vs Villains modes more frustrating than fun.
Stick to the standout modes where Hero encounters are rare, however, and Battlefront’s charms and ambition become readily apparent, if not always wholly realised. While simpler modes, especially the team deathmatch and capture-the-flag variants, offer worrying glimpses of something more generic, the complexity, scale and need for co-operation in Walker Assault and Drop Zone are evidence of the game’s systems’ genuine depth and potential for development. Battlefront is an undeniably astonishing use of the Star Wars licence, but unless DICE can make the systems it has built feel more meaningful, it may not be able to capitalise on that initial momentum.