Star Wars Bat­tle­front

EDGE - - PLAY - DICE EA PC, PS4, Xbox One Out now

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.

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