Star Wars Bat­tle­front: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mis­sions

Don't even pre­tend you're not ex­cited

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Be­fore my ses­sion with Star Wars Bat­tle­front: Rogue One X-wing VR Mis­sion (phew), I’d been briefed on how amaz­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence was by a col­league. Dan­ger­ously, I let my ex­pec­ta­tions bal­loon to the same im­pos­si­ble heights as when the pre­quel tril­ogy was first an­nounced. But I didn’t get The Phan­tom Me­nace, Jar Jar Binks and a whiny pre-su­pervil­lain whose big­gest gripe with his home planet was sand that got ev­ery­where. What I got was The Em­pire Strikes Back of ex­pe­ri­ences.

Even the oblig­a­tory PlayS­ta­tion VR cal­i­bra­tion screen is im­pres­sive. As I got the head­set into fo­cus, an im­mac­u­lately recre­ated AT-AT stomped over­head and for a mo­ment I for­got I was sup­posed to be flying an X-wing starfighter. Be­fore the flight, there was an op­tion to have a tour of the ex­te­rior of my X-wing. True to what DICE achieved with its damn- near pho­to­re­al­is­tic re­cre­ation of iconic Star Wars ve­hi­cles in the core Star Wars Bat­tle­front game, X-wing VR Mis­sion de­vel­oper Cri­te­rion Games has in­jected an im­pres­sive level of fi­delity into the Rebel ship.

The only down­side is that you can’t walk around the X-wing, with pre­set tele­por­ta­tion points the only op­tion for ex­te­rior ob­ser­va­tion. “We built the game ground-up to be a re­ally com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one, [whether] you’re a VR vet­eran or you’ve never played VR in your life,” ex­plained pro­ducer Peter Lake, when I com­plained. “So we haven’t in­cluded it, ba­si­cally, for that rea­son, and it’s not some­thing we’re look­ing to in­clude at the mo­ment. But we are look­ing to ex­pand that area.”

After some lim­ited ogling – ev­ery­one was only as­signed 15-minute slots for the demo – I hopped into the cock­pit and waited for the mis­sion to start. It’s strange to think that the demo, in ac­tu­al­ity, was only five min­utes long, but the fi­nal ver­sion will be longer, al­beit not mas­sive.

“It’s meant to be a mis­sion, so our orig­i­nal goal was to be as long as any of the other Bat­tle­front mis­sions, so it can sit be­side them,” said Lake. “Hon­estly, I think it’s go­ing to be slightly longer, mainly be­cause of our en­thu­si­asm and what we’ve got planned it just is slightly longer. I guess you could blast through it in 15 min­utes if you re­ally wanted to, but I think most peo­ple are prob­a­bly go­ing

to spend half an hour do­ing it.”

The demo started at the be­gin­ning of the Mis­sion, as my green­ish pi­lot char­ac­ter shot out of hy­per­space alone. De­spite the con­cern in the pi­lot’s voice, I took the op­por­tu­nity to mar­vel at the faith­fully recre­ated cock­pit. Be­hind me, my R2 unit chirped and, nat­u­rally, I had to swing around to look at him, but was dis­tracted by the closed S-foils, then mar­velled when I looked down and saw my flight-suit-adorned char­ac­ter.

The con­trols are iden­ti­cal to Bat­tle­front’s sim­pli­fied ship con­trol, mean­ing right stick takes care of movement, which is mim­icked by your avatar’s hands in-game, and the left stick is used to throt­tle up or down. In pri­ori­tis­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity, Cri­te­rion has missed the op­por­tu­nity to im­ple­ment Move con­trols so that, say, a right-hand-held Move con­troller can move the flight stick and a left-hand con­troller can work the throt­tle.

It’s a shame, but it re­ally is split­ting hairs in what al­most im­me­di­ately amounts to an in­cred­i­bly im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. Your avatar isn’t alone for long. First, the tem­po­rar­ily lost X-wing squadron ap­pears, tak­ing it in turns to be­rate you for ex­it­ing hy­per­space early. Next, the rest of a Rebel fleet ap­pears, and it’s hard to not grin as fa­mil­iar ships ma­te­ri­alise above you. You can take the time to fly close to them and gawk at their im­pres­sive dig­i­tal recre­ations, or you can move on to the busi­ness of swat­ting TIEs as a dis­tress call comes in and your squadron leader vol­un­teers your squadron’s services.

An­other Rebel ship is un­der at­tack not too far away, but its prox­im­ity to an asteroid belt means the larger ships can’t jump close enough to help in time. Nat­u­rally, that’s not a prob­lem for a squadron of snub fight­ers. Reach­ing the rally point, we made the jump to hy­per­space and soon ap­peared in front of a heav­ily dam­aged Rebel frigate near the asteroid field.

When the Mis­sion was first an­nounced, the gen­eral con­sen­sus was that it’d be an on-rails ex­pe­ri­ence, but Lake said you can spend time in those as­ter­oids, if you like, but you’ll likely fail the time-sen­si­tive ob­jec­tive of pro­tect­ing the frigate from what comes next.

“We de­signed it to have a sense of es­ca­la­tion, and not just in kind of ex­pe­ri­ence but also in game­play,” said Lake. “Ob­vi­ously, there are mo­ments where there are ob­jec­tives where you’ve got to go to. We’re not do­ing any­thing that’s go­ing to be on-rails. We’re a com­pany that’s about player choice and player agency so, as Cri­te­rion in gen­eral, to take it away from them is not what we’re about. We want peo­ple to feel free. We want peo­ple to have fun.”

The real fun was what hap­pened next, even though it was in­cred­i­bly ob­vi­ous. A squadron of TIE fight­ers re­turned to fin­ish their dam­aged prey, but they hadn’t counted on the pres­ence of a squadron of X-wings. There’s a sin­gle in­ter­ac­tive but­ton in the cock­pit that locks S-foils in at­tack po­si­tion. I mash it and ready for bat­tle. True to the Im­pe­rial at­tack pat­terns of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, each suc­ces­sive squadron of TIEs ap­proached in a ver­ti­cal wall-like for­ma­tion, be­fore they split off to en­gage us in­di­vid­u­ally.

This is the kind of ex­pe­ri­ence for which VR is built, as I throt­tled down to im­prove my turn­ing cir­cle and si­mul­ta­ne­ously boosted the power of my can­nons. I used my head to track tar­gets through the trans­par­ent parts of the cock­pit, pre-fir­ing the pitch­per­fect-sound­ing laser can­nons as I lined up kill after kill. It didn’t get old.

But as any Star Wars nerd would know, TIE fight­ers are short-range ships. Be­fore I could won­der too hard about where they might have come from, a pos­si­ble an­swer ap­peared: an in­tim­i­dat­ing Star De­stroyer en­tered the fray as the demo faded to black and I ut­tered dis­ap­pointed ex­ple­tives. Ob­vi­ously, I wanted more.

Alas, it’s un­likely there will be more, at least not any­time soon, as Lake ad­mit­ted this is in­tended as a one-off and, sadly for fans of Lu­casArts’ Star Wars: TIE Fighter game, Cri­te­rion is “not work­ing on that [a TIE fighter mis­sion] at the minute”. To com­pound the dis­ap­point­ment for Star Wars fans on other plat­forms, it’s also def­i­nitely ex­clu­sive to PlayS­ta­tion VR, so you can stop hold­ing your breath for a Vive and/or Ocu­lus ver­sion, too.

Dis­claimer: The above im­age is from Star Wars Bat­tle­front: Death Star. There are cur­rently no avail­able im­ages of Rogue One X-wing VR Mis­sions.

Plat­form Cat­e­gory De­vel­oPer Pub­lisher Due PSVR Com­bat flight Sim Ea DiCE

Ea oC­to­bER

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