“Star Wars Battlefront” is Electronic Arts Inc.’ latest multiplayer shooter video game, a revival of the “Battlefront” series originally produced by LucasArts in the early 2000s. Like many modern shooters, “Star Wars Battlefront” is having a short public beta test so fans can put some of the game’s features through their paces, while simultaneously providing technical data to the developers. It’s EA’s second shot at the “Star Wars” franchise, after the mildly successful “Knights of the Old Republic” online role-playing game, and the company has been promising a lot.
The beta is solid, but this may not be the “Star Wars” game you’re looking for.
If you’re one of the many hoping for a revival of the frankly excellent original “Star Wars: Battlefront” you’re going to be disappointed. The new “Battlefront,” beta or not, has a glaring lack of single-player features, but this is by design. There are a few “missions” that you can play solo, but they appear at this point to be limited to standard “survival” modes, where you fend off waves of enemies as a timer runs out. Gone is any real semblance of story, and battles will be spread across only four planets (Hoth, Sullust, Tatooine and Endor, although only the first three are playable in the beta version).
You’ll be able to customize your loadouts (and character appearance in the full game), but prebuilt classes and characters are nonexistent. Boss characters such as Jedi and Sith are rare in matches, and so far all you’ll see is Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader (although no matter how well I did, I was never able to play as either of them).
But what you do get to see does look fantastic, from a technical standpoint. Tatooine’s survival and Sullust’s Drop Zone (a variation of Headquarters or King of the Hill) maps are bombed-out messes, and Hoth’s winter wasteland is outright gorgeous. Texture pop-in is smooth, even during 20v20 Walker Assault matches, and snow crystals are impeccably detailed: Your character’s footprints stay in the snow throughout matches. The maps themselves are well-structured and -sized, although the game types themselves are uneven.
Especially Walker Assault. That pits as many as 20 players on each side against one another on Hoth, where the Empire is attempting to overrun the Rebel base with all-terrain armored transports (AT-ATs, aka Walkers). The Rebels attempt to stop the assault with coordinated airstrikes, but the game type is so skewed in favor of the Empire that the Rebel team did not win a single one of the matches I played (five on each side).
Even the presence of Luke Skywalker doesn’t seem to do much good. The AT-ATs are gigantic damage sponges, and never feel like they’re really in danger. The Rebels control both uplink points to be able to get the chance to damage them. AT-ATs can’t be damaged directly until hit by a coordinated ion airstrike, but even then they’re only vulnerable for 30 seconds or so. Meanwhile, the Empire players can pick up twin-ion-engine (TIE) fighter and all-terrain scout transport (AT-ST) powerups at any time, which simply rinse through normal soldiers. Maybe if the Rebels had more people by default, the playing field would feel a bit more level, but with even numbers, the Rebels don’t stand a chance.
At least the matches themselves are stable. EA has had to beef up computer server counts to deal with the overwhelming player base for the beta, but I didn’t come across any glitches in my 40-plus matches on the Play Station 4 platform. Nobody was falling through the map, nobody was seemingly shooting through walls, and nobody’s character models were broken, so it appears EA has learned from the apocalyptic mess of “Battlefield 4” (and, to a lesser extent, “Battlefield Hardline”).
As is the case with any online shooter, latency will be a factor in “Star Wars Battlefront” occasionally, but there’s not much EA can do about some players’ poor Internet connections. However, there is a problem with spawn areas: All too frequently, enemy players can respawn on or right next to your current position, without your knowledge. At least until they put a blaster round through your back.
If the gameplay looks familiar, it should -- “Star Wars Battlefront” uses the same Frostbite 3 engine found in “Battlefield Hardline” and “Battlefield 4.” Those games had rough launches, to put it mildly, but EA and developer DICE seem to have worked out the kinks on that front at least. Unlike those two titles, however, most of the shown environments in “Star Wars Battlefront” are not destructible, besides a few turrets and a box or two. You’ll see TIE fighters and Y-wing starfighters crash on Hoth, but there’s not much in the way of “wow” moments at this point.
The “Star Wars Battlefront” beta is certainly worth checking out while it lasts (Oct. 8-12), as long as you’re a fan of either “Star Wars” or other online shooters such as “Battlefield 4” and “Halo.” However, what’s been shown to date is nowhere near enough to recommend a purchase. The other game mode available in the full version may diversify the gameplay, but so far I remain skeptical.