As a marketing and branding powerhouse, the Star Wars franchise is unmatched, at least in this galaxy. The latest installment is “Star Wars Battlefront,” the first new installment of the console gaming franchise in years.
“Star Wars Battlefront,” despite the lack of numbered identification, is actually the third game in the Battlefront series. The original two were released two console generations ago however, so it’s been long enough that a complete reboot makes more sense.
The originals featured large single-player and split-screen battles across a number of planets in a galaxy far, far away, with light story arcs connecting the fights. Now, “Star Wars Battlefront” is an online, competitive team shooter aimed squarely at a crowd looking for a strictly multiplayer and competitive experience. Players looking for story or solo mission enjoyment need not apply; though there are a few solo modes shoehorned into “Star Wars Battlefront,” they’re barely worth mentioning. The originals garnered a lot of praise (I was a fan, myself), but publisher Electronic Arts wanted to push the series in a little bit of a different direction. This is a new day, a new beginning. Or at least, it’s supposed to be.
You may have noticed that “Battlefront” is a very pretty game indeed. EA and developer DICE have obviously gone to great lengths to make sure all of the worlds represented in “Battlefront” are absolutely gorgeous. Texture detail and pop-in is remarkable, and most of the maps have special visual cues and effects: your footsteps weigh down the snow of Hoth, Endor’s jungles are damp and full of Ewoks (who throw rocks at you!).
“Battlefront’s” musical score is similarly brilliant, but then it’s drawing from the Star Wars library. And it’s quite hard to argue with the Imperial March or the Star Wars theme.
The game also runs fantastically, even during 40 player matches. It’s relieving to see DICE finally ironed out most of the issues that have plagued “Battlefield” games (which run on the same game engine). Sure, you could argue that this was accomplished partially by limiting team size and map size (“Battlefield 4” had 64 player matches), but stability is paramount; a big world doesn’t mean much if players are warping through the floors.
Latency never feels like a real issue, either. Sure, there’s the odd person whose ping is so bad that they’re skipping through the map, but for the most part, if you didn’t know better it feels like a LAN match. Whatever technical data EA collected from October's beta, it’s done some good. Matches themselves are easy to find and quick to begin, with little to no time wasted in lobbies.
Matches feel fairly balanced (even if I personally find myself on the wrong end of a blaster more often than not), and none of the weapons feel like they give anyone a particular advantage. Some of the highest level weapons may be a bit quicker on the draw, but honestly by the time you unlock them you’ll likely be so skilled with the other weapons that it won’t make a huge difference.
Scattered powerups are also egalitarian -- piloting an AT-ST no longer feels like an impossibly overpowered rein of terror, but you can still do a lot of damage to an unorganized rebel team. Pickups for hero characters are a nice change -- the original Battlefront required a show of skill before it let you play as a hero.
You’ll hear some bemoan the lack of fairness in the hero selection, but I don’t buy it. Are Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader the most powerful and easy to use? Of course. They’re Jedi (and, well, former Jedi I guess), plus the most iconic characters. It’s a bit unfair to expect Princess Leia to clean house in the same way, but she’s just as capable of turning the tide of battle if you use her as advanced infantry. She can take out soldiers while flying solo (and protect those around her while doing it) and act as a deft squad leader. Han Solo, Boba Fett, and the Emperor are all useful as well, even if they can’t stand toe-to-toe with Luke and Vader. Plus, a good team will overwhelm even Luke Skywalker almost every time. It just takes effort to take down a Jedi. Who knew?
As long as you tailor your expectations going in, “Star Wars Battlefront” can be a satisfying experience for team-based shooters. But there are still issues.
Believe it or not there is single player! Well, sort of. But it’s practically a cure for insomnia (basically horde-style “missions”), so leave it buried in the submenus. The bigger problem is that the multiplayer modes you’ll actually play aren’t very gripping, and certainly none of them are particularly innovative.
There’s standard fare like Blast (Team Deathmatch), modified King of the Hill (Droid Run), and Supremacy (like call of Duty’s “Domination”), but also Walker Assault (which simulates the Imperial strike on Hoth but still has some balancing issues). Drop Zone is very similar to Supremacy, except the capture points aren’t all on the map from the start of the match. Hero Hunt is an interesting idea: pit one hero player against a fluid team of Imperial soldiers, and whoever kills the hero gets to become the next one. But matches take an absurd amount of time and they’re repetitive even halfway through.
Fighter Squadron could have filled the void that space battles left, but it’s hampered by the game’s wonky flight controls (seriously, who uses only one analog stick for flight controls? And there’s no speed control?). None of the available game types really stands out. I wound up sticking to Blast and Supremacy, but really those matches would be no different in any other game.
“Battlefront” struggles to truly distinguish itself from the modern games it’s clearly built upon. It feels like EA's other multiplayer franchise, “Battlefield,” in a Star Wars skin.
“Star Wars Battlefront” is a gorgeous multiplayer shooter with some nifty homages to the movie series is shares a name with. Electronic Arts has taken some of the lessons it learned from past mistakes and produced a very competent and stable experience ... if only it didn’t feel so derivative once the paint dried.
"Star Wars Battlefront" was released on Nov. 17, 2015 for PlayStation4, Xbox One, and PC. Electronic Arts provided a PlayStation4 copy for this review.