Star Wars Battlefront is designed from the ground up to push your brain’s nostalgia button with relentless, laser precision. It’s full of instantly recognisable locales rendered with uncommon beauty and realism, and a scale that many shooters strive for but seldom achieve. When the look, the sound and the music all comes together at the right moment, it will transport you back to your childhood, watching Return of the Jedi on a tiny CRT TV.
It’s a bit of a bummer then that Battlefront doesn’t have the same kind of enduring appeal as the films it so lovingly recreates. While your first twelve hours or so with the game will be a truly joyful ride in the way-back machine, the novelty may begin to wear off quite quickly for some.
As an ode to the Star Wars universe, Battlefront has to one of the most beautiful ever made. DICE have done the seeming impossible and created a world that feels as real as they did in the films. Every part of every map demanded that I inspect them, drawing me in with it’s attention to detail and its scope. On Endor’s forest moon, you can see rainwater beading on leaves and weighing them down. On Hoth, there are stalactites that look like the real thing. Standing on a hill on Tatooine, the desert looks like it goes on forever, punctuated by little dust devils blowing across its sun-scorched wastes.
As beautiful as Battlefront’s graphical presentation is, it’s the sound design that will really get the nostalgia gland pumping. If you’ve got a really amazing surround sound setup or a really nice pair of headphones, you’re going to get your money’s worth from this game alone. Everything from blaster fire to the sound of rain spattering against forest flora has been captured with incredibly clarity and used to incredibly atmospheric effect. On more than one occasion, I turned the music off just so I could better appreciate the sound work on offer.
All this style hides a lack of substance, however. Don’t misunderstand, I’m certainly not saying that Star Wars Battlefront is a bad game – it isn’t. I’m saying that it doesn’t feel like there’s enough going on here (hilarious, given the amount modes on offer but we’ll get to that in a minute). One of the game’s big draws is that it strips the modern shooter experience way, way back. This is a multiplayer shooter that feels like it has more in common with TimeSplitters than with Battlefield. That’s a good thing! I like that there’s no reload, just potential overheats. I like that levels are, despite their very busy visual decorations, quite simple in design. I like that items and power ups are on timers and will reappear after being picked up the way they used to back in the 90’s. Great stuff.
Where this leads to problems is that the level design can lead to a lack of opportunities for creative play. Hoth is designed for big team play and giving a sense of scale, and thus is basically just one long, wide expanse which means finding a creative sightline is all but impossible. The moment you shoot, your position is given away and there’s nowhere to hide. The same goes for Endor’s moon – the map looks like a tangled forest but the reality is that cover is incredibly sparse.
Not every level falls into this trap however. Tatooine quickly became a personal favourite levels thanks to its winding between interior and exterior environments. It keeps the vehicle players on their toes and opens up some really brutal flanking opportunities for everyone else. Battlefront works best when its modes and levels embrace this kind of tactical play and maps like Tatooine keep the excitement high.
Speaking of modes, where to start with this one? Star Wars Battlefront has a total of nine modes, each one designed to stand on its own. This is both a blessing and a curse, with some modes like Heroes vs. Villains being exactly the kind of chaotic toybox brawl the name conjures in the imagination. Droid Run provides a Star Wars-themed spin on the point control gametype. You’ve got Walker Assault, which fans got a glimpse of in the Hoth level from the beta, that also includes an Endor mission straight out of Jedi. My favourite mode, though?
Some may not find this mode as interesting as I do but, as a long-standing fan of the classic Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series, Fighter Squadron scratched an itch I’d had to hold onto for a very long time indeed. Swooping in high above a desert world, passing through a thick bank of cloud and emerging into a full scale aerial dogfight involving hundreds of combatants is exhilarating in itself. Getting to partake in these battles is something else entirely, raising and lowering the throttle in order to pull off crazy turning maneuvers to bring a target into your cross hairs and launching missiles to take them out. Like I said in the intro, Battlefront knows how and when to jab the old nostalgia button for maximum effect.
There’s more to Battlefront than just the online multiplayer component, however. There’s also (blessed, ever-welcome) couch co-op modes like Survival. These couch co-op modes only further strengthen the sense that Battlefront spent a lot of time studying shooters of the original games’ era and they are incredible fun to play. Survival is your standard wave-based gametype that, while it appeared in almost every major shooter in the last console generation, here it’s a welcome change from the many competitive on offer.
Players have to work together to put down hordes of oncoming stormtroopers, AT-STs and probe droids by collecting various power ups and using them to leverage massive damage or cut off a route.
Some modes, however, didn’t hold my attention very long. Cargo and Blast are fairly standard derivations of Team DM and CTF but I was only able to play a few rounds before getting bored with them. There’s also Hero Hunt which drove me crazy after only a few matches. Players have to hunt down a hero character, be they a Jedi, Sith or bounty hunter and it’s so absurdly unbalanced that there’s almost no point taking part in it. There’s only so many times I can be skittled by one of Boba Fett’s wrist rockets before I start wondering if I can delete the mode from the game.
Battlefront will still find the odd moment in which it will impress or delight you, usually involving a hero character doing something absurd like Emperor Palpatine doing a Psycho Crusher-esque dive into an oncoming group of rebels or Leia duking it out with Vader – I even saw Han Solo take down a TIE fighter in flight with a well-timed shoulder barge – but once the euphoria of the first few hours dissipates, it all starts to feel a bit samey. Most of the time, you’ll be caught in shooting ranges of about 50 metres or so and there’s a surprising amount of spray-and-pray going on rather than any legitimately tactical play.
My final gripe, and it’s one that plagues all modern shooters, is the multiplayer progression system. Moving that little bar from right to left unlocks the ability to purchase new skins, weapons, gadgets and deployables to help you customise your character. The thing is, aside from the jump jet which lets you cover large distances quickly and a handful of grenades that were more useful against vehicles than infantry, none of these unlockables had any substantial effect on my playstyle.
The more interesting upgrades come in the form of trait cards. These grant various perks like damage resistances or the ability to jam radar feeds. Gathering these little cards actually gave me something to think about in terms of my loadout map-to-map, round-to-round and mode-to-mode.
Star Wars Battlefront deals in spectacle and in this it delivers in spades. The joy found in watching the Millenium Falcon tear through a swath of TIE Fighters in a dogfight or screaming across the surface of Endor’s moon on a landspeeder cannot be overstated. Your first 12 hours with the game will be filled with moments just like these and that’s worth the price of admission alone for fans.
But Battlefront doesn’t push itself any harder than that. Content to be ambitious only in its presentation rather than its gameplay, it makes itself a bit top heavy by throwing all its best stuff at you right away. It’s a fantastic place to restart the series, though, and with the graphical heavy lifting out of the way, I hope that the inevitable sequel will be able to concentrate more on fine tuning the gameplay.
Review Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Incredible visuals; Will delight fans; Fighter Squadron rules
Lowlights: Some bland game modes; Hero Hunt unbalanced
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: November 17,2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4