Developed by DICE. Published by Electronic Arts. Released on 17 November, 2015. Available on PC (Reviewed), Xbox One and PS4. Review code/copy provided by publisher.
Star Wars: Battlefront is a game that does an amazing job of transporting players into the world of Star Wars. It sounds like Star Wars, it looks like Star Wars, and it feels like Star Wars. It is in every way a game for Star Wars fans. What it is not, is a game for Battlefield fans, or, if I may, a game for nightly gamers. Just like Titanfall and Evolve before it, Battlefront is a fantastic concept with a solid foundation, but it just doesn’t have the legs required to keep it going past the honeymoon period.
Here’s honesty about what you’re going to read here: I know a lot of this sounds like I’m ragging on the game for being absolutely terrible, but it really isn’t terrible. The game feels solid and fun: it’s got a lot of polish and it really did make me feel like I was inside a Star Wars movie. What’s there works and works well – even if it’s very simple.
Almost everything about the game seems to be pointed towards people who rarely play – or have never played – modern shooter games. When you first boot it up you’re encouraged to try out the training missions. They’re a pretty good way to get yourself familiarized with the way the game plays, but apart from spaceship controls and handling, everything else is immediately apparent to anyone who has ever played a shooter in their life. It’s not stuff most people will need to be taught.
The game has a myriad of modes for both online versus and co-op, but most people are going to jump into the 20 on 20 Walker Assault mode. The game bills Walker Assault as the epic Star Wars troops vs. vehicles vs. spaceships mode ala Battlefield‘s Conquest mode or the prior Battlefront games. Alternatively, there’s Supremacy, which plays essentially identical to Conquest: Two teams fight over three control points. I was disappointed. Only four maps exist for these two modes. For comparison this same developer’s previous title, Battlefield 4, launched with ten maps, which were available for play in all of its game modes. Battlefront‘s Season Pass promises 16 additional maps, though we don’t know how many of those 16 will be for Walker Assault/Supremacy. Based on past games which have tried this model, it’s likely these will serve only to splinter the community.
Once you do get into the fight, you’ll have a blast! Combat is satisfying, with all of the various laser weapons having that signature Star Wars “pew pew!” and the third person mode really making the game feel cinematic. The battles themselves are frenetic, with swarms of rebels and Stormtroopers backed up by X-Wings, Tie Fighters, AT-STs and gargantuan AT-ATs. The game is absolutely beautiful, with all of your favorite Star Wars locales brought to life in incredible detail. It runs as smooth as butter, has very little in the way of bugs and glitches, and HOLY SHIT THAT’S DARTH VADER KICKING ASS AND TAKING NAMES. AWESOME!
However, once the awe and glee of taking part in The Battle of Hoth wears off, you’ll find that there really isn’t much beneath the surface. There isn’t that much difference between all those cool laser weapons, and the lack of Battlefield-style dedicated classes and weapon modifications means that every Stormtrooper is functionally identical to the one standing next to him – with the exception of two powerups. (I would say three, but you’d be mad to not take the jetpack.) The battles, while huge in scope, lack the fantastic teamwork features of Battlefield, with squads replaced by a vague “partner” system. Features like spotting enemies, multi-seat vehicles, voice chat, and the commander are notably absent. The vehicles handle like shopping carts, and the hero/villain spawning system is so random that you could play the game for hours and never once get to play as Lord Vader.
The lack of required teamwork is the game’s biggest problem. You could have replaced all of the human players with AI bots and I likely would not have noticed. The game tries to get you right into the action by spawning you no more than a few steps away from a battle or a vehicle spawn. Spawning into combat makes teamwork and planning in reaching, then either attacking or defending, an objective completely unnecessary, so the epic 20 versus 20 battles of Walker Assault are more like 20 different one on one duels taking place simultaneously. It’s a shame, because Battlefield 4‘s squad system made it so I was always excited to play with a group of friends. It made us work together as our customized classes of choice in order to take objectives and win the map, rather than just racking up kills.
This is what I mean when I say that Battlefront is a game for Star Wars fans, not gamers. It’s as faithful to the movies, and as accessible, as humanly possible in order to attract even the newest of fans. In the process, it has been stripped of all the features and innovations players want, nay, expect in a team-based online shooter of this kind. It’s disappointing to both audiences, denying shooter fans a deep, nuanced game, then denying Star Wars fans the rewarding master of investing time into a game.
To get into more specifics, when you do get your hands on a hero or villain, they dominate the battlefield. I was able to rack up 20 kills as Luke Skywalker without really trying. The obvious downside of this is being on the receiving end – it’s not fun at all. You can be doing well, have a nice kill streak going, be behind a good bit of cover, and then BAM. Han Solo comes in and blows you away. You really don’t have any hope of stopping him. I can’t help but wish the heroes were at least based off a killstreak system ala Call of Duty, as it would make them feel much more like someone’s reward instead of random chance.
Spaceships, as I mentioned earlier, handle like shopping carts moving through jell-o. When you spawn in one, you don’t take off, and you spend most of your time fighting other spaceships (and the occasional AT-ST) as it’s quite hard to launch precision attacks on ground troops. Ground vehicles are either completely useless if they’re in an open area where they will immediately be bombarded with missiles, or nigh-unstoppable if you can get yourself into a choke point with decent cover.
The game uses a similar progression system to older Battlefield titles, giving you new weapons and power up cards with each level. I dislike progression systems that gate you from content, but they’ve more or less become the standard in online shooters. This one’s bog-standard aside from one sin: Many of the anti-vehicle unlocks are fairly high up in the levels, meaning that new players are practically useless as rebels on Walker Assault. The crux of the mode involves dealing damage to the AT-ATs. It’s a disappointment that the game’s headline mode is where new players will be most unprepared.
The game does have some additional modes, but just like most multiplayer shooters with multiple varied modes, I’m almost certain they will fall to the wayside in the months following launch in favor of the main events. Blast is a team deathmatch. Cargo is capture the flag. Heroes vs. Villains pits three heroes against three villains. Et cetera. None of them are really very interesting with the exception of Air Superiority, the spaceships only dogfight, and Hero Hunt, which pits 7 regular players against a single hero, who when killed swaps places with whoever killed him.
The co-op survival mode is great if you have a friend on the couch for some split-screen, and it even has a teeny bit of lore involved. It is a shame and disappointment that the PC version lacks split screen, as many PC gamers do have a couch set-up, widescreen monitor, or multiple controllers.
Let me be very clear here at the end: The game’s just not enough to hold my interest for more than a few weeks of game time, especially when similarly priced alternatives like Battlefield 4, or the just-released competitors Halo 5 and Black Ops III offer so much more content: Full single player game modes, stronger cooperative play, and far deeper mechanics if you want to invest time and brainpower.
Bottom Line: Star Wars: Battlefront does a fantastic job of transporting players into the Star Wars universe for a big initial kicker, but that ultimately fades when you realize how light it is on content and game features. A textbook case of style over substance.
Recommendation: If you’re a Star Wars fan you will enjoy it and get your money’s worth. For Battlefield fans, this is not the team-based shooter you are looking for. Everyone else should evaluate on a case-by-case basis, but $60 is going to get you more game elsewhere.[rating=3]