A long time ago – but much closer than a galaxy far, far away - Star Wars fans had their pick of games to let them live out their fantasies. Tie-in games have been less plentiful of late, but the upcoming release of The Force Awakens means that there’s a new hope for new titles to take advantage of the surge in interest in the Star Wars universe. DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront is the first to ride this wave of expectation and anticipation.
Right off the bat, Star Wars Battlefront sets the bar quite high for capturing the look and feel of the Star Wars universe. DICE has done a fantastic job of recreating the Star Wars universe, even including little references to the movies; keep an eye out for the Stormtrooper booping his head in the intro to the Overpower mission.
DICE is known for its graphical prowess and Star Wars Battlefront is no slouch. Not only does it look impressive, but it’s clear that great care has been taken when designing the visual and aural elements. The word ‘authenticity’ is often used when games are presented on-stage, but this is one of those times when the label is fitting. Not only does the action on the ground look, feel, and sound like Star Wars, but the added ambience is fantastic. There’s a sense that you’re part of something more with explosions going off and blaster fire audible, while dogfights and Star Destroyers are visible overhead.
There are a handful of single player modes here, but if you’re expecting a campaign you’ll be severely disappointed. If you’re completely averse to playing with other people, this is not the Star Wars game you’re looking for.
The single player component instead serves as a useful introduction to key skills and advanced techniques. You can learn the basics, try out some villains, and even practice taking down an AT-AT using just a tow cable. You’re free to learn and make mistakes here rather than in the live environment and the practice will serve you well in the long run. For those who thrive on competition, there are leaderboards where you can compare your times against friends’.
Alternatively, there are Survival missions, which are essentially Battlefront’s take on the Horde mode. Enemies come at you in waves, with some waves featuring more challenging components like Walkers or Tie Fighters, and it’s all about surviving the onslaught. While it’s possible to play this alone, it can feel like a big of a slog at times; it’s far more enjoyable to buddy up and play cooperatively.
The multiplayer side of the coin offers nine game modes ranging from spins on traditional modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Capture the Flag to very heavily Star Wars themed modes like Walker Assault and Heroes vs Villains. Again, some of these introduce players to elements unique to Battlefront. Hero Hunt or Heroes vs Villains, for example, gives you a taste in fighting as and against heroes, while Fighter Squadron helps you perfect your aerial skills.
Star Wars Battlefront’s marquee modes are the 40-player Supremacy, in which Rebels and Imperials battle for control of key control points, and Walker Assault, which sees Rebel Soldiers trying to activate and defend uplinks to call in Y-Fighters so that they can then topple the AT-ATs. There are times I preferred the smaller, more intense modes like Droid Run or Cargo; they're less overwhelming and the compact nature of the levels mean that deaths aren't followed by a trek back to where the action is. But most of the modes provide their own entertainment for a few minutes, provided that you don't take them too seriously or only play to win.
As Star Wars Battlefront is multiplayer-focused, DICE has to hand control of the experience over to the players. This can result in some spectacular and memorable moments, but it can also make the experience frustrating or downright bizarre. Some maps or modes appear to have been “solved,” which results in players camping spawn points; matches can be severely imbalanced; and you’ll frequently see X-Wing and Tie Fighter pilots barrel into the ground, sacrificing themselves and their precious craft in the hopes of taking out a few enemies.
At its core, Star Wars Battlefront can be a lot of fun. It feels great to run around planets from the Star Wars universe crushing Rebels or striking at the heart of the Empire. It takes us back to our youth when we pretended to clash with lightsabers or took potshots with imaginary blasters. And that’s exactly what DICE seemingly set out to accomplish.
Hardcore first-person fans may be left underwhelmed. The skill ceiling doesn’t appear to be that high as there isn’t a focus on tactics and high level strategy, aiming is the same whether you’re running or aiming down iron sights, and there are no classes to tweak and fine tune. Yes, you can learn tactical positioning on maps, but Star Wars Battlefront is an incredibly accessible title overall. It’s perfect for jumping in and playing for bursts at a time, which may be what a large proportion of its audience is looking for.
Contrasted to this is the unlock system that rewards players for investing more time in the game. Those who play more get access to more Star Cards, including homing shots and the coveted Jump Pack, better charged Star Cards, and so on. Those who play less are teased somewhat by getting access to the Jump Pack in the Survival missions, only to have it snatched away and kept out of their reach for quite some time once they delve into the multiplayer.
Those looking for a deep and tactical shooter will be better served elsewhere, but Star Wars Battlefront is an authentic, accessible, and incredibly well polished game that acts as a wonderful tribute to the original trilogy. There are question marks over its long-term draw, especially as new blood comes up against veterans with all their perks, but surges of interest surrounding The Force Awakens and new map content should keep servers occupied for some time.
4/5 - Mark O’Beirne