Star Wars remains one of the biggest franchises in the world, which is why it’s so puzzling that there have been very few good Star Wars games made and most of those have been arcade games.
The only games to really come close to a hardcore Star Wars experience were the excellent Pandemic pair of Battlefront titles, which also introduced many console gamers to online gaming. So you can understand the pressure DICE and EA must have felt in delivering a new Battlefront game. Of course, the fact that this is Star Wars and likely to be snapped up by anyone with even a passing interest in the movies who had the means to play it, probably alleviated much of the fear for EA but Star Wars fans can be a vicious lot and any faults would be picked apart like a vulture feeding on a particularly meaty corpse.
So it’s probably somewhat of a relief to everyone that this is an experience which is about as near to being in Star Wars as most of us will get, albeit with a few caveats, the first of which is that this is not the Battlefront of old, but something that’s designed for the far broader audience modern gaming (and the Star Wars franchise in general) demands.
It was perhaps the biggest criticism heard during the beta and persists into the game itself; DICE’s Battlefront is a shooter for people who are not heavily into shooters. It’s what Battlefield would be if it ever made it to the arcades. This is no bad thing. EA knew that this game would attract those who would be put off by the more tactical demands of a modern first person shooter or the somewhat scary upgrade path they require. It is, however, doing what some of the best Star Wars games have done and making this game instantly accessible to anyone while maintaining the feel of the series.
What it does succeed in doing is creating a believable Star Wars universe, though mostly centred around Episodes IV to VI for obvious reasons that Hasbro seem to have recently missed in their toy lines. Hoth is here with its icy landscapes, caverns and hills just as it was in Empire. Endor looks just as you remember it, treetop walkways swaying in the breeze, logs creating deadly barriers for Speederbikes and, yes, Ewoks running around all over the place. Even Tatooine, a planet that seems like a bland backdrop in theory, comes alive with canyons, hidden crevices and huts to hide away in, waiting for unsuspecting enemies to pass by.
All of these are presented in glorious detail on both consoles, though PS4 just manages to look that bit sharper, not that it affects the game in any way and both version do their platforms proud. More than anything else, the feeling that you’re playing in an authentic Star Wars playground is always there, a testament to the Frostbyte engine and to the work DICE has done to source their data from the Lucasfilm archives.
The nine modes on offer vary the action from chasing and capturing Droids in Droid Run to glorious but shallow dogfights in Fighter Squadron and being able to instantly play as the hero in both Heroes vs Villains and my current favourite, Hero Hunt, where one person gets to be the hero or villain and the others have to hunt them down, with the victor becoming the next one to take on a famous mantle.
That last mode feels like a school ground game of tag and it’s probably the best way to explain the feeling of the game as a whole. While Supremacy and Walker Assault do offer some of the nuances of ‘proper’ shooters, this is lightweight and fun stuff which you can dip in or out of whatever your skill level. Controls are easy to learn and weapons are kept fairly simple, using cards to unlock further guns and grenades as you go but not giving those players who unlock everything a distinct advantage at the same time. The best unlocks actually occur during the game where you find glowing tokens ready to collect and use by holding both bumper buttons down. Everything from group shields to AT-STs can be gained this way and often form a large part of the ebb and flow of a game when they are. Learning to use these tokens, dotted around the map, is a big key to succeeding against the opposing team.
Do I miss having instantly available vehicles on the map? Of course. I still fondly remember the original Battlefront games and the joy of just jumping in to an X-wing, but I also remember that it was a scramble for the next vehicle as soon as you spawned. At least this game keeps plenty of troops on the ground while still providing the excitement of finding a Tie Fighter unlocked via your next token.
Simplicity may be the key to helping Battlefront succeed but it does create one issue, you’ll see out the 12 maps pretty quickly. It’s probably going to mean that more than most games, the Season Pass for this Star Wars title is going to be pretty important in enabling longevity.
Those looking for a deep experience may feel a little cheated by this breezy arcade version of Battlefront but it does feel like DICE took the right path here and the fact that games are pretty consistently full do back this up. It’s less a traditional shooter and more an experience and with Star Wars that’s no bad thing.