Star Wars: Battlefront Review
If you’re a “Star Wars” fanatic, there’s no reason you shouldn’t love the atmosphere in Star Wars: Battlefront. If you’re a hardcore multiplayer shooter fan, however, you might be turned off by the lack of depth and customization options that are so prevalent in competing franchises like Call of Duty. Clearly designed for the casual gamer who just so happens to love the iconic sci-fi franchise, Battlefront caters to the widest audience possible and in so doing, sacrifices substance. There’s an unfortunate shallowness and repetitiveness that makes games like Destiny seem deep and complex by comparison, but there’s no denying the appeal of this lovingly crafted environment.
I once overheard a heated argument between two veteran “Star Wars” lovers. I think I was unfamiliar with every sixth word that came out of their mouths. Well, this is the perfect presentation for die-hard fans like that: Everything, from Tatooine’s vast and forbidding desert to Endor’s dense vegetation, is true-to-fiction and in some cases, downright remarkable. The beautiful landscapes serve as launching pads for our nostalgic romps through a universe we once believed we’d only see, and never visit, even in the virtual sense. The bright, sharp textures, excellent lighting and shadows, and fantastic special effects are high points in this graphical production. DICE put a gigantic amount of effort into each backdrop, each meticulously created object and detail, and it shows.
The sound builds on the visual achievement, most notably by providing the player with realistic background and ambient audio. Environmental effects blend with the jarring explosions of a pitched battle between good and evil and once again, the battle effects shine. The only downside is the predictable yet traditional soundtrack, which is admittedly perfect for “Star Wars” aficionados but lacks a little variety and punch. Besides, there are times when the effects want to take center-stage; they seek to further immerse the player, to drown him or her in a deluge of softer backdrop audio mixed with explosive impacts. It’s really a feast for the senses, so there’s no denying the lofty production values.
As is the case with any multiplayer-centric game, the modes take center-stage and thankfully, Battlefront has lots to sample. There are a total of nine competitive options and there are some relatively unique and fresh-feeling options, as well as the standard deathmatch-like modes. Walker Assault and Heroes vs. Villains are two highlights for me, simply because they capture the very essence of “Star Wars.” Well, to me, at least. I’m a novice when it comes to this universe but I know when I’m feeling engaged and immersed and something like Heroes vs. Villains gives me a charge. I liked Walker Assault in the beta, despite its apparent imbalance, and it remains the game’s most visible and most discussed mode. For good reason, too.
While a mode like Droid Run is basically a variation on the familiar (in that case, capturing and controlling zones), Walker Assault isn’t like anything you’ve seen in any other multiplayer game. Of course, it helps that the Walker is a Lucas exclusive, a fictional sci-fi killer machine unlike any other. The other bonus is that it encourages teamwork perhaps more than any other mode, and there’s a huge difference depending on the side you choose. Playing as the Alliance is a vastly different experience than playing as the Rebels; the latter group has to work together to take down the massive AT-ATs and it’s no easy feat. There are lots of offensive and defensive options as well, so each match feels pretty fresh.
Walker Assault also seems to take greater advantage of the game’s inherent strengths. As I said above, the game’s biggest strength is its superb atmosphere, and that “Star Wars” aura is in full effect when Walkers and Rebels go head-to-head. Plus, the more you play, the more each side starts to adapt to opposing strategies; rather than simply enforcing your will and attempting to utilize the same basic strategy over and over, you have to keep an eye on all activities. The opposition’s plan of attack is important because it may force you to experiment with new approaches. Clearly, Walker Assault is the keystone of this production and for the most part, it delivers the goods in spades. It’s just too bad that several other modes aren’t anywhere near as ambitious, diverse, or innovative.
I actually liked Cargo a lot, but only because I’ve always had a penchant for Capture the Flag. And Hero Hunt is just wildly frustrating because it seems like your quarry is absurdly overpowered. That being said, I admit that I might just suck at this particular mode, even though I think I can spot a bullet sponge as well as anyone else. In short, it’s not the available number of modes that is Battlefront’s Achilles heel but rather, the modes that either needed more substance or better balancing (or both). It’s as if DICE put such a gigantic amount of effort into Walker Assault that the other options simply feel tacked-on. Not all of them, mind you, but a few only offer minor twists on tried-and-true formulas, which, in point of fact, might not be a bad thing. Depends on your view.
Personally, I think most online-only action games have a tendency to get boring and repetitive. But this one gets older faster than other titles I’ve played recently, simply because of that aforementioned lack of depth and overall engagement. The developers certainly rocked the environment; the unparalleled atmosphere is an absolute home run, no matter which mode(s) you enjoy. I’d never deny that. That being said, shouldn’t we care a bit more about what we’re doing in those remarkably immersive landscapes? After all, there’s never time to stand around gawking at the background, right? Why not put a bit more effort into fleshing out certain modes that simply don’t have enough longevity? I guess it’s all about going after those casual gamers who couldn’t care less about depth but even so, it’s a glaring drawback.
The map design isn’t especially amazing, either, despite the graphical prowess on display. Between wide open environments that don’t offer much in the way of cover, modes that start feeling old and stale much too quickly, and some obvious balancing issues, I’m not sure the multiplayer is worthy of the game’s $60 price tag. There’s just something tedious about playing certain modes, especially when those you’re playing with have limited imaginations. You can’t really blame them, though, because the game doesn’t offer much in the way of experimentation or customization options. The only upside to all of this is the inclusion of iconic vehicles, like the TIE fighters, X-Wings, speeders and the fantastic Mellenium Falcon.
I have no idea why they decided to use the right analog stick as a default control for flight, but it works fine once you get used to it. Basic control and general physics feel just about right with a few minor exceptions, and with a little practice, you should feel right at home in most of the available vehicles. I still have trouble with the flight because I just can’t wrap my head around that right analog nonsense, but I imagine I’m in the minority on that issue. Besides, these vehicles add a ton of depth and flavor this game so desperately needed, which is why I found myself using them more often than I anticipated. The ground combat can get so repetitive and feels so uninspired at times that I was inclined to take to the air. Gotta spice things up somehow.
The progression system is simple and occasionally rewarding but still a trifle thin. There are more powerful versions of certain weapons and you’ll soon be trying out wickedly cool stuff like homing missile launchers. Unlocking most new equipment doesn’t take very long and the Trait Cards add invaluable perks, which in turn combat any growing feelings of boredom. I actually had more fun fiddling with Trait Cards than I thought, and I think it’s entirely due to the uninspired modes and simplistic gameplay. I was always looking for a little something extra, some added “oomph” that would make the game feel like a full-priced, big-budget extravaganza. In some ways, I succeeded. But in the end, I couldn’t shake the feeling that yeah, this game is indeed a little light.
Star Wars: Battlefront offers excellent set pieces that act as nostalgic playgrounds. At the very least, it’s a great experience for the “Star Wars” faithful, and the solid and accessible control cements a production with far-reaching appeal. That appeal may not reach to the core group of gamers that are bound to complain about the lack of depth, customization and overall gameplay innovation, but they’re not the intended demographic. The good certainly outweighs the bad, regardless of your “hardcore” level or personal preferences, but such factors will have a big impact on your enjoyment. If you can accept the goals of the developers and don’t have a problem with the game’s baked-in limitations, you’ll almost assuredly have fun. As for how long that fun will last…well, I can’t guarantee anything.
The Good: Fantastic and authentic presentation, perfect for Star Wars lovers. Excellent audio and visual effects. Solid control and responsiveness. Assault Walker mode stands out. Trait Cards and vehicles add dimension and depth. Runs well out of the gate. Accessible and streamlined for the sake of a mass audience.
The Bad: Map design isn’t anything special. Flight control feels very weird at first. Some uninspired modes and balancing feels off. General lack of substance and depth throughout.
The Ugly: “It’s only ‘ugly’ if you don’t like the trend of mass market games for the casual crowd.”
11/19/2015 Ben Dutka