Where to begin with Star Wars Battlefront. DICE’s position with this shooter was practically unwinnable. Entire swathes of the community wrote it off as soon as they heard it had no single-player community. Millions more were hoping for it to play exactly like Star Wars Battlefront 2. And there were people like me, who, up until playing it, assumed it would be a reskinned Battlefield 4. No matter what noises came out of DICE HQ, I’d hazard a guess the majority went into Star Wars Battlefront with one of these opinions. It’s in fact none of these things.
Star Wars Battlefront is entirely its own beast. It’s not really like anything else out there. The closest comparison to me would be to suggest it’s the Rocket League of shooters. There’s a purity to the action that you won’t find in many other places, at least in this post Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare era.
First of all let's tackle the hot topic of single-player. DICE, for the most part, has never been known for its single-player prowess. The only one of its games with a sniff of greatness would be Mirror’s Edge. That’s fine, that’s not what they’re known for. Star Wars Battlefront has done fine without it before, and it does fine without it here.
There is a minor single-player component it has to be said, with small challenges to earn some currency which can be spent on multiplayer unlocks. Each of these provide a taster of different aspects of gameplay, and form a tutorial of sorts before heading online. Occasionally they do show signs of what might have been, such as a pulsating Speeder Bike race through the forest moon of Endor, or the Rogue Leader-aping aerial combat. But in the end they’re nothing more than minor distractions.
This is joined by an array of cooperative horde-mode style missions and these are pretty neat to play through with a friend, but there’s not much here keeping you playing for the long term once you’ve exhausted Star Wars Battlefront’s limited supply of maps.
Onto the meat of the game then, which is undoubtedly the online mode. When I played the beta for a couple of hours last month I came away thoroughly underwhelmed. I hadn’t enjoyed the Walker Assault gameplay at all, and I immediately tempered my expectations. Based on my terrible beta experience I was thinking this could end up along the lines of a 5/10. This seems in stark contrast to all of the opinions I’ve read, who seemed to love the beta and got bored of the main game. Perhaps the answer is in looking further than the headline mode.
Walker Assault is an unorganised travesty. It’s littered with moments of brilliance and spectacular sights that could have been plucked straight from the movies, but it’s a vapid, hollow experience with little tactical depth and gross team imbalances. After I’d rotated through the maps a few times I felt thoroughly bored. It’s a great way of selling Star Wars Battlefront, but it turns out it’s not a good way of playing it.
That’s when I began to look a little further afield, hoping there was untold depths tucked away in one of the myriad of game modes on offer. As it turns out the force is strong with this one after all, because the majority of the smaller game modes are absolutely top-tier multiplayer gaming, where the mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront begin to shine. This is a shooter stripped of most of the bullshit. There’s limited unlocks and basic controls with restricted movement, but what this allows is a focus on the tactical element. For the majority of the smaller matches I’ve played, so far at least, it felt like my team was always trying to compete for the objective. There wasn't a hilltop tribe of camping lone wolves just trying to hoover up kills and level up as quickly as possible, but genuine camaraderie and sacrifice for the team’s greater good. There’s always a bad egg or two of course, but it’s doubtful they’ll stick around for the long term.
Stepping away from Walker Assault then, and two of the major standout modes for me are Cargo and Drop Zone. The former is basically 8v8 capture the flag, but on some insanely tight, well crafted levels, the sort you wouldn’t expect from the large-scale wizards at DICE. Each team starts with five points apiece, and you lose a point every time the enemy team captures your cargo and gain one every time you capture theirs. Whoever’s got the most points at the end of the 10 minutes or so wins. It goes into sudden death in the event of a draw, which can lead to some insanely tense situations. In this format Star Wars Battlefront shines. Without having to worry about getting blown up by an AT-AT or killed from a mile away by Boba Fett, you can focus on the frenetic tactical seesaw of CTF.
Likewise with Drop Zone, which I’m sure plenty of you are familiar with from the beta. This is more combat-heavy than Cargo but the same rules apply, and fighting over drop pods and exchanging control can be a real thrill. As I said, the closest comparison in my mind is the frenetic, vaguely controlled action of Rocket League. Nearly all of the game modes are worth a bash as well, each bringing something unique to the table. The dogfighting Fighter Squadron won’t have its hooks in you for extended periods, but it’s great for a quick battle. Heroes vs Villains alters the dynamics considerably with its 6v6 play, featuring three Heroes and three Villains commanding the battle. Hero Hunt is one of the few small-scale duds. It might as well be killed Kill Stealing: The Game, but it’s difficult to see what else DICE could do with this idea.
It all makes for great pick up and play action that’s unrivalled in this space. Star Wars Battlefront is the online shooter for gamers who don’t have hundreds of hours to invest in becoming a crack shot sniper. It’s a casual FPS (or TPS) and I really don’t think that’s a bad thing. If you think that means it’s not for you then it probably isn’t, but I’d say there’s definitely audience out there for something like this, myself included.
What is intriguing is just how great third-person play is. DICE is keen to push you into first-person from the off, but Star Wars Battlefront is also an extremely competent third-person shooter. Your perspective advantage gives you better view of the levels like this, but the trade-off is less accurate shooting. It's odd but it really does work, and I find myself switching between the two depending on how I feel like playing.
Star Wars Battlefront, like just about every online shooter out there these days, has a levelling process with an array of unlockables. There’s not a massive amount of things to unlock, certainly nowhere near on the scale of Battlefield or Call of Duty, which I’ve seen some reviews suggest means there’s a lack of progression and content. You don’t need a leveling process to quantify ‘content’, a game should be fun enough to stand on its own two feet regardless. Which Star Wars Battlefront does, and does well, and I’m glad to see the usual relentless unlocks give way to a more sedate pace. By the time you get to 15 out of 50 levels you’ve basically got your hands on most of the decent kit.
One of the key things to tackle is the issue of maps. Star Wars Battlefront comes with a total of 16 maps spread across four planets, with some new Battle of Jakku maps coming free of charge next week. That seems like an OK deal on the surface, but split across the game modes it means there’s not a great deal to mess around with.
Take the Walker Assault and Conquest game modes for example. There’s just four maps for these two large-scale modes - one for each planet (Tatooine Hoth, Sullust and The Forest Moon of Endor). Play for about an hour or so and you can see every map in these modes. The smaller maps are inspired by, or sometimes directly set within small sections of these larger maps, like you've seen in Battlefield since BF2, and these are used for the likes of Heroes vs Villains, Droid Run, Blast, and Cargo, etc. In truth that’s not a great deal to be getting on with, so your mileage is going to vary here. I quite enjoy a limited run of maps I can get to know intimately, but I know plenty of others will be expecting at least double what’s on offer here.
EA and DICE are of course offering a Season Pass, bringing with it 16 new maps, new game modes, additional weapons and the like. At £35 though it’s almost as much as the base game, which stings a little when you see how few are available out the box. What makes it worse is when you think what levels have been held back to sell the Season Pass. A quarter of Star Wars Battlefront’s maps are set on Sullust, a planet which is only talked about in the movies. The only conceivable reason to opt for this over the Death Star, or Bespin, or Dagobah, is surely to tempt gamers in at a later date.
You can feel the time constraints placed on DICE here, forced to get Star Wars Battlefront out to meet Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It feels like there was a toss-up here - aim for more content or take what they’ve got and polish it to within an inch of its life.
And polish it they have. Star Wars Battlefront is as slick as they come. Whatever you think of its substance, it’s certainly got the style. Visuals and audio are on another level - DICE’s usual sterling work elevated even further with the official Star Wars license. Everything about it looks and feels bang on the money, with excellent presentation and a quick flow to proceedings that means you’re never far from the action. This is certainly no Battlefield 4 launch, and I can’t think of a single glitch or performance hiccup I’ve encountered.
Star Wars Battlefront is fantastic at what it sets out to achieve, even if it's not what everybody originally wanted. Aiming for a market not necessarily of hardcore gamers, but those who want some pick up and play fun without a steep learning curve, this is a game which succeeds in carving its own niche, despite borrowing haphazardly from all around it.