Battlefront Hands On Review: A Solid, if Slightly Anemic, Star Wars Shooter
Star Wars Battlefront was released on Tuesday for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Here's a hands on look at the latest game to take place long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Not the Battlefront Some Are Looking For
First thing's first. To die-hard fans of the original Battlefront series, the last installment of which was released 10 years ago: This is not the Star Wars Battlefront you're looking for.
Unlike the original Battlefront and especially Battlefront II, in which players could hop into X-Wings or Snow Speeders at will or decide to duke it out as a foot soldier on battlefield, the latest Battlefront game is almost entirely a first-person shooter.
That doesn't mean the 2015 Battlefront, a project of Electronic Arts DICE to update the series for next-generation consoles, is a miss or somehow less of a game than its predecessors.
It's just that, while there are game modes that feature areal combat in the traditional A-Wings, Speeders, X-Wings, Walkers and Tie Fighters, those game features are really secondary to the real action that takes place in the game's multiplayer battles on the ground.
But those multiplayer battles are incredibly intense, sometimes chaotic and extremely addictively fun to play.
The maps are well thought out and aesthetically beautiful. Some of it comes from the far more advanced graphics behind the game compared to the older Battlefront installments, but it's clear that EA took pains to make the world of Star Wars come to life in combat.
The blaster and grenade sounds are authentic (especially the jarring thermal imploder) and the maps have that "worn-in" look that made the original Star Wars trilogy so visually compelling.
Also compelling and addictive is the character level-up system, which is not so complicated as to be baffling and frustrating, while dangling just enough incentives to keep you trying to get your scores up in every online skirmish.
There are plenty of well-balanced and specialty blasters to unlock, once you've collected enough points and ranked up, as well as special abilities and secondary weapons available through the (weirdly-named) "Star Card" system.
Star Cards are basically a three-slot inventory of various grenades, one-shot specialty weapons, jet packs, and short-term special abilities like better aim, faster weapon cool downs (there are no "clips" to reload with laser blasters, after all) or damage boosts against droids and vehicles. These extra abilities and items provide enough diversity so you can customize your loadout for your style of play, while remaining a simple enough system that veteran players don't have too much of an advantage over lower ranked gamers.
Speaking of variety, there are enough game modes in the multiplayer to allow you to find the right size and game objective for your style of play.
For example, I found the massive 20 versus 20 "Supremacy" and "Walker Assault" modes to be a little bit too chaotic for my tastes. But "Droid Run," in which six players on each side battle for control over the original Star Wars' cute, trashcan-style droids was just right.
One last little feature I really appreciated was the choice between first-person and second-person views -- with the latter including an option for left-handed people.
Battlefront isn't a perfect game, to say the least. As alluded to earlier, the non-multiplayer game modes are underdeveloped.
The worst of these is the split-screen (offline) coop "Survival" mode, in which you and your friend face wave after wave of enemies, while the voice of Admiral Ackbar (presumably) unnecessarily narrates the action. Simply put, this got boring after the first time through.
And it's such a letdown that the only way you can play with a friend on the same console is offline, in a game mode that's so barebones and seemingly an afterthought, that it harkens back to Superman 64's multiplayer racing mode. If you don't remember that game, all playable characters in that mode had to fly spaceships through a series of tunnels -- including Superman.
Vehicles and dogfights also seem like an afterthought, simply included in the game to tick a box in the list of traditional "Battlefront" features. Even in large multiplayer battles, where sometimes players are awarded the option to operate an AT-ST, Tie Fighter, or A-Wing, the option just doesn't pack much as much punch as staying on the ground with your squad.
One final quip about the gameplay has to do with the playable Star Wars "Heroes and Villains" characters. Playing as Luke or Vader never been my cup of tea, but making Emperor Palpatine a playable character is just dumb.
Firstly, there's no canonical reason why he would take place in ground fights, himself. But more importantly, the way the character operates -- in his usual evil crouched position, but running and jumping around, blasting soldiers with his force lightning -- makes him just look ridiculous. Ridiculous. Absolutely gravitas-demolishing.
The Dark Side of Battlefront
While Battlefront's gameplay certainly has its strengths and weaknesses, the game is a lot of fun and definitely worth the $60 if you're a big Star Wars fan, or simply want a first person shooter that's different from the usual military-style franchises.
But Star Wars Battlefront doesn't cost $60, if you want to stay current with other players down the road. That's because EA made Battlefront with just few enough maps that by the time it's released, you'll want to get the DLC expansions that are heavily advertised already on the game's main screen. And to get all five of the planned additional DLC requires the season pass, which costs $50 more.
So effectively, thanks to EA's adhering to the modern DLC-based model of gaming, Star Wars Battlefront costs $110 to get the full experience. It's unfortunate, and makes players question if some of the less fully-fleshed parts of the game were purposely underdeveloped to keep players on the hook for more.
The new Star Wars Battlefront is not for everyone, but then again, neither were the two previous installments. But this time, it's not for the space combat veterans of the original Battlefront games.
However, if you're looking to get into the nitty-gritty of the Star Wars universe before Episode VII is released and experience some intense, incredibly well-polished FPS action, Star Wars Battlefront is a great buy. Just know that you're probably going to eventually end up paying almost double the sticker price.
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