Star Wars: Battlefront Review (PS4)
Star Wars: Battlefront is really fun. I tried to view it through a number of different lenses. As a Battlefield game in the Star Wars universe, is it any good? Does it measure up to the scope and scale of the original Battlefront games? Is it faithful to the films? Does it FEEL like Star Wars? The answers to all of these questions are complex and full of provisos and qualifications. But the most important thing you need to know is that Star Wars: Battlefront is fun. In fact, it’s the most fun I’ve had with an FPS this year. Star Wars: Battlefront, more than any other game, has made me shout at the tv in excitement, frustration and outright joy. So it’s doing something right.
It’s important to say that there’s no real singleplayer in Battlefront. I’d always expected this to be a Battlefield game with a Star Wars skin, so I wasn’t worried before I played. Now that I’ve spent a long time with it, I realise I was wrong. There IS a real gap in this package. A little void where a campaign should be.
That’s because the very basic singleplayer challenges included in the game like wave-based survival and hero battles are fantastically fun, but frustratingly basic. The essential gunplay of Battlefront is perfect. The feel of the combat and the weight of the weapons is both unique and enjoyable. Blasters aren’t like guns, and blaster combat is different to shooting in COD or Battlefield, but it feels great in its own right. It’s probably only rivaled by Destiny in terms of how good the combat actually feels.
In the singleplayer modes, the enemy stormtroopers go down easily and satisfyingly. The little sparks from their helmets as you pop them and the rag-dolling animations work perfectly. Fighting as a basic trooper with a blaster is fun enough, but when you play as one of the named characters (Boba Fett being a particularly great choice), it feels like a great singleplayer game is right there. But you simply run out of things to do. Fighting fifteen brutal waves of survival for thirty minutes actually tires you out. But if they’d just put a little effort put into crafting a story, most of the other elements of a great singeplayer game are already in place.
The singleplayer works then mainly as a tutorial for the multiplayer. And that’s good, because while Battlefront is a refreshingly simple game to play, you can really miss out if you’re not ready once the action begins. Power ups to become a hero or pilot a vehicle are available to collect on the map, and they’re rare. If you find one, you’ll want to already have the skills to make the most of it. Spawning as Darth Vader or appearing inside a Tie Fighter is anticlimactic if you don’t know how to wield a lightsabre or know when to pull up.
While some might lament Battlefront’s lack of progression, I think the developers have created an elegant system that cuts out some of the bloat of it’s rivals. In some ways it’s the antithesis of Destiny’s plethora of currencies, multiple forms of RPG leveling of weapons and character traits and scrounging around for scraps to upgrade and customize weapons. Battlefront has none of that. There are eleven guns, and you choose one. They’re not all available at the start – you still have to unlock them – but they fall broadly into the class of pistol, rifle, LMG and shotgun. The difference between each is mild though. Regardless of your gun, they’re all pretty lethal and getting the jump on your opponent will generally see you take them out. There’s no Halo/Destiny bullet sponges here, a headshot is generally all you need.
As well as your basic gun, you get three cards. Two are equipment, while one is an ability. The abilities are limited in use, and carry over from game to game. So if you have a charge of thirty for your ability and you use it five times in a game, next game you’ll be down to twenty five. You can collect charges on any map though as they spawn randomly.
And that’s it. One gun, three cards. Within those tight constraints though there’s still scope to build a conventional class, a hybrid class, or just something that includes all your favorite toys. Go for a heavy blaster, a proximity grenade and a thermal detonator and you have a great short-to-medium range grenadier type class that can stay in the fight for long sieges and clear out corridors as an attacker. Meanwhile, the radar pulse ability combined with the T-21B blaster, and the pulse cannon and homing shot cards make for a great sniper class.
I really enjoyed changing my load-out in Battlefront, and I don’t do that in FPS games any more. In the newest BLOPS and Halo, I didn’t enjoy the complexity of the loadouts and the vast array of confusing weapons. Worse, when I was killed in those games I often felt it was because I was behind in an arms race – unable to access all the cool toys that my enemies already had. In Battlefront though, even the most basic initial weapons are deadly, and the alternate loadouts seemed to change your characters utility in specific situations rather than simply making them more powerful in a general sense.
There’s a good screens worth of different modes for you to choose from when you start Battlefront, and I found they all had their own unique strengths. The big Walker battles are the obvious stand outs, with twenty players on each side. They’re the most chaotic way to play, but they offer up a little bit of everything. Whether you like running-and-gunning or flying a speeder or sniping or defending bases, you’ll enjoy this mode. As with Battlefield though, the sheer chaos can be somewhat overwhelming and when you play in a poor team, you might find yourself dying quite frequently when you’re pushed back. Sometimes it won’t feel fair. That’s the price you pay for such a huge scope.
The hero battles modes are weird. Seeing Palpatine doing a psycho crusher move on Princess Leia feels kinda wrong, but then Boba Fett is unbelievably fun to play as. Three hero’s on each team is rather too much, but the asynchronous Hero hunt is much better, with a team of basic troops facing off against Leia, Han, Luke, Cader, Palpatine or Fett. It works better on the less open levels – and feels like a weird mode rather than a well thought out game mode – but that doesn’t stop it being a laugh.
For me, Supremacy was the mode I played slightly more than the rest. A battle for control points, it resembled Counter Strike more than anything else. The tight level design combined with the brutal choke points created scenes I haven’t witnessed in a console shooter for a while. A room full of rebels, standing just outside a long corridor, trying to snipe at imperials hiding at the other end. Each side nervous to push forward. It’s tense stuff, and each kill feels like it’s been earned.
The vehicle combat meanwhile is loose and forgiving. In the dedicated air combat mode, there doesn’t seem to be a great difference between A Wings and X Wings or Tie Fighters and Interceptors, but the battles looks great. It’s not easy to shake off an enemy once they get on your tale, especially if they’re half decent. Death is swift but so is your respawn. The super ships – available as power ups for the quickest players – are far too bullet sponge-y though. Whether you’re shooting at the Millenium Falcon or Slave One, you can’t help feel you’re wasting your time. Better to focus on the other little ships. As a result, these behemoths boss the air, and anyone lucky enough to pilot one of them generally wins the whole game. Meanwhile, when you use any of the flying vehicles in other game modes that include ground troops it all works a bit better. Again, the closest comparison is Battlefield. But Battlefield never let you tie a tow cable around an AT-AT to bring it down.
Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious from the screenshots, Battlefront is gorgeous. It looks amazing in motion too, with great animations and stunning explosions. The music and sound is perfect too. When you’re inside a shield bubble, there’s this dull thumping noise when shots hit the protective barrier that’s just brilliant. With all the Star Wars sound effects crowbarred in, the devs really have made the most of the license. The only weird audio anomaly is the lacklustre voice acting. It’s almost as if they told the performers to mumble through their lines. Vader in particular is terrible. I reckon I could manage a better James Earl Jones.
There’s been a pervasive criticism of Battlefront. That criticism is that it’s too simple. That it’s stingy. That EA held back all the best bits to sell as DLC. It’s a difficult argument to unpick. Certainly there’s a lot of Star Wars in the package, but there’s a lot that’s NOT in here. There’s no Chewy, no playable Ewoks, no Death Star, no space combat, no Rancor. But then, should there be? Just because all of that stuff has been in Star Wars games before does that mean we are entitled to it in this game? I would argue no. I’m sure much will be added in DLC, and I’m ok with that. The more important question is whether the package itself is too slight. Whether Battlefront offers value for money. That’s harder to answer.
For me, it’s a great shooter. As I said above, the actual FPS gameplay is probably second only to Destiny. It feels great. It looks amazing. I played it a lot this weekend, and I’ll keep playing it for some time. Even when something else pulls me away eventually, I WILL come back, because there’s nothing else quite like it. It offers a unique thrill. But still, I can’t help but wish the hero battles were a little better. I wish there was a decent singeplayer camapign, even if it was short. Just shooting AI enemies feels so fucking good, I just need a better excuse to do it than a poorly made wave based survival mode. And while I’m wishing, how about a mode where you can fly from a planets surface into space to fight on floating planet sized weapon? No? Worth a try.
Regardless of what might be on my wish list, I can’t really complain about what EA has made. Battlefront is a great game, and some of my best gaming memories of this year come from my time with it. That wrist rocket on Hoth. That lightsabre battle on top of the Falcon. That time I Psycho Crushered Princess Leia off a cliff….