JJ Wars Battlefront – Reviewed

The BEST Star Wars game this year, ok it's the only Star Wars game this year....
The BEST Star Wars game this year… OK it’s the only Star Wars game this year…

What was your first Star Wars moment? I began at an early age, it was the first movie I watched in a theater- that’s how far back it starts for me. From the late 70s on, Star Wars would have a significant impact on my life. After the first hundred viewings, they became more than just mere films to me. Not everyone that I know became a fan at three years old, but I did have the pleasure of converting a few late bloomers over to the Darkside of the Force. One such friend of mine, named Brian, by the age of 16 had still never seen the Star Wars films before. I made it my personal crusade to change Brian, who seemed reluctant. I wondered if Star Wars still had the power to amaze people some 14 years after release. The day after he borrowed my edition of A New Hope, he hunted me down and demanded I give him the other two films. From then on he was hooked, and not only on the movies – but books, games, camping for tickets, and full models you name it. Brian was now as infected as I was. The franchise has that power, to permeate your imagination and not let go.

My childhood daydreams hyper-spaced to a galaxy far, far, away. Every discarded toilet paper roll, construction paper, cereal box, and every Royal Pine car freshener would augment my imaginary Star Wars battlefields. I know I’m not alone, from my playgrounds in the 70s and early 80s, to today’s playgrounds – kids are still at play with lightsabers, the Force, and pseudo Vader-voices. But the films pushed beyond my early childhood, towards an insatiable love for science fiction, astronomy, and yes, video games. Many of my adult tastes have been touched by Star Wars in both direct and subtle ways.

settingsIn less than a month JJ Abrams and Disney will try to relight the magic once more on the silver screen. While at the same time, DICE and Electronic Arts, are taking the opportunity to bring something to fans that has been lacking for a very long time: a fun Star Wars PC game. It’s been a long time since a Star Wars game has been released (Kinect Star Wars 2013). Even longer since one was worthy enough to carry the illustrious namesake. How does Star Wars Battlefront measure up?

In my time, I have watched Star Wars on VHS, Laserdisc, THX DVD, Special Edition THX DVD Special Edition, Blu-Ray edition, and the all digital edition. I have stared at every corner of every scene for the last 36+ years. I’ve memorized every detail, and pride myself in knowing exactly where each edition change occurs. It appears I’m not alone in my fanaticism, because the developers at DICE lavish every visual detail, and meticulously created a Battlefront game that digitally duplicates Star Wars’s most incredible battle scenes.

For fans like us, Star Wars Battlefront IS the film re-creation we always dreamed of.

Battlefront is Star Wars. It doesn’t have any Gungans, midiclorians, or droid armies. Sans the adventure and story, it does capture the best battle moments from the films, like no other video game has to date. There have been many noteworthy Star Wars games, but none have succeeded in delivering with such spectacular visual fidelity as DICE has done.

Running over Stormtroopers and zooming between AT-AT-s legs in a speeder.. Check.
Running over Stormtroopers and zooming between AT-AT-s legs in a speeder.. Check.

It takes mere seconds to join an online Battlefront match. Shoved instantly to the front lines of a 40-player furious blaster filled symphony. Countless laser criss cross across photorealistic battle scenes, exploding into a shower of fire and sparks. Rebel soldiers cry out as AT-AT heavy bolts burn rain down on them. TIE interceptors and X-Wing fighters intertwine and exchange lethal rays of light overhead. One ship erupts into a ball of fire, its mangled remains falling from the sky onto a group of imperial players. Trees explode and fall over onto your path as you dash through Endor. The scorching desert sun plagues your vision on Tatooine. Darth Vader storms the rebel base, flinging his lightsaber at fleeing rebel scum. It’s all there.

While it’s easy to say it’s just “Star Wars“- take red foot-long energy beams, white ceramic clad Stormtroopers, a giant hairy wookie that says “Rwarr” and call it a day. DICE has gone beyond the typical releases of old; which tend to go through the motions but rarely delivers something cutting edge. While the original SW:Battlefront games were fun, they bore a passing resemblance to the films. By utilizing high resolution photorealistic textures, dynamic lighting, and smooth shadows; Battlefront looks about as perfectly Star Wars as you can get. Snow glistens. Desert canyons look dusty, ragged, and hot. Mighty skyscraping trees choke the sunlight away, trek beneath lush branches and you will witness their shadows overcast everything with such naturalness. Sullust is a blackened industrial planet with rivers of lava flowing down hills like blood red veins. Constant explosions and sparks, plumes of smoke, outlandish energy shields, and more will fill up most every corner of the map – with every exchange against the enemy. It’s all there.

Between myself and that capture point? About 14 Stormtroopers... no problem..
Between myself and that capture point? About 14 Stormtroopers… no problem..

A tentative musical score commences every mission. As heroes show up, or the action is headed for a climactic moment, John William’s masterful score intensifies urging you to play harder. The distinct roar of TIE interceptors swooping into attack position. Pinging chimes ring out, as blaster fire hits a deployed energy shield. The distinct noises and metallic grinding behind each AT-AT step. All of the audio work is as exact and precise as the visual elements. Impressively mixed together on the fly; but to fully appreciate the chaotic bliss of a full 40 player Star Wars battle, you either need a 7.1 headset, or a 7.1 home theater setup. Finally! A game that blows up all seven speakers with wonderful battle sounds.

The fact all of this Star Wars cinema-like goodness plays out at a smooth 60 frames per second, on so many different PC setups is equally impressive. There are subtle differences between “medium” options and “ultra”, but in the heat of combat most will not notice. Allowing everyone to equally share in the fun.

The only noted drop in quality with Battlefront comes from the voice acting and look of some of the heroes. Some of the voice acting is plain awful. Fortunately their battle wrecking abilities make it easy to forget the Muppet voices that come with them. Han Solo and some of Emperor Palpatine’s moves look almost comical, but again forgettable when mixed in with the ferocious action. Regardless of the flaws, I have been yearning for a Star Wars themed game that pushes the audio and visual envelope for so long. Straight out of my imagination, as when I played as a kid. It’s all there. It is my honest opinion that Star Wars Battlefront is one of the top graphically impressive games of 2015, and the most impressive looking shooter released this year.

As a complete PC game sadly, Battlefront is not all there. It has been known for quite some time that this game would be a multiplayer arena only. There are solo missions which can be played cooperatively with a friend. There are a handful of training missions you can play by yourself to familiarize yourself with Battlefront’s mechanics. It lacks a conventional single player campaign. If you were waiting for a single player game as Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight to come with this release, well put that desire on hold. While DICE has clearly gone out of its way to replicate every dirty smudge on each droid, every bit of worn paint on battle tested X-Wing, and every rivet and joint on every AT-AT, it will go without a bona fide Star Wars story to wrap it all together. One cannot help but wonder at the kind of single player campaign that could have been produced (and should have been produced) with this game engine. For a full price AAA game, well… why wasn’t it added?

Walker Assault on Tattoine
Walker Assault on Tattoine
Supremacy on Endor
Supremacy on Endor
Cargo Run on Hoth
Cargo Run on Hoth
Just being a total badass on Sullust
Just being a total badass on Sullust

Four worlds (Endor, Tatooine, Sullust, and Hoth) are included in the game, with multiple modes for play on each of those four worlds. As the release of Force Awakens approaches, the fifth planet Jakku will be released (spoiler alert: It’s Tatooine again). To keep each mode feeling distinct maps are rearranged accordingly. Walker Assault on Hoth differs from Cargo Run on Hoth. Meaning, for Walker Assault you may see one small portion of Echo Base, but a majority of the snowed exterior trenches the Rebellion hold off the AT-ATs while transport ships escaped. Blast (mode) on Hoth is played entirely inside a complete Echo Base (with no exterior sections); complete with the bacta tanks Luke Skywalker healed in, and the command center Leia coordinated the Battle of Hoth during Empire Strikes Back. Each mode and its available map section offers proper balance for the multiplayer tug of war that will ensue. Not all of the eight modes are entertaining, lacking enticing objectives or compelling teamplay.

Walker Assault and Supremacy are the two modes that will appeal to most game fans. AT-ATs are attacking a rebel transport or base during Walker Assault. These powerful lumbering machines can only be destroyed if the rebels maintain a continuous control of two remote links. Doing so allows the Y-Wings (controlled by the AI) to swoop in an drop a disabling ion torpedo on the assault walkers. For a brief window, Rebel forces can openly engage the AT-ATs (which can be player controlled) and then damage them. This lends itself to some frantic tightly contested battles. Every time my rabble of rebel comrades would take down one of those giants, I felt like a cackling Nien Nunb after flying out of a fiery Death Star II.

Supremacy, a capture and hold mode with no AT-ATs, and usually features more hero drops than Walker Assault. Here you are required to move with your teammates to a point and capture it, while another section of your team will stay back and defend your last captured point. This march of capture and defend ends if one faction controls all points (which is very difficult to pull off) or when time expires controls the most points for the victory. The best moments in this mode usually come about when one faction turtles inside a bunker or base, positioning energy shields and high powered player operated turrets, in an effort to retain control. I’ve seen some creative strategies at play for both defense and offense in this mode.

While not in space, Fighter Squadron is the ship-to-ship combat mode that is a nice change of pace from the constant FPS combat in Battlefront. Players (10 versus 10) fly around a spacious aerial arena, mixed with numerous AI controlled ships, in a constant dogfight for victory. The AI controlled ships do give the impression the battle is much larger and frantic. AI ships swoop and attack constantly, but they are far easier to take down than human opponents. There is a notable drop off from the previous 40 player modes to this. Another slight I have against this mode as an avid X-wing Simulator fan, which I believe set the Star Wars starfighter combat standard, helped make it common knowledge that TIE Fighters do not have torpedo capabilities. They are flimsy and disposable like Stormtroopers. And like their cloned ground trooper cousins, they are dangerous only due to the large numbers the Empire deploys them in during a conflict. It makes little sense to have 10 on 10 fighters and have these TIEs operate like X-wings. Perhaps these design choices work for a casual and balanced online experience, but it lacks the style expected from a starfighter game in this universe. During the match each faction will intermittently launch a high value target; either a Lambda class shuttle for Imperials, or a heavy transport ship for the Rebellion. These targets must be destroyed by the opposing faction to score points and win the match. Hero drops come in the form of the Millennium Falcon or Bobba Feet’s Slave 1 (no Luke Skywalker X-wing? Darth Vader TIE Interceptor?) into the battle, adding a touch of excitement to the mix.

Fighter combat could have been so much more, but EA and DiCE held back
Fighter combat could have been so much more, but EA and DiCE held back

Hero Hunt tries to vary straight forward deathmatch gameplay. One person is selected to play a Hero unit, while everyone else tries to melt them into bantha fodder. The player to last hit, and vanquish the hero will have their turn to play one in the next round. This mode can be entertaining, I sat back and watched some players rush head on into packs of enemy soldiers and die in seconds. While the more cunning players use a mix of hit and run tactics or camping to create all sorts of havoc. Getting sizzled over and over by a camping Emperor gets old fast, so I tend to play Hero Hunt in short spurts.

The other modes are the same cardboard cutouts found in shooters for the last two decades. Cargo Run is essentially capture the flag. Blast is deathmatch with no vehicles, which is lackluster in every regard. Without the lumbering mechanical monstrosities and fighter battles overhead these matches are sleep inducing. Droid Run and Drop Zone are simply capture and hold points, with less players than Supremacy, again without vehicles, and are glorified deathmatch matches with a moving point of conflict. Heroes Vs Villains can be entertaining in bursts like Hero Hunt. Six players are selected to be one of the game’s hero units. The rest of the players defend their corresponding Heroes from being annihilated by the other side. The loss of all the heroes on any faction ends the match.

There have been many noteworthy Star Wars games, but none have succeed in delivering with such spectacular visual fidelity as DICE has done.

Game controls (on either keyboard/mouse or controller) and gameplay mechanics in Battlefront are quite good. Sadly, depth and play style choices are slim. Battlefront offers multiple character looks, weapons, and abilities but are held behind a points grind. Some of these unlockable items can introduce effective defensive measures such as the jetpack or personal shield. Other abilities are geared for anti-vehicle use or singular powerful offensive strikes, each having a pro and con to their use. All of these abilities take the form of “cards” you acquire with credits earned in matches. There are dozens of cards waiting to be unlocked, but you are limited to only 3 cards in your “hand” in battle. Main weapons are also unlockable, there are over a dozen different weapons to choose from and lack clear definition between them. A hand blaster feels as powerful as a heavy machine gun with a 6 foot barrel- even with considerable distance between two players. All weapons can zoom. They can all kill you from across the map with a few shots (except the short range shotgun-esque ones). Burst, spread, accuracy vary according its statistics, but they all feel very much alike during actual combat. Regardless of the minute variations, main weapons offer little strategic considerations.

While not a part of the original Trilogy, the smoldering wastelands of Sullust are very detailed.
While not a part of the original Trilogy, the smoldering wastelands of Sullust are very detailed.
Luke's arrival is usually followed by an inspiring momentum shifter in the Rebel's favor
Luke’s arrival is usually followed by an inspiring momentum shifter in the Rebel’s favor

Special power up items, vehicle drops, hero icons, and item charges are littered across each match. Vehicles and heroes show up at specified points on the map, if you are a rebel you will see Rebel ships available and vice versa for Imperials. Run over an item, then press 4 on your keyboard or LB+RB on your controller and after a short sequence you respawn at the edge of the map in your new vehicle or selected hero. Item drops are represented by a star shaped symbol. Which item you’ll end up with is completely random. These item drops can be as impressive as the thermal imploder that utterly rocks the entire map when set off. Orbital strikes to lay waste to sections of the map. Or others like a ground turret or bubble shield for defense. Some of these items can get poor mileage depending on where the battle shifted to at that given point. Let me tell you something else, being two inches away from grabbing the AT-ST vehicle icon and some useless jester nabs it from you, is as infuriating as doing your taxes inebriated.

Your choice selections for main weapon and ability cards barely alter your strengths for teamplay. Hopefully a player has the experience or the intuition to play towards some kind of “role” during in the battle. Roles I say? Nothing is well-defined in terms of roles, unlike other Battlefront games (or even Battlefield games DiCE has worked on). This leads some players rushing into battle or turtling behind a rock avoiding blaster barrages  for an entire match because they have no idea what to specifically do to contribute to victory. You can assemble a group of weapons and abilities that better aid to either capture a point, defend one, or keep AT-STs or X-wings from strafing your comrades- who should do what is a toss up and not really defined in any way. This over simplified scheme keeps Battlefront streamlined (or stripped down, depending on how you look at it) for mass audience appeal. Young and old can jump in an instantly figure out that the red laser bolts belong in the other guy’s ass. Yet constant multiplayer combat is all this game delivers, thus keeping depth at its most elementary levels is a shortsighted approach.

Yes, Star Wars caters to all ages, but all ages are capable of engaging in strategic play. Most experienced gamers, may bore too quickly of just flat shooting enemies, and move on to something more complex. It is unclear if Electronic Arts or DICE influenced this “keep it simple” approach to Star Wars Battlefront, but that is one decision that could prove lethal to its longevity.  It’s kind of perplexing because previous Battlefront entries featured class-based play to give players more of indication of how they can fit in, from sniper to heavy gunner to scout. This tried and true structure is still appreciated amongst shooter fans.

Palpy's Boys, one of the better indie bands this side of the Galactic Empire
Palpy’s Pep Boys, one of the better indie bands this side of the Galactic Empire

Fast, furious, and intense battles do take place in Battlefront despite the strategy-lite approach. Especially when you bring your friends with you into battle, or you end up grouped with equally skilled players. There is nothing quite as satisfying as picking up a Darth Vader hero icon, and diving into 7 rebel scum firmly entrenched in a bunker- and standing over a pile of smoldering enemies seconds later. Or players back each other up from the air, and guarding defensive points well. This is where I absolutely resent that this game is on Origin. Steam’s interface is far more intuitive to form parties, send friend invites to good players, and with a common voice chat client built in. Electronic Arts has an iron grip on their own games through their service, and it really hasn’t worked out for the better in the long run. How often is EA painted as the corporate soul sucking devil amongst gamers? Well Star Wars Battlefront’s shortcomings may provide more fuel to the gaming fires.

One of the worst affronts to their own game is the approach to pricing. Without a single player component, only five worlds, few entertaining modes Battlefront is still a full priced game at $50. The Deluxe edition for $60 just gives you access to freely earned items in game. But wait, we got a Season Pass deal over here! EA has plans to add four more modes, a few more heroes, more cards (abilities), and more TKCJ-33 blasters with stats, on four new planets. For $50. Tu du dee, the number you have dialed is not in service. Let that sink in. EA is selling you a multiplayer only game for full price. Then 4 more DLC maps for equal price to a full game. $50. Wha? People love Star Wars, and EA loves charging people up the nose, its a dangerous combination.

As much as I would love to play a complete Star Wars single player campaign on this beautiful game engine, I would hate to discover what EA would want to charge me for that. It wouldn’t be a surprise if there was a $10.00 charge for even questioning their pricing model. It’s obvious that the disconnect between EA and gamers is as vast as Tatooine’s desert landscape. However that’s a whole other 5,000 word feature just itching to be written.

Star Wars Battlefront will be adored and treasured the same souls who stared off into the darkness of the night, dreaming of diving into a Death Star trench run of their own. For those that unscrewed their mother’s mop handle and swung it around fighting a dreamt up Obi Wan Kenobi in the kitchen. For those people out there who are currently impaired from the modeling glue fumes from all the AT-AT and Jabba barge model replica’s being crafted in unventilated rooms. For fans like us, Star Wars Battlefront IS the film re-creation we always dreamed of. Its eye popping details are addicting. After a few hours, I would tire of mindless shooting, but after a while the Force beckoned me to return. Yet, for non Star Wars fans, or for those that crave depth and strategy over theatrical presentation, then there may not be as much value here. Regardless I think both sides of the table will agree, there was a lot of potential left undelivered for game fans. Star Wars Battlefront will represent a “what could have been”, and yet another missed opportunity from long time game publisher Electronic Arts.

PS – Brian, if you’re reading this, I hope you became the greatest optometrist this side of the Atlantic, may the force be with you buddy… (and get on Origin you doof).

JJ Wars Battlefront

Score - 8

8

Force-ful

A cinematic and video game blend that is masterful to behold. Leaves plenty of potential on the table that can be a bit disheartening. Nevertheless this multiplayer shooter is a complete service to Star Wars fans of all ages.