Fans of the Star Wars: Battlefront series have had a hard go of it. The original two games were crafted by the late, great Pandemic Studios for the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. These titles were always derided as mere clones of Battlefield, even as Battlefront 2 emerged as one of the premier non-Halo Xbox Live games. Once Pandemic was purchased by EA, LucasArts reached out to Free Radical, the developers of the Timesplitters series, for a third entry. That game was eventually scrapped, and the series has had to live on through leaked footage of what could have been and a few uninteresting PSP entries. When EA acquired the exclusive Star Wars game license, everyone knew that a new Battlefront was coming, and from the start many just assumed that DICE would perfect the old formula and release a Battlefield spin-off in the same vein as Battlefield Hardline. What has resulted instead is a stunning Star Wars audiovisual experience that loses all luster as soon as you pick up the controller.
Battlefront is an online focused first person shooter with nine different modes to jump into online. These include the large scale AT-AT focused Walker Assault, the midair dogfights of Fighter Squadron, and Star Wars themed versions of Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, and Domination. If you’re looking for single player content, there isn’t much here for you besides a basic set of tutorials, a spin on Kill Confirmed, and a Horde-like missions mode. These offline modes feature AI opponents that fall into classes similar to the original games, along with other unique mechanics that make them feel like leftovers from another version of the game. In any case, they are a fun diversion, and I must give credit to DICE for putting splitscreen into a shooter in 2015, but these modes clearly aren’t the main focus of the game.
Of the various modes, Walker Assault feels like the showpiece. It features all the mechanics from the rest of the game as well as the giant Imperial elephants marching across the snow, forest, or gray lava world that the Rebels are defending. Despite some balancing issues in the beta, I found the mode to be relatively even, although you’ll always have a few players shooting the AT-AT when it’s not vulnerable on the Rebel side. Most of the guns you can select for your loadout work best in a ranged scenario, which fits with the giant forty player matches in this mode and the similar Supremacy option. In fact, they work almost too well, and I found myself more often than not scoring kills by blindly firing at opponents miles away who I could barely see. To say that the game’s auto-aim was generous on consoles would be a bit too forgiving.
Speaking of firearms, I had a really tough time discerning the difference between most of the primary weapons Battlefront offers you. The pistols and automatic rifles all felt almost exactly the same, with the only variety coming in the form of a very situational Jawa shotgun and a pair of heavy laser rifles that felt more like LMGs. I have a feeling that most players will gravitate towards one of the early guns for most of their experience, as the stat changes are so minuscule that it isn’t really worth putting in the effort to relearn how to play once you’ve already got a handle on things.
More exotic weaponry such as rocket launchers, ion torpedoes, grenades, and sniper rifles are all sectioned off into the game’s unruly card system, where you load into the game with two sidearms or explosives, a power up with limited charges, and a trait once you get high enough in the leveling system. For grenades, sniper rifles and the like, you don’t have a traditional ammo counter, but rather a cooldown, which is somewhat of a double-edged sword. While this does make using the more powerful weapons more accessible and gives you more options going into specific scenarios, it also causes every battle to be littered with explosions going off left and right, since everyone has access to an infinite supply of bombs to lob in whichever direction they choose. It leads to a lot of cheap deaths and general chaos, meaning that you’ll rarely feel like an opposing player outplayed you. All this isn’t even counting the power-ups you can hunt down and deploy, which include automatic turrets, airstrikes, squad shields, as well as access to vehicles and hero units.
If you’re a Battlefront veteran, you’ll remember that one of the defining aspects of the older games was the vehicular warfare. Jumping into a set of Separatist spider droids or Armored Assault Tanks and wreaking havoc with a partner provided some of the best moments of those games online. In the new Battlefront, vehicles are much more limited, being relegated to one use power-ups that spawn randomly as you play through modes that support them. This means that you’ll be racing against your teammates to pick these up, and they are so limited that it really stings when you have to keep trudging along on foot instead of spawning in a TIE Interceptor. Hero units are limited in the same way, and there are only six heroes you can spawn as, although there will be more coming in the game’s extensive DLC plans.
The ground vehicles control as you expect them to, and it is admittedly fun to blast people away in a chicken walker. However, the flying vehicles feel like a serious step down from past efforts when you’re using them in Walker Assault. Simply put, they’re too fast and way too high in the air to make much of a difference to the battle going on below. It’s hard to do anything as an X-Wing other than fight other people who happen to be flying alongside you, take out the rare turret emplacement owned by an opposing player, or dive bomb into a base and hope that you take out a few foes along with yourself. This isn’t the fault of the vehicles themselves, as the game’s dogfighting mode is probably one of the best from a gameplay perspective, and I’d love to see that idea fleshed out into a Star Wars version of Crimson Skies. Rather, it feels as if the flying vehicles were haphazardly thrown into the main mode with no real thought as to what their role was in the action.
Battlefront‘s six hero units offer some of the game’s most engaging moments, but you can only really get a handle for them in the two hero focused modes. Hero Hunt is an FFA scramble to eliminate the single overpowered hero player, and it’s only enjoyable if you’re the one on the right side of that equation. Heroes vs Villains is a bit more interesting. It’s a round based deathmatch where all six heroes are represented along with a couple of grunt teammates. This mode is the best chance you’ll have to play as all the heroes and learn their abilities, and the duels between Han Solo, Boba Fett, Leia and The Emperor are probably the most fun you’ll have on the ground in the game. Like most other modes here, it’s not very fleshed out, but what is there is fun for a few go rounds.
When you’re not running around as Luke Skywalker, launching missiles, hurling grenades, or flying a TIE Interceptor, you’ll be hoofing it on the ground with just your rifle. The basic run and gun gameplay in Star Wars Battlefront just does not feel great. I already mentioned the long ranges that you’ll be shooting from, but even in a tight corridor, the guns don’t have any kick to them. The lack of ammo and the spray of lasers from the supposedly accuracy focused weapons add to this shooting gallery vibe that will turn off anyone who wants a bit of depth in the multiplayer shooters. For those coming to the game just for a hit of that Star Wars excitement, the basic CTF and Deathmatch modes are lifeless without the hero and vehicle gimmicks to keep things interesting. Simply put, in a year that saw the release of Halo 5: Guardians, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Evolve, and even DICE’s own Battlefield: Hardline, there is no compelling reason for FPS fans to come to Battlefront for their online multiplayer fix.
Star Wars Battlefront has a large variety of ways to play, but only Walker Assault feels fully realized, and even that mode has strange quirks that prevent it from truly being recommendable. The shooting is subpar, the map pool is minuscule, and the rest of the content is razor-thin and easily digested in a handful of hours. Whether you’re coming to this game for single player or multiplayer, it’s hard to imagine that you won’t come back disappointed. Despite all this, Battlefront offer players a chance to step into possibly the best realized rendition of the Star Wars universe yet. However, the game at its core is a theme park attraction with enough pretty lights and music cues to distract you from the lack of immersion and polish that emanates from every match.
This game was purchased by the reviewer and played on PC via Origin and on Xbox One via EA Access.
Star Wars Battlefront is a graphical tour de force that fails whenever it becomes an interactive experience. There are hints of better games here, but nothing that saves it from mediocrity.