In 2012, Lucasfilm and all of its Star Wars properties were acquired by Disney for about $4 billion. Disney immediately set to work reigniting the Star Wars media franchise, announcing the production of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and putting Lucasfilm’s ducks into a row more to their liking. One of those ducks was the dissolution of LucasArts, Lucasfilm’s video game production studio, to the outrage of many longtime fans. To make matters more complicated, Disney handed all of the Star Wars video game-making rights to Electronic Arts, a firm that, much like Disney, is a monopolistic company with a record of shady business practices. Star Wars Battlefront, a reboot of the venerated Battlefront franchise, is the first product of this new partnership.
The Battlefront series has been around for over a decade. Star Wars: Battlefront was released in 2004 and featured multiplayer battles set during the eras of the prequel and classic Star Wars trilogies. Players were divvied up into teams and set out to capture objectives or simply wipe the other side out. The original Battlefront received highly positive reviews from critics and fans, and is now available for digital download.
Star Wars: Battlefront II was released in 2005 and refined what its predecessor had begun, adding new gameplay and movement mechanics. Battlefront II also introduced hero characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, as well as space battles. Like the original Battlefront, Battlefront II was received well by both the press and the Star Wars community. It remains one of the best class-based shooters of the early 2000s.
The Basics: Differences from LucasArts
The newest Star Wars Battlefront was released in November of last year and comprises the Star Wars universe as re-imagined by Electronic Arts. The game is set during the classic Star Wars era and allows players to fight as either a soldier for the Rebel Alliance or a stormtrooper in the service of the Galactic Empire. Both teams can compete for a number of objectives, from capturing command points to simply wiping each other out.
Star Wars Battlefront has several stark differences from its LucasArts-produced predecessors. Battlefront is not class-based; players can simply pick a soldier and a custom loadout from the pre-match menu. There are no space battles and absolutely no content from the Clone Wars era. The game also nixed a story-driven, single-player campaign, which a lot of fans were not happy about. EA tried to placate its customers by explaining that it had to nix a single-player mode so that they could release Battlefront in time to coincide with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In short, this is a very different Battlefront game.
The Basics: Gameplay
In Battlefront, players can duke it out in matches that support up to 40 players. Before each match, players can customize almost everything about their soldier, from the armor color down to the type of blaster they’d like to use. Each player can also choose three pieces of equipment, two offensive and one defensive, to use in each match. These range from thermal detonator grenades to personal shields to anti-vehicle ion torpedoes. During combat, high-scoring players can take control of hero characters who have their own powers and abilities. Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are but a few.
Once the loadout has been determined, it’s time to put boots on the ground. In most matches, the goal is simple: wipe out all enemy combatants. Battlefront features a few other match modes, like capturing objective points. Players can also use vehicles like AT-ST walkers and speeder bikes to get around faster. Though Battlefront has no space battles, players can take to the skies in a variety of rebel and imperial craft. Air and ground combat occurs simultaneously, and both are vital to maintaining dominance on the battlefield.
Pro: An Immersive, High-End Star Wars Experience
Although Battlefront is a hit-or-miss game in virtually all aspects of its design, Electronic Arts did a good job at producing a high-end Star Wars experience. Battlefront looks absolutely gorgeous, with incredibly detailed and beautiful environments that feel like set pieces in a Star Wars movie. Even eight months later, it’s one of the best-looking games on the market. The sound design is outstanding, incorporating classic sound effects from the Star Wars films. Every blaster shot, every TIE fighter zoom, was painstakingly incorporated to make the player feel like they’re in a Star Wars movie. The cacophony of sound is constant, but not overwhelming, and it’s exciting to be at the heart of.
The gunplay in this game is quite smooth; blaster rifles go off with satisfying oomph, and artillery shakes up the ground and kicks up the dust with every salvo. Players can look up to the sky at any given moment to see star destroyers and the rebellion’s Mon Calamari star cruisers locked in battle in high atmosphere, though only the player-controlled fighters play any actual part in the air. For anything else that can be said about Battlefront, it manages to produce a high-end, visceral combat experience that looks right at home in the Star Wars universe.
Con: 16 Maps and Done
Unfortunately, though Battlefront succeeds in creating a game that looks great, and feels pretty good, that’s about where the buck stops. Battlefront has a woeful lack of content. When the game released last November, it featured a mere 16 maps. Sure, they’re much more expansive and open than most multiplayer shooter maps, but sixty dollars for 16 maps is, to put it politely, a lopsided deal. To make matters worse, those 16 maps are divided across only four planets, and it’s hard to tell them apart. Electronic Arts threw in a few bonus maps set on Jakku, the desert planet in The Force Awakens, for anyone who pre-ordered the game, but one extra planet is a paltry offering. It’s also day-one DLC, which is a terrible business practice in and of itself.
Any reasonably dedicated multiplayer shooter fan will be done with 16 maps before long. Is there any other content? Well, Battlefront does feature six co-op missions in which two players have to last out against waves of stormtroopers. It can make for some great buffoonery playing with a buddy, but each mission only lasts about 15-20 minutes. Players can also fight bots, but who buys a multiplayer game to fight computer enemies?
Con: Generic and Repetitive Combat
Battlefront‘s longevity would be extended if its multiplayer combat had any sort of novelty, but it really doesn’t. Electronic Arts banked on Battlefront‘s Star Wars aesthetic when building this game, but even a Star Wars game can get repetitive if its combat offers little innovation. Sure, the game is dressed up as a favorite galaxy from far, far away, but it’s a generic first-person shooter when it comes to mechanics. Inveterate shooter players will get bored by the combination of conventional gameplay and the lack of maps, as evidenced by the dramatic decline of active players on Battlefront‘s PC version.
Additionally, Battlefront requires very close coordination between its players, so casual gamers will have a hard time integrating into the combat. Each match in Battlefront also requires delicate balancing between air and ground theaters, and if no one wants to hop in an X-wing, the ground assault is screwed. Too many are the matches in which everyone just wants to play a stormtrooper, only for entire scores of players to get bowled over by aircraft enjoying no opposition. To be fair, that problem is more reflective of the gamers than the game, but Battlefront‘s air combat is little more exciting than its ground combat, offering no incentive to balance the game.
Con: Classic EA Tricks
The most infuriating thing about Battlefront is that Electronic Arts considers the game to be finished. They’re releasing two more sets of maps (and not for free) and that’s it. When gamers asked if there would be any more content, Electronic Arts announced that everything else would be packaged into a full-priced sequel. That announcement is not only an outrage, it’s quintessentially EA. Release a full-priced game with as little content as possible for sixty dollars, and package the rest of what should’ve been that game into another game, also for sixty dollars.
It’s small wonder that Electronic Arts is a two-time recipient of the Golden Poo Award for Worst Company in America from Consumerist. Is Electronic Arts actually the worst company in America? No, of course not. But it says something about how agitating the company’s actions are when it motivates that kind of response from gamers. Want the rest of Battlefront? Buy the sequel. And don’t forget the day-one DLC!
In closing, Star Wars Battlefront is like an eclair. It looks great, and it tastes great, but the entire experience is over in one small bite. An hour from now, the eclair eater will have forgotten what it tastes like and moved on to other, more substantive food items. No one would pay sixty bucks for an eclair, and so it should be with a video game that is this woefully shallow. Shooter fans will be pleased for a little while, but anyone looking for something one iota more substantive will want to search elsewhere.
This post has been used with permission from Ian Coppock and is also found at his blog, Art as Games. Follow him on Twitter at @IanLayneCoppock or friend him on Steam at username Art as Games.