A trip right back to 2004.
Star Wars: Battlefront’s beta just recently concluded, and it was possibly the most successful beta test in history, getting more players interested in a pre-release incomplete version of the game than entire games sell copies through the entirety of their run, on multiple platforms. It makes sense, too- even in ordinary circumstances, Battlefront would have had a whole lot of excitement going into it, being as it is a long requested revival of a dormant blockbuster franchise by a fan favorite studio. But paired as it is with the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII? Well now, it’s just not fair- Battlefront will probably be the highest selling game this holiday season, even against heavyweights like Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Fallout 4; it will also probably be the game with the most mindshare at the end of it all.
But all these numbers and statistics don’t make a game great. Great game design makes a game great, and after playing a fair bit of the Battlefront beta, I’m not sure whether the game makes the cut. It looks pretty, sure, and it sounds amazing, but the actual gameplay is just… sort of there, without any heft or weight to it.
I’m not a player too into the modern shooter. When I was growing up, I used to love Wolfenstein and Goldeneye, just like everyone else, and I also obviously was into Battlefront. Today, though, I’m always down for a round of Halo 3 or Call of Duty: Black Ops., and that’s about it. My involvement with the genre at this point is, at best, described as casual, however. In other words, I am the perfect target audience for Star Wars Battlefront- not too into the genre beyond casual play, and a massive fan of Star Wars. But even then, I could perceive the relative shallowness of Star Wars Battlefront as I played it.
"Great game design makes a game great, and after playing a fair bit of the Battlefront beta, I’m not sure whether the game makes the cut."
The issues began to manifest themselves as soon as I started playing the beta. I started with the multiplayer mode, Dropzone, and while I appreciated the idea of multiple objectives dynamically spread all over the map one at a time, which theoretically encourages and prompts teamwork, I noticed just how terribly off the shooting felt. There was nothing actually wrong with it- the big problem with it, if anything, was that it had absolutely no heft. No substance, and with very few limiters on your shooting (there is no ammunition system in place, though you do have a sort of cooldown if you shoot too much too fast), this became like a lightgun point and shoot shooting gallery- like Duck Hunt on the NES, except there, at least holding the lightgun and pointing it at the TV gave the act some weight. Here the entire thing felt like playing a very primitive arcade game, which was incredibly dissonant with how decidedly un-primitive the rest of the game is.
That is actually the very first thing you notice, and it is very hard not to be impressed by all of it, especially as a Star Wars fan- Battlefront looks and sounds the part. The game looks beautiful, yes, but all DICE games look beautiful. More than that, Battlefront looks authentic. It looks like Star Wars, it looks like the frenetic battles in a galaxy far, far away that we have seen played out on theater screens for years on your TV, and you in the thick of things.
It sounds amazing, too- DICE is incredible with sound design, and sure enough, all the sounds of the shooting and the explosions, and the excellent use of John Williams’ rousing soundscore, all make your hair stand on end- as a Star Wars fan, it is very hard not to appreciate the very careful care and attention to detail that has been put into the game. Battlefront is perhaps the closest a video game has come to looking like a movie- mostly because it looks exactly like the movie universe that it is based in.
"Battlefront is perhaps the closest a video game has come to looking like a movie- mostly because it looks exactly like the movie universe that it is based in."
But yes, for all of that, the shooting feels bland and hollow. In a sense, it is still fine- I mean, the game is a Star Wars shooting gallery, yes, but it’s satisfying on that front for what it is. And if that was indeed what Battlefront was, I would have been fine with it, called it a great shooting gallery, and moved on. Instead, the game attempts to sprinkle depth and nuance into its design, and it falls short- and not only does it fall short, it is, in so many ways, it is worse than Battlefront II was back in 2004.
Take, for example, vehicles, which are presented just as randomly spawning pickups on the map. All the best parts of Battlefront – the cool weapons, the vehicles, or even the ability to play as a hero – are in the form of these icon based pickups on the map. It feels less exciting and legitimately worse than unlocking the ability to play as Luke, and finding a discarded vehicle on the map, and getting inside it.
Take the fact that the game tries to go for depth- there is a level system, and better weapons and gear are unlocked at later levels, though options for your loadout seem to be fairly limited, so after a few levels, it stops mattering. Similarly, at the end of each match, Battlefront tries to award players who claimed or defended the most objectives, or those with the most assists- a clear attempt at trying to break away from the norm of emphasizing the Kill/Death ratio above all else, but again, one that falls flat, because the core shooting action is so shallow.
Take the Walker Assault mode, which is a glorious, epic retelling of the Battle for Hoth from the Empire Strikes Back, a fun, tense game mode that would ordinarily be the central showpiece for this game if it weren’t so unbalanced (it is all but impossible to win this if you are playing as the Rebels). Take the single player ‘modes,’ which again amount to little more than a shooting gallery, and basically serve to make you wish that the game had had a real campaign- a Star Wars campaign with these production values, this engine, and DICE at the helm would have been something else.
"The game attempts to sprinkle depth and nuance into its design, and it falls short- and not only does it fall short, it is, in so many ways, it is worse than Battlefront II was back in 2004."
Take the controls, which feel floaty, not just for the shooting, but for the movement and vehicles as well. Take the snipers or any form of long range weapons, which are too slow to be viable. Consider everything else that we know about the game- it has a far smaller number of maps or planets than Battlefront or Battlefront II did, over ten years ago.
You consider all this and, for all that the game does well – on a casual level, even as a shallow shooting gallery, it can be fun with some friends – it’s hard not to be disappointed. There’s a lot to work with here, a lot of potential. We get none of that. Instead, we get something that would have been barely adequate in 2004, let alone 2015. Star Wars Battlefront could clearly have been a great game, but it isn’t, because there isn’t enough here. The framework is all here, but there is no meat on the bones. A bit more time in the oven, and Battlefront could have been great. Instead, all that happened after me playing the beta is that my thirst for the game I have wanted for over a decade – a true successor to Battlefront II – intensified. Somewhere, there is a real Battlefront III waiting. This game is not it. This was not the game I was looking for.
This game was previewed on the PS4.