The Force is strong with this one.
The trailer for DICE’s Star Wars: Battlefront finally premièred, both for Star Wars Celebration attendees and internet viewers. It comes off of the amazing second trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and honestly, DICE couldn’t have set the tone for its trailer any better. Everything from the music to the atmosphere and overall sense of movement felt inherently cinematic but more importantly, it was Star Wars. That sense of amazement, where cinema and gaming literally meld into one medium, seemingly hasn’t been experienced in a long, long time.
Of course, there is a game in all that shiny detail and we have plenty to say about it. The first obvious disclaimer that DICE provided was that this was “game engine” footage. That particular term has a wealth of different meanings but its impact, especially in relation to what was shown, is akin to seeing the E3 2005 CG trailer for Killzone 2. It seems impossible but just flows across so naturally (the final game ended up looking even better than that but that’s another story). Though there is certainly a difference between “in-engine” and “in-game”, DICE has promised that the actual gameplay will be similar to this.
"With the visuals, we're excited to see DICE finally throwing off the shackles of previous generation hardware and making Star Wars: Battlefront exclusive to the PS4, Xbox One and PC. The potential of Frostbite has been seemingly squandered after Battlefield 3."
Let’s talk about the sound first though. Ignore for the fact the authenticity of the blaster sounds – think about how truly cinematic it felt, like you were actually present in this battle on Endor. The PC version of Battlefront will be using Dolby Atmos, an audio technology which utilizes more than a hundred audio tracks to create an encompassing shell around the listener. This allows for every single nuance in sound to be heard, allowing the listener to correctly discern the direction of different sounds. Sadly, neither the Xbox One nor PS4 support this technology. Chalk up another victory for PC users when Battlefront hits.
With the visuals, we’re excited to see DICE finally throwing off the shackles of previous generation hardware and making Star Wars: Battlefront exclusive to the PS4, Xbox One and PC. The potential of Frostbite has been seemingly squandered after Battlefield 3. Frostbite 3 failed to offer an overwhelming evolution to its predecessor as seen in the awful launch of Battlefield 4. Battlefield: Hardline didn’t do much to change that, again due to the constraints of cross-generational development.
Every aspect of Star Wars: Battlefront looked incredibly realistic. It was odd at times since the water effects and character models bore some strong similarities to Battlefield, utilizing the same physically based rendering model. Other than that, the environments, objects and soldiers showcased DICE’s use of Photogrammetry. This is the practice of capturing images from every possible angle for various assets like costumes and props. These images then inserted into a system, which reconstructs and renders them into digital 3D models (a similar approach was taken in The Astronauts’ The Vanishing of Ethan Carte). It’s a great way to capture extensive amounts of detail and it helps that DICE took pictures from props and costumes used from the original films.
That’s not to ignore all the work that went into the environments. The amount of foliage was incredible and every bit of it reflected specular lights on surrounding objects. Shadow quality was similarly great – every single object cast a shadow, from the leaves to the AT-AT Walker’s massive frame reflecting on the branches. We assume that Battlefront uses a custom solution along the lines of Nvidia’s PCSS (Percentage Closer Softer Shadows) which creates perpetually accurate soft shadows using a single light source and doesn’t require any pre- or post-processing.
"Consider for a moment that DICE wants Star Wars: Battlefront to run at 60 FPS. Now consider that the trailer was running at MSAA 8x with a high level of adaptive tessellation. Personally, even without the heavy amount of anti-aliasing and tessellation, we'd be amazed if DICE could capture all of this detail in 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, especially on the Xbox One."
It’s a good thing DICE showcased the speeders – it gave us a look at the game’s motion blur and depth of field, which seem to be velocity based and add all the more to the cinematic experience. There is just so much detail to take in at all times, even when the soldiers were moving at top speed and the post processing effects only take it a level higher. If you thought the post-processing in Final Fantasy 15 was impressive, then Battlefront ably steps up. Alpha effects, be it in the blasters hitting the Storm Troopers or the AT-AT Walker going down, were spectacularly detailed.
Another aspect of Frostbite 3 we always wanted to see expanded upon was the destructibility. While the Battlefield series has always been content with going big in its destruction, Battlefront comes across as more nuanced. The air strike that destroys the Walker sees each part responding and collapsing accordingly with each bomb. Even the adjoining trees catch fire from the blasters. It’s most likely scripted – much like the Battlefield games – but we’ll stay optimistic in the meantime. Regardless, everything from the draw distance to the screen space reflections and texture quality, even the animations of the soldiers, all combine to paint the perfect picture of Star Wars nostalgia.
Consider for a moment that DICE wants Star Wars: Battlefront to run at 60 FPS on PS4 and Xbox One. Now consider that the trailer was running at MSAA 8x with a high level of adaptive tessellation. Personally, even without the heavy amount of anti-aliasing and tessellation, I’d be amazed if DICE could capture all of this detail in 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, especially on the Xbox One. If Frostbite 3 saw trouble on both platforms with Battlefield 4 and Hardline, then it’s possible that we see another repeat of 900p/720p with Battlefront.
We’ll be revisiting Star Wars: Battlefront in the coming months and given its multiplayer focus, it’s possible that DICE holds a multiplayer beta to further polish the visuals and properly optimize them for consoles. Again, it was amazing to see Battlefront running like it did and even if you’re not a fan of multiplayer, the overall atmosphere does bring back vivid memories of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. DICE has flawlessly captured the mood of Star Wars. Now let’s see how that translates to gameplay en route to its release.
On another note: We looked at the initial teaser for the game and compared it to the most recent trailer. There have only been slight changes in terms of brightness, gamma and contrast but overall, there hasn’t been a visual downgrade of any sort. That bodes well for Battlefront at this point, but there’s still a long way to go.
Additional reporting by Bill Smith.