Video games form a significant pillar in Star Wars' galactic licensing Empire, and the latest is Star Wars Battlefront.
Published by EA and developed by in-house studio DICE — best known for the Battlefield series — Star Wars Battlefront held a lot of promise, particularly as the game's brand already enjoys an established fan base.Star Wars Battlefront began life as an original Xbox, PlayStation, and Windows game back in 2004. Developed by the now-dissolved Pandemic Studios, the original Battlefront won praise for recreating famous Star Wars battles in a robust multiplayer setting, but received criticisms for its lack of single player content. Battlefront is back for 2015, and you're hearing a lot of the same themes.
"The game lacks depth," "there's no single player campaign", and so on. I was prepared to dismiss Battlefront based on my early impressions. However, after a month with it, I now think it sits among the best casual shooters on Xbox One. I think the perception story of Battlefront is a general failure to manage expectations. A question of value hangs over Battlefront's base content line up.
Disclosure: This review was conducted on Xbox One using a retail copy purchased by the writer.
Criticisms of Battlefront tend to miss the point when it comes to gameplay. Battlefront has a responsibility to the Star Wars audience beyond that of a typical FPS game, and in that respect DICE has performed extremely well with the game's design and execution. Still, there's a persistent, nagging feeling that Battlefront could've been so much more, and I expect DICE and EA know it.
Capturing Star Wars
Star Wars Battlefront setting, visuals and audio
Despite the well-documented resolution disparity between the Xbox One and PS4 versions, Battlefront is incredibly beautiful, detailed and majestic, boasting impressive draw distances and environmental density. The Frostbite engine has really come into its own between Battlefield 4, Dragon Age Inquisition and now Battlefront. DICE's homage to Star Wars is a treat for fans and newcomers alike.
On Xbox One, Battlefront runs at 720p, sacrificing resolution to maintain a stable 60 FPS framerate. Usually, resolution doesn't present itself as much of an issue, but given Battlefront's impressive level of detail you end up with characters, props, and environments reduced to pixelated squiggles more rapidly than they might in a smaller-scale shooter. When you combine this with Battlefront's minimal anti-aliasing, the game's impressive art direction and detail can suffer from jagged edges and blurry models — perhaps revealing how far the current-generation consoles are already behind the latest PC hardware.
Regardless of the technical balancing act, Battlefront captures that nostalgic, unique Star Wars feeling with impeccable authenticity. DICE is keen to show off the lengths they went to when detailing the game's various models, placing random objects into the menu screen for you to examine more closely. From the painted plastic of the 80's Stormtrooper helmet to the prop circuitry in an X-Wing's cockpit, DICE has created an incredible array of high-quality assets that'll likely see use in other Frostbite engine Star Wars games EA has planned. The game even allows you to unlock characters and models to create virtual dioramas, which gives you a better look at the digitized Star Wars designs than the game's fast-paced game modes will afford.
To compliment Star Wars Battlefront's masterful recreation of the movie franchise's iconic visuals, every laser blast, AT-ST lunge and lightsaber swing transports you straight back into the movies. As a Star Wars fan, there's something gratifying about steering a TIE fighter through a narrow canyon as it screeches through the blazing remnants of an exploded A-Wing.
When it comes to representing existing properties, authenticity is critical, and EA and DICE nail the Star Wars basics with confidence. EA has a 10-year licensing deal with the now-Disney-owned Star Wars franchise, and at the very least, we know the atmosphere is firmly on task.
Still, Star Wars Battlefront is a video game, and authentic soundscaping and artwork can only take it so far. How does Battlefront stack up in the gameplay department?
Star Wars: Battlefield?
Star Wars Battlefront gameplay and content
Given the fact that DICE, famed for the large-scale military FPS Battlefield series was tapped to develop Battlefront, the comparisons began even before the game got shipped. One immediate criticism I've repeatedly encountered of Battlefront is to call it a Battlefield re-skin. As a Battlefield fan, this couldn't be further from the truth. I'd go as far to say that I'd like to have seen more of Battlefield in Star Wars Battlefront.
Let's not beat around the bush, Battlefront is casual almost to the point of being emasculating. Every aspect of Battlefront's design caters towards accessibility and pure spectacle.
At first, I found this direction to be distasteful, having leveled my own expectations with the crowd that foretold a reskinned Battlefield. I expected an epic-scale tactical shooter that rewarded patience and strategy over twitch skills and run n' gun gameplay. Battlefront has the scale part down, even to the point of delivering those impressive "Battlefield moments" that usually involve gigantic explosions or unexpected kills as a result of dynamically interacting game mechanics. But no, Battlefront is not for those expecting a deep shooter that asks players to manage risks and leverage strategic thinking to gain the upper hand — but upon reflection, I don't think that's necessarily a problem.
Star Wars has a broad fan base, from the nostalgia-hunting 30-something to the sugar-addled 9-year old to the hardcore gamer of any age, and I feel that EA and DICE knew they had a responsibility to cater to that broad swath of potential players. In that endeavor, they've done extremely well.
Battlefront's guns can be fired almost indefinitely, overheating instead of running out of ammo. There's next to no respawn timer, meaning there's next to no penalty for dying. Some of Battlefront's weapons and power-ups are incredibly overpowered, allowing even the least experienced gamer to rack up tons of kills. Some of that might sound like criticism, but it doesn't have to be, because it all feeds into the main point: Battlefront is fun. A crazy notion, I know.
Despite its lack of complexity, Battlefront is my current shooter of choice, and I'll explain why in a moment. But first, I must concede that it's true what you've heard: Battlefront is somewhat lacking in depth and suspiciously thin on content. I've played the game for well over 20 hours, and I've almost unlocked every weapon and equipment piece the game has to offer. By comparison, I've played Battlefield 4 for 120 hours, and I'm nowhere near unlocking everything its base game has to offer. Regarding dollar value, there's simply no contest between the two titles — a fact that is somewhat hard to overlook, given the similarities Battlefront has with DICE's other Battle-named blockbuster.
However, I can't impress just how awesome it is to soar above the frozen plains of Hoth, firing lock-on torpedoes into a complacent Rebel' snowspeeder's rear thrusters. Battlefront's blasters are so satisfying to wield, each with distinct strengths and weaknesses. Watching the Frostbite Engine's natural ragdoll physics grip a defeated player as he's blown up by a Thermal Detonator; shooting an enemy Stormtrooper mid-air as he attempts to jetpack across a chasm; jumping into an AT-ST walker and wreaking havoc, getting dozens of kills with its utterly overpowered cannons. Battlefront is awesome, casual fun, wrapped in an industry-leading Star Wars fantasy.
Battlefront is awesome, casual fun, wrapped in an industry-leading Star Wars fantasy.
As mentioned, there's no respawn timer, and this is to compensate for the sheer amount of instakill weapons and power-ups available en masse. Glowing tokens litter the game's iconic Star Wars battlefields, providing access to devastating vehicular staples like the AT-AT and AT-ST walkers; power-up weapons like the mega grenade Thermal Imploder, lock-on Smart Rocket Launcher and various stationary turrets. The power-ups also allow you to play as heroes from the Star Wars mythos, complete with boosted health and potent weapons. All of these abilities have one thing in common — they allow the player to kill scores of enemies with ease, to varying degree. Being killed by these mechanics is never frustrating, because getting back into the game is near-instantaneous, and you know just how much fun it is when you're in the driving seat.
Having your team rally behind you as you press forward as Darth Vader, deflecting blaster fire, with a lightsaber in one hand and Force Choked victim in the other is an incredible experience — and one even the most casual gamer can enjoy.
Simply put, Battlefront has more in common with the likes of Call of Duty than Battlefield. Every aspect of the game is refined for accessibility. The server matchmaking is among the fastest I've ever seen, and not once have I been disconnected. You're barely punished for dying, and there are plenty of ways for even the most casual gamers to get the upper hand in battle. Battlefront is not 40-minute-long slugfests, it's not patiently waiting prone on a mountain side with a sniper rifle.
I realized that as I've aged and my free time has become more limited, my gaming needs have shifted. Battlefront is brief and explosive, easy to pick up and play in short bursts with a forgiving learning curve and minimal frustration. It won't meet everyone's needs, but it just might be the casual shooter you're looking for.
Simply put, Battlefront has more in common with the likes of Call of Duty than it does with Battlefield.
Even if you're within its target audience, a question of value hangs over Battlefront like a looming Star Destroyer. Its single player and cooperative missions are painfully shallow, amounting to simplistic shooting galleries that offer you a chance to unlock some of the game's assets for view in a collect-a-thon menu. Battlefront is a multiplayer game, through and through, but even its online portion is thin on replayability. As I mentioned earlier, just 20 hours in and I've unlocked every useful item. There are no weapon attachments, and there are very few equipment pieces, which not only makes the EXP accrued after each game meaningless — but also means that the unexpected rarely occurs in battle.
Those dynamic, Battlefield-like moments are fewer in number as a result of fewer mechanics. Battlefront has a season pass that boasts an additional 16 maps on top of the current 12, plus 20 new unlocks and 4 extra Hero power-ups, but it costs as much as the game itself — a fact I find to be a little questionable given how miserly the base game feels. EA have yet to even reveal what'll be in the season pass, making the investment all the more suspect. Although, we do know it won't contain any content from The Force Awakens, disappointingly.
I do think that Battlefront is the best casual multiplayer shooter on the market right now. Allowing inexperienced players to take control of Darth Vader beats unfair spawn mechanics and slow matchmaking algorithms designed to level the playing field.
Still, EA could've gone all out to create something truly grand, built to stand the test of time. The Star Wars license is ripe for new story content — especially given Disney's retconning of the "expanded universe" of novels that followed the original films. Battlefront was intended to be accessible, but I wish there was a little more Battlefield meat in my Battlefront.
A roll of the DICE
Star Wars Battlefront: The Bottom Line
For what it accomplishes well, Star Wars Battlefront is a tremendous game. Star Wars fans, old and young, FPS veterans and newcomers alike will find joy in piloting AT-AT walkers, swinging Luke Skywalker's lightsaber or cooking Rebel scum with Boba Fett's flamethrower.
Most of Battlefront's unlocks are cosmetic and, well, pointless, and the meaningful unlocks like blasters, grenades, and jet packs are few. Sure, you can spend points to upgrade those items, but the upgrades usually amount to cool-down decreases — Blizzard removed similar mechanics from World of Warcraft's progression system, citing how boring such minor upgrades are.
Still, as a Star Wars fan, Battlefront is a wonderful experience. DICE has delivered staggering authenticity, and it's gratifying to see how that expertise could extend to future Star Wars titles that EA produces with their 10-year license exclusivity. I'm sure I'll still be able to double my hours in Battlefront before fatigue actually settles in, and I'm eager to see what the season pass will deliver.
- The most authentic Star Wars experience on Xbox One
- Rapid matchmaking speed, robust connectivity
- Easy to pick up and play, regardless of shooter experience
- Intense casual fun
- Thin on content compared to similar titles
- Lacks depth for long-term play
- Single-play and co-op mission content is painfully shallow
Battlefront doesn't bring anything particularly new to the table, but if you're looking for a casual shooter for quick 15-25 minute bursts, Battlefront is far more accessible, responsive, stable and epic than comparable titles on the Xbox One. Battlefront bound to be ten times more gratifying if you're a Star Wars fan, and really, that's who the game is made for. No need for Jedi mind tricks here — it's a game that's designed for sheer enjoyment.