In early October, DICE and EA invited everyone to download and play their latest creation: Star Wars Battlefront.
In early October, Swedish developers DICE and their overlords at EA invited everyone in ownership of a gaming PC, Xbox One or PS4 to download and play their latest creation: Star Wars Battlefront. I’ve logged more than a few hours as both the Empire and Rebel scum in three different game modes which offer a glimpse into the game’s simple mechanics, outrageously good graphics, and its ability to seamlessly handle large and small skirmishes.
Defend those pods!
As much as I wanted to jump into the 40-player “Walker Assault” scenario—fans of the movies will recognise this as the bombastic opening sequence to what is widely considered the best Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, better sense prevailed. I started off with Drop Zone on Sullust (a planet which has been visually represented for the first time in any kind of entertainment format). Two teams of 8 vie for control of drop pods which spawn at random locations. The action is frantic, with a combination of close and long range engagements—calling off-map abilities such as orbital strikes spell doom for the team caught in its blast radius given the rugged, hard-to-navigate terrain.
There seemed to be an equal emphasis on gunplay, as there was on small team tactics; do you push for the capture or take out the enemy team, delaying their spawn and then go in for the kill? Do you defend close to the pod or spread out and cover all the angles? The game is so easy to pick up and play in either first or third person that you’ll be making the right decisions in no time. Weapon selection seems to matter as well—I found that faster firing blasters were more suited to the cramped engagements on this map than those with longer range. Overall, the game mode looks like a lot of fun, and while you’re likely to be spending more time in the large scale battles on offer, Drop Zone is likely to offer a nice distraction and the opportunity to work on your gun skill.
Return to Hoth
Walker Assault, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. As much love as anyone could have for Pandemic/Free Radical’s original two Battlefront games, it’s safe to say that no game has managed to capture the essence of Star Wars like DICE with Walker Assault. All-out vehicular warfare which features not just AT-AT walkers and AT-STs, but TIE Fighters, A-Wings, X-Wings, Y-Wings (cannot be directly piloted) and Airspeeders (harpoon included, of course). The game mode is similar to Battlefield’s Raid mode, where there’s an attacking team and defending team. The Rebel defenders have to activate and hold three sets of two uplink stations so that Y-Wings can get a lock on the Imperial AT-AT Walkers. Holding them for longer will add more Y-Wings to the bombing run. Once the bombers hit the otherwise impervious-to-damage Walkers, the Rebels will be able to put some hurt on them.
The maps sports wide open spaces, trenches, fixed gun emplacements and interior locations which will seem very familiar to anyone who has watched the movie. Power-ups are scattered across the map as well, granting players access to hero characters such as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, the aforementioned fighter spacecraft as well as other weapon boosts and portable emplacements. While playing as the Rebels, there’s always a sense of urgency and desperation to prevail against all odds, while as the Empire, there’s a sense of disbelief when your supposedly invincible war machine gets torn to shreds. Walker Assault may feel one-sided at first (the Rebels did lose the encounter, after all), but there’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction that can be had from coming out on top as the Rebels.
The beta also featured a Survival mode—where players have to fend off increasingly difficult waves of enemies either solo or in local split-screen or online co-op. This could potentially offer some entertainment in harder difficulty settings but the ‘Normal’ mode included in the beta wasn’t much of a challenge at all.
The Force is strong with Frostbite
The PS4 version of the beta performed admirably, running at a smooth 60 frames per second at 900p (the Xbox One version runs at 720p while sky’s the limit on PC). DICE’s Frostbite Engine seems to have been destined to power a Star Wars battle on Hoth, and this was the mode in which it shone the most. The audio certainly helps—from Star Wars hype music to the lovely blaster sound effects and explosions, Battlefront most definitely sounds like a Star Wars game. It certainly helps that it looks better than any Star Wars game that came before it. It’s hard not to be excited for other maps such as Endor, or the Fighter Squadron game mode.
There are a few complaints, however. The “no server browser” approach to finding games online is an interesting one. While players can pick a single “partner”, Battlefront’s substitute for squads, allowing each player to spawn on the other, there was no option to matchmake as a squad. If someone in your party joins a game, everyone else gets an alert and are subsequently given the option to join his or her game, but this isn’t possible when lobbies are full or don’t have enough space. The party/partner system wasn’t always working as well, pitting players in the same party against each other in opposite teams, or failure of notifications to pop up entirely. I was unable to play the game’s Survival mode with another player as well. Hopefully, these are issues than can be solved before the game’s November 17th launch date.