Last week, I spent seven hours and four minutes playing EA’s Star Wars Battlefront beta, most of them in the “Walker Assault” mode. Walker Assault is a gorgeous, asymmetric, dazzlingly chaotic simulation of the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, one of the most iconic moments in what is widely considered to be the strongest film in the series. It combines elements like deathmatch-style ground combat, team-specific objectives, and air support à la the popular Conquest game type from DICE’s Battlefield franchise, which has become the obligatory starting point for discussions of their new Star Wars game.
For next week’s column, I’ll be taking a long, hard look back at the history of LucasArts’s Star Wars console games—with a focus on the very best of them—but let me start today’s review of the Battlefront beta by saying that DICE nailed the look and feel of Star Wars in a way no game before it has ever quite managed. Come what may, this game looks beautiful, its weapons and vehicles are meticulously faithful reproductions of the props from the film, and the sound design is in a class all its own.
Right away, I’m struck by how much this game excels as a first-person shooter while simultaneously stripping away all the UI clutter and “option overload” inherent to most contemporary shooters (e.g., Battlefield 4, to which Battlefront is doomed to be compared endlessly). Outside of the guns’ undeniable accuracy problem, this game’s clearly a proper FPS.
The frenetic, modern intensity of the gameplay, especially in the forty-player Walker Assault game type, strikes a delicate balance between the limitations of 1979’s special effects industry and production values and the demands of 2015’s most hardened FPS players. I found myself slipping comfortably into the intuitive control scheme and tried-and-tested mechanics, even as the futility of playing as the Rebel Alliance against a pair of near-indestructible AT-ATs set in. I’ve yet to see anyone pull off the famous harpoon-and-tow-cable maneuver from the film, though I imagine dedicated players will master that mini-game once the full release drops next month. I feel as though the airspeeder is simply a little too fast for its intended purpose, despite the fun to be had with pretty much every other vehicle in the game.
There are a few bothersome anachronisms: Luke’s black Jedi tunic and green lightsaber, the presence of AT-STs and A-wing interceptors, that sort of thing. Even setting aside the fact that this isn’t a story campaign, but rather a way to live out our wildest Star Wars–geek fantasies, Luke has to get cold wearing an outfit like that into battle—on Hoth, of all places.
Where the epic conflict impresses, and even innovates, is in the way it incorporates elements specific to the Battle of Hoth as depicted on film and gives them purpose vis-à-vis the game type’s key objectives. The best example of this is the rebels’ array of small transceiver dishes; seemingly useless film props, no doubt meant to lend a feel of realism to the battlefield in Empire, these vital “uplink” hardpoints are the rebels’ sole hope for a win condition. Only by capturing and maintaining control of them can the Alliance call in Y-wing bomber support, weaken the energy shields on the AT-ATs, and have any chance of taking them down. Basically, if you can’t keep the Empire’s ground troops off your uplinks, you’ve lost.
Props to DICE for making such a flavorful mode, and for working to enrich the famous battle scene while (mostly) staying true to the essential beats of the conflict; once folks can take down a walker with their snowspeeder, we’ll be looking at a landmark shooter packed with fan service.
There’s not a whole lot to talk about regarding the other game types, Drop Zone and Survival, outside of mentioning how nice it is to see Admiral Ackbar alive and well, and that the environments in which these fairly straightforward control and horde modes take place look incredible. The danger in evaluating a beta like this, free and open to all but limited in terms of scope, is that we don’t know how much content will be available in the full initial release. One hopes that the best of what the game has to offer is yet to be seen, especially given the recent announcement of a fifty-dollar Season Pass for additional downloadable content.
I may have spent more time simply watching people play the Battlefront beta than I played myself. Two of my favorite Twitch streamers, Boogie2988 and Rowynn, were particularly enjoyable to watch; they made up somewhat for the relative lack of gamers on my friends list willing to give up their game of choice for a week to play Star Wars. (Destiny addiction is real!)
One of the things “Boogie” kept cautioning viewers against is the game’s potential to become, as he put it, “another Titanfall situation.” Meaning: the core gameplay, or sandbox, is rock-solid, yet the title as a whole lacks sufficient story or reward progression to really justify paying twenty bucks every couple months—or, as many will, $110 up-front—for content that ought to have been included to begin with. Such is the nature of the industry, and this question isn’t a new one.
The truth is, it’s Star Wars, one hundred percent. Ultimately, I’ll pay for the DLC if the game holds my interest, but the price tag on that Season Pass would give any fan pause; I’d love to see EA reconsider that point, especially in the case of individuals who are already giving them thirty dollars annually for the EA Access service alone.
Far Far Away Radio listeners, what did you think of the beta? Did it have the sort of thrilling combat you expected from your favorite universe, or do you feel like there was cause for concern? Let me know what you hope to see in the final game next month on Twitter at @alexjkane!