There is a common trend that has plagued this generation of console games where games have been getting released with seemingly less and less content. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to people, as the resolution of textures in games increases, it takes progressively longer to develop each level. Every asset like a new unlocked movement or piece of equipment requires days of animation and rigorous testing that can go on for months. The price of developing games keeps going up and up, but the price of games has stayed the same for decades. This is thanks in large part to the growing player community, where games can sell millions more copies than ever before.
As The Force Awakens sets box office records around the world, Star Wars Battlefront has everything it needs to be the next huge selling game. A thrilling first person shooter set in the Star Wars universe, it’s impossible not to compare Battlefront to developer Dice’s previous game Battlefield 4. The game modes range from smaller team deathmatches, to twenty person flying skirmishes that act as a fine diversion from the main act: the large forty person matches. The large variety of modes does little to hide the lack of things to do in this exciting generic shooter. Since Disney bought the license everyone has wondered what effect they would have on the property. Well much like a family trip to Disney World, Star Wars Battlefront feels like it’s only worth half as much as it costs, but it offers an experience you can’t get anywhere else.
When you buy the game, and if you’re a Star Wars fan you probably already have and are now just here to have your criticisms vindicated (and we’ll get to you later), you are minutes from touching a portal that will grab your hand and pull you immersively into the magical world of Star Wars. A portal that takes about 6 hours to install. Once you’re inside it’s like everything you saw in the movies were true. The Dark side and the Jedi. You’re just a lowly soldier though, wielding a trusty blaster and capturing objectives or seeking out the rare elusive power-ups that will give you the edge over the enemy.
Vehicles in this game can be accessed through such power-ups, a method that’s left feeling a little cheap when so much of this game is focused on immersing you in the universe of the Wars. Once you’re in the cockpit the gameplay is easy to pick up but slightly more difficult to master. The controls aren’t the most intuitive but they are simplified enough that you can do everything you need to with few button presses. On the ground it plays like every other shooter since Call of Duty, disconcertingly minus fall damage or the need to reload. It unfortunately got to the point where no matter which gun I unlocked I felt like it was just a different shaped thing that goes pew pew a few times before overheating. Some fire a lot of weak lasers really quickly, some fire stronger lasers more slowly but they all felt pretty much the same and none felt worth saving up my credits for.
The arenas you use them in are sufficiently varied if few in number. There’s only five planets to speak of, one added shortly after release, and they will quickly feel like not enough. The developers are quick to point out that each map contains many variations for the other game modes but they all just feel like smaller sections of larger maps. The smaller game types do take advantage of the smaller spaces, with exciting modes like Heroes vs Villains pitting smaller groups of players against each other in tight arenas and allowing everyone a chance to try their hand as a hero or villain. It’s a great way to try out the different legend types without having to seek out the same elusive power-ups as those that put you into an X-wing cockpit.
No matter what you’re doing, however, whether it’s shooting down Tie Fighters in the Millennium Falcon or shooting up at the exposed belly of a slow lumbering AT-AT, the game is absolutely beautiful down to the littlest detail. Certain vistas you stare out into feel lifelike to the eyes. Vehicles soar across the screen with more realism, even, than Poe Dameron’s X-wing in the new movie. The explosions are beautiful, all the textures are some of the best textures I’ve ever seen in a game. And there’s barely any noticeable pop-in.
The animation is pretty nearly flawless until you begin introducing heroes to the whole package. They are beautiful and majestic at the best but a janky mess at their worst. Hit detection isn’t necessarily perfect. It’s more than serviceable most of the time until Luke Skywalker breezes past a soldier, killing the troop even though the Jedi’s sword was swinging off in some other direction, his attention in the distance. I also noticed slight hit detection issues while in a fighter cockpit. The game encourages you to fly close to the ground to avoid targeting computers but then punishes you once in a while by making you explode against a rock that on your screen still looks a good 10 feet away. These are all just the usual drags on a high fidelity ultra realistic graphics engine though, and for the vast majority of the game you will be both dumbstruck and floored. And immersed.
And nothing helps that immersion more than the audio. It’s been previously brought to attention that Sound is the most underappreciated aspect of game and film design, but in both cases it is one of the most important. The graphics can only do so much if the sound is a complete mess. If things don’t sound the way you expect they should, your brain will have a hard time suspending disbelief, and in a fantasy world like this that is extra valuable.
Of course, being as this is Star Wars and Lucas Arts is known for some of the best audio in the business, we never had anything to fear. Lasers pew convincingly, the lightsaber hisses upon being turned on. The sound felt a little too muffled in fighter cockpits, but it was forgivable as the default view is third person. When in that view, or on the ground, the surround sound does a great job of maintaining the soundscape, and giving you a sense of where blaster fire is coming from. The audio is particularly impressive when you use the imploding grenade that can be picked up around the map. And all the while, John Williams’ score blares impressively at all the right moments, bringing familiar tunes to play alongside the ones going on in your head.
The game looks and sounds amazing. Darn near the best looking and sounding game of the year. But the game fluctuates, perhaps the most, in the number of things to do. There are a lot of different modes, most of which being smaller side types that aren’t really worth playing more than once. There’s the flying mode which is a really fun diversion for pilots but to be honest the entire game feels like a fun diversion. Even when you’re in one of the two (or three with DLC) 40 person game types working with a team to sway the course of the war, it doesn’t feel like you’re working towards anything. There’s nothing really worth accomplishing in the game, and nothing to strive for.
The unlockables are a waste of time. Most of the blasters feel the same. Every weapon and upgrade that feels meaningful are locked behind power-ups on the map. You can unlock a jump booster at level thirteen but it doesn’t drastically change how you play. There are late level cosmetic upgrades where you can play as a generic alien trooper instead of a human one. But the choices are limited and it all seems like a waste of time and money. The game might have benefited with a max level equipment unlock that was something people might actually want. Like a lightsaber. As it is now you wont likely care much about your level or currency.
What the game does well is being a casual distraction. It’s perfect to jump in and scratch your Star Wars itch. In small bursts this game is incredibly effective at giving you a high budget streamlined well running Star Wars experience. There are even small local co-op scenarios you can play including a speeder race that is a lot of fun for a throw away mini game, but like the rest of the package it’s far too short an experience to maintain your attention as long as you’d want it to. Like Disney World, Star Wars Battlefront seems like it’ll cost you twice as much as it should, but offers an experience you wont get anywhere else. They promise free DLC is coming, but if money isn’t an issue you might want to pick up the ultimate pack with the Season Pass to get the most of the limited content that you can. If your video game budget is more limited, it might be better to avoid this package right out. There are games that will give you a better value for your money.