Not really. There, saved you a click.
Aw, go on though.
The confusing thing about Star Wars Battlefront [official site] – in any mode, though I’ll be writing about multiplayer separately in a day or two – is how it looks like the newest, fanciest, prettiest game around, but feels like some PlayStation thing whose name you can’t remember that you played with college mates in a boozy haze fifteen years ago. Of course, that’s partly the intention: the original two Star Wars Battlefronts were well-loved on console, even if they didn’t quite measure up to Battlefield in the eyes of PC players. Battlefront isn’t just nostalgia for the 70s and 80s, but for the turn of the millennium too.
In multiplayer, this works to at least some degree. Blast ’em! Blast ’em! Top that leaderboard! Unlock a new hat! In the rudimentary but oddly front-and-centre of the main menu singleplayer modes, the robotic behaviour of AI baddies mixes with the simplistic shooting leading to an end result that feels hollow and repetitive.
Clearly, it’s no surprise that a series – and a studio – whose lineage is almost entirely in multiplayer team shooters wouldn’t be boasting the most fleshed-out solo play around, but I do feel as though Battlefront is trying to have its cake and eat it. It’s shipped with only the barebones of a singlepalyer mode – i.e. botfights – but tries to carry itself as though there’s something more substantial, because some portion of its audience is 30- and 40-something Star Wars old hands who don’t want to dance a dance of sweary online ganking with unblinking teenagers. This is what the main menu looks like:
(The main menu also looks like a beautifully minimalist coffee table book about the art design of Star Wars. It’s my favourite main menu of the year, but that’s another story).
‘Missions’ – which can be undertaken either alone or with a co-op chum – are given equal billing to multiplayer. And what do you get from that ‘Missions’ section? Either wave-based survival against AI attackers, or a simpler bot match reinterpretation of the core team deathmatch multiplayer mode. There’s also the option to play the latter as a ‘hero’ character, and some training missions. The latter I almost skipped over entirely, before realising that, actually, these were the best singleplayer bits, mysteriously hidden under an unappealing and inaccurate name.
The training sessions are a chance to take some of the most recognisable Long Time ago vehicles out for a test drive, free from the main game’s breathless competition for spaces in the driver’s seat. No mucking about and chasing distractingly unreal icons on foot: you’re straight into the craft of your choice, with plenty of AI attackers to battle against. You get to be in an AT-ST Scout Walker, an X-Wing, on a Speeder Bike on Endor, or in a Snowspeeder on Hoth. No AT-AT piloting because DAMNIT. There’s also a Rebel NPC slaughter mode in which you can play as Vader or Palpatine storming into the Hoth base and laying waste.
All of these mini-games – to give them a more accurate title – have one thing in common. They’re power fantasies. They’re easy, you don’t have to compete with anyone else for points or vehicle access, you get to spend a whole lot of time flying around on something you probably once owned a toy of, you get to insta-kill a whole lot of people in the space of just a few minutes, and you are not meaningfully threatened at any point. The sole exception to this is the speederbikes, and that’s only because I kept crashing into trees and killing myself. Even that is an inherent part of the speederbike fantasy, of course.
The Training missions are a hoot. Once. And then they’re effectively the same every time, bar the option to pursue some achievements, such as finishing under a certain time limit or with a minimum of health loss. It’s a great shame there are no difficulty settings, as there are for every other mode, as it would extend their life a little. As it is, the best bet for keeping them fresh is co-op play with a buddy, but even then you’re still recycling the same five-minute experiences over and over. So, in that respect, they are just training missions – a chance to try out some of the vehicles and hero characters without the pressure of competition. But they also feel like the vanguard of a more satisfying singleplayer game, some collection of – urgh – iconic Star Wars experiences that was too-soon curtailed.
Brief they may be, but they’re also the best opportunity to admire Battlefront’s wonderful, meticulously authentic graphics and art style (everything from the shadow-dappled forests of Endor to the exaggerated death-flail animation of a shot Stormtrooper) and dream that it’s the Ultimate Star Wars game the marketing pitches it as.
The other, full singleplayer modes are more replayable, but both suffer from and accentuate the core problem of Battlefront as a whole: it’s extremely game-y, all about timers and collectibles rather than anything which is convincingly a war. It’s one thing when your side is trying to score more kills than the other, but another still when a cackling Emperor Palpatine is waddling around Tatooine looting tokens from generic Rebel footsoldiers’ corpses. What is this? What even is this?
It is Videogame. And no matter how many fancy CGI adverts showing office workers’ X-Wing pilot fantasies come to life there might be, Battlefront is as Videogame as they come. Yes, it is a game about the just-so noise of the blaster and the walrus roar of the TIE Fighter, but mostly it is a game about picking up icons. Without the unpredictable, invigorating, infuriating push’n’pull drama of human vs human conflict, the mechanical truth of Battlefront is laid bare. And in the singleplayer bot matches, it rapidly starts to feel the same every time.
God, it looks good, though. And sounds good, too. Pornographically good. For some reason I repeatedly cried ‘this is just unfair’ during my initial experiences with it, and by that I meant both a disbelief at how truly, resoundingly Star Wars it looked, and how comparatively impossible the task for any other action game which had to design a science-fictional world from scratch would be.
I try to be all grown-up and aloof, but an X-Wing means something. A speederbike chase through Endor means something. The way a Snowtrooper falls over means something. An AT-AT means everything. Battlefront has both technology and enormous cultural resonance to call upon, and on a purely aesthetic level it has leveraged both of those things expertly. It’s just unfair.
The short cutscenes which top and tail each solo mission are lavishly, perfectly Star Wars, working hard to keep the fantasy alive after all that routine running and gunning, and they almost get away with it. For the first few viewings, they’re a treat. They are the game you’ve seen in the adverts.
But the feeling doesn’t last. Battlefront is not a great singleplayer game. The first half hour of it definitely is, as music and vehicles and sound effects and the way Boba Fett’s jetpack looks lethal rather than efficient all combine to sell the illusion of Ultimate Star Wars. But then it’s rinse and repeat, a hollow rehearsal for multiplayer. Getting to insta-kill inept Stormtroopers, movie-style, is a lovely indulgence for a while, but there’s a reason that the movies were not just that for two straight hours.
This will come as precisely no surprise to a great many of you, of course. Battlefront is a multiplayer game, and it stands to reason that singleplayer wouldn’t be a deal-maker. I just wanted to warn you, though, in case you’re not a multiplayer-player but have been eyeing up screenshots and videos and feeling that itch at the back of your skull. I’m going to say it. I’m so sorry, but: this is not the game you’re looking for. Not if you’re a singleplayer-player.
If the DLC expands on what the Training mode starts to investigate though, and we get a more full-fat Greatest Hits Of Star Wars solo mode – harrowing £40 season pass price notwithstanding, that could mean the revenge of the solo Sith. I might revisit the Snowspeeder vs AT-AT and Speederbike race missions a few times yet, because they are these kernels of expertly-judged nostalgia recreation, but they will sadly be exhausted quickly. Time to see if they can live longer over in multiplayer, then.
A full review of Battlefront, focused primarily on multiplayer, will follow in the next couple of days. The game is out now in the US, but not until Thursday in the UK, because of stupid reasons.