1) There are, ultimately, only four different environments, and though some are carved into different shapes for different modes, they very obviously repeat very quickly. That’s OK if you’re someone who primarily wants to master every map, but it’s a drag if you’re looking for a relatively unpredictable experience every time you fire this thing up.
2) You can’t unlock an alien avatar for your character until level 40, which for most people will require a couple of dozen hours of play. This means that a game based on Star Wars, a series of films set across multiple planets and starring many weird and wonderful alien races, primarily features humans vs humans. Even once unlocked, there are only a handful of alien species available. The rich visual variety of the universe is knee-capped right out of the gates.
3) You can’t shoot the NPC Ewoks, Jawas or Tusken Raiders who pop-up on some maps. They just endlessly loop their little animations.
4) The weapons all bear instantly forgettable numerical names and, worse, many of them feel extremely similar. I appreciate the game’s hamstrung by canon here, but it does mean that there’s no thrill to unlocking a new blaster: it’ll just be a tweaked variant of something you already had.
5) You don’t get into spaceships and vehicles; you definitely don’t get to take-off or land them. You just hoover up a floating icon, hit a number key and then zaaaap, you’re suddenly a spaceship. It saves time, and stops players queuing for vehicles, but it undermines the fantasy that you are here, in this battle. There’s none of that will-I-make-it-to-the-cockpit-in-time tension, no last-minute escapes, no stealing vehicles from under enemies’ noses. It’s an arcade with near-photorealistic trappings.
6) Floating icons are its answer to everything. That’s OK, that’s a broadly-accepted game thing, but there is an incongruity to having all that lovely scenery and all those wonderful explosions then what you’re actually looking for is transcluent blue spinny things.
7) Though actual sniper rifles are kept at arm’s length, the combat model is heavily weighted in favour of those who can routinely headshot. Close-quarters skirmishing is plausible but highly unlikely, as you’ll invariably be picked off by someone else from a distance. On PC especially, enough of the Battlefield 3/4 playerbase has drifted over already that less skilled players may find themselves doomed to dwell at the bottom of the leaderboards, completely unable to have the heroic battles they’d dreamed of. An online shooters is an online shooter, but given how many genre complexities Battlefront has shed in the hope of appealing to Star Wars fans above and beyond Battlefield fans, the single shot to the head’n’dead structure is a little perplexing.
8) The game unashamedly boasts about how expensive, as-yet-unreleased DLC is needed in order to obtain the complete experience – and whether that’s a result of corporate cynicism or because there genuinely was only so much the developers could create with the time and budget available them to we simply cannot know. But whatever the cause, the consequence is that the same few maps, vehicles and characters start to repeat themselves very, very quickly, and no amount of visual or sonic beauty can cauterise that wound. Combine that with the headshot-or-bust combat model, the samey weapons and the icon-based vehicle pick-ups and Battlefront’s overriding problem is that it, moment-to-moment, it almost always feels the same.
All that said – I can’t agree with the overwhelming negative response we’re seeing from some players, and nor can I shake the suspicion that much of is primarily motived by (entirely understandable) discontent about the DLC business model. Battlefront is fine. It’s repetitive and a little too simplistic, and again it’s bewilderingly focused on highly-skilled players despite clearly targeting as mass a market as possible, but equally those grievances could be interpreted as ‘aw, but it’s not just like Battlefield.’ It’s not, no. It’s just like Star Wars.
The 20 vs 20 battles are amazing to behold, and even if the instant death can be fatiguing, scurrying to cover under a hail of AT-AT blasts or taking down a jet-speed X-Wing with a well-time rocket has big fat movie magic to it. The cracks and the simplicity show in the smaller fights, the looping infantry-only battles, and the even simpler, bot-based singleplayer modes exhaust themselves almost immediately, but the biggest maps, the biggest fights: Star Wars.
Star Wars is science-fiction for everyone. Star Wars, even at its absolute best, is silly and simple and unbelievable and shallow. It can be delightful and it can be tragic, but it is as broad as Tatooine’s endless desert, as straight as a lightsaber’s blade, as obvious as Luke’s jealousy of Han. It is also one of the most successful and shamelessly commercial businesses of all time. Let us not be blinded by romance: Star Wars is Battlefront. And maybe we can only see Star Wars for what it is when it bears another company’s name.
EA! The Empire! The evil overlord of videogames! The Dark Side! The Sith to Valve’s Jedi!
Bloody hell, get a grip. Star Wars is about all the money. Star Wars is about the constant consumption of Star Wars. Battlefront is just more Star Wars, and while there is an argument to be made that we’re not getting enough for our money from the base package, the reality is that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, will play it every night for weeks or months, then splash out on the DLC because they want to keep doing that, because it’s Star Wars.
Battlefront nails Star Wars: The Aesthetic, but it also nails Star Wars: The Business. EA tried this business model before with Titanfall, and it didn’t entirely work out, but they’ll get away with it this time because of Star Wars.
Because the idea of getting to fly another familiar vehicle will make people breathless with excitement, even though they know from the base game that controlling every spaceship feels like waving around an Airfix model on a pole.
That visiting another Trilogy-famous planet will be too irresistible, even if the reality is “being repeatedly shot in the head while running across some very pretty rocks.”
That the chance to play as another famous face – the likes of Lando, Chewbacca, Tarkin and Dengar are surely on their way – cannot be refused, even if the existing Heroes look, play and sound like an over-enthusiastic fan-mod.
Battlefront is a beautiful tribute to Star Wars. It’s also a simple game, because it reasons that most of its players simply want to be in those places, looking like those characters, flying those spaceships: that’s the fantasy it sells.
It’s also a shopfront, because the Star Wars audience has proven time and again that if you build it, they will come back for more. Battlefront: the base game might sell itself frustratingly short on variety, and it seems confused about exactly who its audience is, but its spectacle is such that I’ll spend the night inside a Taun-Taun’s tummy if it doesn’t get away with it.
Star Wars Battlefront is released today in the UK.