R2-D2 smells like yoghurt. In fact, the whole second part of the Star Wars Battlefront [official site] queue at E3 smells like yoghurt. I'm in a group of 40 attendees waiting for our turn to do battle on Hoth in the final play session of E3. I think the yoghurty smell is coming from the copious dry ice, which is swirling around R2's wheels as EA try to create a Hoth-like experience in a cavernous conference hall in downtown LA.
The Hoth of the game is not yoghurty, but it is gorgeous. An expansive snowy wilderness which we spawn into as Stormtroopers. Well, 20 of us do. The other 20 are rebel scum, ripe for the shooting.
Our mission is to defend two of the game's gigantic AT-ATs as they trudge forth while the rebels attempt to bring them down. Uplink points are scattered across the map. The rebels can hold these in order to gain a window of time in which to attack the AT-ATs or they can try other methods of attack. One is piloting a T-47 airspeeder, using its tow cable to tangle the legs of the AT-AT and bring it down that way.
You're not actually playing *the* Battle of Hoth, but the team at DICE have stuffed this multiplayer map with enough references to that iconic Star Wars sequence that you could imagine everyone secretly (lol "secretly") role-playing.
When we first spawn, everyone's on top of one another, like when I've copy pasted an image multiple time in Photoshop. I run forwards, then off to one side, out of the crowd. I'd like to say it was tactical but it was to find a spot of untrampled snow so I could check whether I left footprints. I did.
Armed with the default blaster, I started to scout for the uplink stations where rebels would likely be clustered. As you might expect given the setting – a relatively flat snowscape – you could generally see multiple enemies charging about from a great distance. Certainly greater than the blaster could reliably deal with. I wonder if this is designed to help simulate authentic stormtrooper aiming as a blast sails past its target again.
While dead, I check the other weapons in the inventory to see if any of them has a better range. They don't, although I'm tempted by a higher damage option. I grudgingly concede that sniping on this kind of map might be a bit overpowered. Instead I change up my strategy slightly, scuttling around in paths cut into the snow where possible. I'm not sure this was my finest idea, as it sometimes seems to put my head at a handy height for being blasted, but it's better than being exposed out on the snow as it narrows down the number of angles from which Rebels might attack.
That's useful because, in terms of responding to getting injured, I find it almost impossible to work out where shots are coming from. The interface shows percentage health remaining, but nothing that helps me reliably pick out the direction of the shots before I fall. Often, as the camera pans to my killer, it moves in an unexpected direction. That dude? Oh, okay, I guess.
It's a strangely unintuitive element, given the rest of the game feels designed to be easily accessible and legible to anyone with basic shooter experience.
In addition to the blaster I have a couple of special abilities which recharge over time, and can also pick up powerups on the battlefield or tokens which would allow me to command a flying unit. One special skill which I used a lot is a barrage of three explosive projectiles. It's a bit overpowered, I think. The shots are easy to land and pretty much a guaranteed kill when you do. It feels like either they're doing slightly too much damage or take too little time to recharge. I am fond of them because about halfway through our playthrough I stop dying to them and start killing with them.
There's also a jet pack which gives you a vertical boost. It takes me by surprise when I first use it, as I've become used to the majestic slow glide of my Destiny warlock. The Battlefront jet pack shoots you high into the air pretty fast. I find myself using it to peep out of cover and get the lay of the land when I'm down in the snow paths, as well as to buy myself an extra few seconds to respond when I'm being shot. Enjoy my parabola of death, jerkwads.
Alas, despite my late-blooming projectile prowess, the Empire suffers defeat. One AT-AT faceplants in the snow like a metal camel indulging in a graceless swoon. The other is soon to follow.
Having played similar modes in other multiplayer games, I'd say we lost because scoring individual kills wasn't enough. It never is. We needed to have been better at co-ordinating our fight against the uplink points the rebels were controlling, preventing them from gaining those attack windows on our AT-ATs.
So how was it as a general experience?
I only had time to play one round and didn't get to try my hand at piloting any vehicles in that time. There was also a certain amount of "bun fight" as everyone scurried around shooting and jumping, which you'd assume would settle into a slightly different shape after a few more rounds, as people got used to the map and the objective prioritisation.
Star Wars: Battlefront felt streamlined and generally easy to get to grips with. Perhaps a little light, although I'm hesitant to offer that as a concrete observation as I tend to get a certain amount of weightlessness in PvP in these all-newcomer situations. There was a legibility issue in determining my assailant's general direction. The sense of place was fantastic, though. Star Wars is not one of my specialist nerd subjects (those are: Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Kim Kardashian, one particular Picasso painting from the early '50s and Death Becomes Her) but the Hoth that DICE gave me felt like the Hoth I remembered from the movies.