All that glitters is not gold.
For LucasArts’ and EA’s massively marketed monstrosity Star Wars: Battlefront, which was released on Tuesday, this is an apt metaphor. Objectively, based on first impressions, Battlefront is awe-inspiring. It’s nostalgic. It’s beautiful. But, it doesn’t take long for the awe to wear into monotony, and as you dig deeper into the game, yearning for more meaningful experiences after having fought over the same 8 or so maps for the past 4 hours, you find that Star Wars: Battlefront isn’t actually all that much more than a pretty shell.
But what a shell it is. Battlefront is easily the best looking game I’ve played on my PS4 so far (sorry Fallout), at least on the surface. The maps are detailed, and the environments render extremely realistically. But a strange, vacant feeling hangs over each mission or battle. There is, quite literally, nothing to interact with on any of the maps, except for power-ups, which are archaic floating symbols you run through in order to obtain special perks or weapons (oftentimes an extra-powerful grenade or a deployable auto-turret). Obviously, Battlefront is not, and never was, an RPG, so I’m not saying I expected there to be loot, but there’s literally nothing. Every map is a beautiful empty virtual space where you can’t touch, crouch behind anything, or physically affect the environment in any way. It’s off-putting, and frankly destroys any sense of being in the game when a gigantic thermal detonator goes off in a small control room and leaves not so much as a charred carbon stain on the environment. In a game that is, let’s face it, is purely a combat sim, and especially when so many other developers have managed to include malleable and reactionary worlds, there is no excuse for failing to render dynamic environments. To me, it’s just lazy developing.
Online multiplayer is obviously the main draw, and focus, of the game. But before I dove into that chaos, I decided to explore single player mode first. What I found left me profoundly unsatisfied. I thought the menus were great, easy to navigate and to determine and select a game type and map. There is a small selection of different mission types for players to choose from, but they are redundant and simplistic, and ultimately unfulfilling. The biggest draw for me, because I didn’t play online at the time, of the old Battlefront was the single player Galactic Conquest mode, in which players would choose a side (Rebels or Empire) and wage an RTS-style galaxy-wide war of conquest, conquering planets, tactically moving fleets and engaging in battles, purchasing new troop types and upgrades along the way. This, although shallow, offered at least some semblance of a single player experience. Without this, each mission you undertake in single player mode exists in a vacuum, without any greater context to provide the victory (or defeat) any emotional or even tactical meaning. Each mission is a standalone story on its own, and whether you win or lose has absolutely no bearing on the greater game other than your stats. Because of this, I found the single player got stale and repetitive in a matter of less than two hours. This, however, will probably not be a huge issue for fans of this title; the online multiplayer has always been the focus.
The online experience in Battlefront is exponentially more satisfying than single player. There is a decently wide variety of online game modes to select from (including the exhilarating Fighter Squadron mode, which I will touch on later), and the menus are streamlined, pretty-looking, and easy to use. Match-making takes literal fractions of a second. I selected my game type for the first time, selected “find match”, and went to grab a soda from the fridge, expecting a period of lag while searching for a game. When I came back one minute later, the game was already in progress and my team was losing by 5 kills. The increased difficulty compared to the single player AI requires a level of stress management and tactical acumen that will feel quite familiar to any Call of Duty fans, and indeed, multiplayer in battlefront feels so much like Call of Duty, and that can be either a good or bad thing, depending on how you want to look at it. There are tons of customizable faces, weapons, and “cards” (bonuses you can purchase, that go into your “hand”, a set of three “cards” – read; bonuses – that you can customize and mix around before each match based on your tactical needs) for purchase for your character, and the credits used to purchase them flow pretty freely after each match. I was able to upgrade to a much more powerful heavy blaster rifle after just a few online matches. But for all the fun, it still feels…. unfinished. The 8-10 maps that the game provides become tried and boring after a few hours. In fact, the variety of the maps is so poor, it felt like I was playing the same three maps over and over again (Endor, Sullust, and Tattoine), even though I know there are more. Granted, 16 additional maps are available, but only after purchasing the (pricey) season pass.
The highlight of this title, and frankly it’s a bright spot that makes buying it worth it, is the Fighter Squadron online mode. In it, you take to the skies as a fighter pilot, and the dogfights are challenging, engrossing, and visually stunning. Maneuvering between clouds and canyons while the gorgeous alien sun sets in the distance provides a sense of wonder and excitement that is rarely matched in video games. If there is one thing EA did right with this title, it’s that; truly fun gaming.
I mean, honestly, there isn’t that much more to it than that. This game is about as deep as a plate.
If you’re looking for a fun, time-wasting multiplayer game to play with 4 of your buddies while drinking beer, this is the game for you. If you want anything even remotely resembling a Star Wars story, Battlefront will only disappoint you, and you’re better off waiting for the next Star Wars game, or revisiting KOTOR.
Pros: Graphics, online multiplayer, nostalgia factor.
Cons: Too few maps, no depth, redundant missions, low re-playability.