WIRED magazine 01.16, our Star Wars special issue featuring J.J. Abrams, is on sale from December 10 2015. Follow our Star Wars: The Force Awakens hub page for all of our web, print and behind-the-scenes coverage.
If this game was even half decent (and it’s much better than that) it would be a license to print money, even without a £40 DLC ‘season pass’ to consider alongside the initial cost of entry. Among so many people the will to participate in Star Wars from the inside is just too strong. The Force, as they say, dot dot dot.
Before describing what works and what doesn’t, it’s worth taking a moment to understand exactly at whom this game is aimed — because it isn’t Star Wars ‘fans’ exactly, or even people who play an obsessive amount of video games. Because, to clarify, the pitch here isn’t just to place you in a video game that looks and feels like the movies — it’s to place you in a video game that feels like your memory of the movies, especially and particularly if you haven’t already seen the movie 400 times.
As the internet sometimes appears designed to prove, there are of course thousands upon thousands of people on Earth who genuinely and literally love Star Wars. For those people — with whom I stand beside in principle, if not in direct affiliation — no detail or character from the holy trilogy is too small or unimportant to write a Wookiepaedia article about.
Star Wars Battlefront is not for those people. Not really. Or, for that matter, is it for people with a lot invested already in either Star Wars games, shooting games, or EA Dice’s Battlefield games, or all three. Battlefront is too broad, and too straightforward, to be nuanced enough to appeal to the hardcore. Instead, this is a game for those millions of other Star Wars ‘fans’ who might only have seen the Battle of Endor or the Assault on Hoth unfold cinematically a few times, and yet still count those moments among their fondest in cinema — and for people who enjoy playing video games, but don’t necessarily invest a great amount of their identity in that one activity.
Which is to say that Battlefront is simple to play, enjoyable even when you happen to be terrible at it, best played with other people online or at home, and more or less a whistlestop, though not superficial, tour through three locations familiar from the original three Star Wars films, plus one new planet.
Though a series of single player ‘missions’ act as a vaguely diverting but thin tutorial campaign, the core of the game is the chance to participate in massive multiplayer recreations of some of the climatic battles in Star Wars history. You will clasp your freezing blaster and run through trenches across the ice wastes of Hoth, as massive AT-AT walkers lumber inexorably towards Rebel power generators and transports nervously awaiting takeoff between looming Imperial Star Destroyers. On the organic forest moon of Endor you will clamber over canopy walkways, fly 74-Z speeder bikes between stupidly massive tree trunks and attempt to hold off an airborne Boba Fett while AT-STs pound you with laser fire. On Tattooine you will dodge thermal detonator grenades in miniature rock canyons, hide in tents abandoned by sand people and watch in awe as the Millennium Falcon dances above you spitting green death. On the fourth and previously unseen planet of Sullust, you will jump across lava pits and explore Death Star-like tunnels and buildings in the shadow of Lord Vader’s transport.
It’s all incredibly intoxicating and exhilarating; graphically even on console the game is impressive — not necessarily in terms of pure detail, or even a particularly creative use of landscapes (Endor aside, all of the game’s locations are fairly barren), but in the way that everything seems totally resonant with the Star Wars universe. These have all been listed elsewhere, but it’s worth dwelling on little details, like the note-perfect acrobatic tumbles of the stormtroopers or the glistening Hollywood plastic appearance of the ice on Hoth. It’s very pleasing and exotic. Set against a splendidly rich musical backdrop and the constant zipping of pew-pew lasers and whooshing light sabres, it’s hard not to grin through your first four or five hours of gameplay. This is as close as it gets to being on set — if not actually in the Star Wars world itself.
After that first blush of fun, admittedly, the appeal of the game starts to fade a little. At heart this is fairly basic fare; your sessions will unfold with a natural rhythm in the manner of Battlefield-style games, as you spend most of your allotted minutes trudging forward, doomed but hopeful, as a custom-fitted and increasingly, but slowly, improving foot soldier. Occasionally you will pick up power ups that allow you to pilot easy-to-fly but all-too destructible ships, assume powerful ‘hero’ personalities (Vader, Palpatine and Fett on the Dark Side, Han Solo, Leia and Luke on the light) and rising or falling on the ranking tables.
But rarely do these battles turn into anything more than fluctuating skirmishes: the strategy element of Battlefield is not replicated here, and there is little space outside of said power-ups for individuals to turn the tide of a conflict. Nor is Battlefront as compulsive or pounding as Call of Duty‘s recent offerings, as extensively engrossing as Destiny or as finely tuned as Halo 5: Guardians. For real fans of the genre, Battlefront will have relatively limited appeal — even as many will find it enough of an appealing challenge to keep them busy for months.
It also remains to be seen, to some extent, how Battlefield will evolve. Another bunch of (free) DLC related to the Force Awakens movie is due in December, but it’s the four-part (and expensive) DLC that will prove its worth, or not, in the coming months. The potential is enormous to build a definitive Star Wars game here — the foundation is solid enough, and after initial problems even the back-end seems strong (though watch this space for future issues). Throw in a decent Death Star level or two and you’ve got yourself the makings of a classic.
Hardcore Star Wars fans will have to make their piece with Battlefront in the same way as they almost certainly will with The Force Awakens, and the coming tsunami of Star Wars material in the decades ahead. They might have been there first, and longest, but Star Wars is for everyone. This is mass market commercial entertainment in the finest tradition of Hollywood, Disney and — for that matter — EA.
It’s not made for fanatics. It’s just made for fans.
- Xbox One, PS4 and PC