Underneath the thick layer of movie glamour there’s a very deserving shooter in Star Wars Battlefront, says Matt Martin.
I stood in a queue for Star Wars Battlefront at E3 next to a dude dressed in a homemade Jedi cloak. Because we were queuing for a long time, my patience was already thin and this guy is reenacting moments from the movies while his buddies film him. I’m tired. I have zero tolerance at the best of times, the aircon has broken, I haven’t eaten in far too long and this guy is winding me up. I’m going to lose my shit if I can’t break away, play the game and file my copy before midnight without Luke Dickrider all up in my grill.
But as soon as I pop the ear-goggles on and pick up the controller, freshly briefed by that orange fish-head space admiral, I’m away. Amateur Force jockeys are gone from my mind. I’m traipsing through the snow with a scoped blaster and filling Rebel scum full of laser death.
Or whatever you call it. You may have guessed I’m not a big Star Wars fan. I watched the original trilogy as a kid and liked them, but that’s my lot. To my genuine surprise, Battlefront doesn’t actually need the Star Wars dressing, although it’s that that makes it a truly special package.
The fact that this game is smothered in fan service and movie glamour isn’t lost on me. The scream of TIE Fighters and other authentic sounds raises the cinematic presentation to the best in its field. It’s certainly not a game with some Star Wars window dressing bolted on. But nor is it a weak shooter that hopes the much-loved space opera will carry it past basic gameplay.
My 40-player deathmatch round began with simple objectives that updated as we played through the map. Taking on the role of an Imperial soldier felt good because I’m a bad guy at heart. Our focus was clear: stop the Rebels from calling in Snowspeeders to take down the AT-ATs, which initially seems daunting as just a tiny foot soldier.
This isn’t your regular Battlefield game. There’s no traditional aim down iron sights, nor the usual classes and squads. Instead, you have a partner that you can share weapons and other unlocks with as you progress, although there was no real time to explore that. There’s no need to manually reload either. Blasters will overheat if you crunch the trigger forever, but you can tap a button to cool them off if you need to.
Simplified controls don’t necessarily mean the game is simple. It has its own set of rules and mechanics that work well. The most noticeable of these is collecting tokens on the battlefield. When you have enough, they allow you to switch to vehicles. Rebels get the chance to pilot a Snowspeeder while the Imperials get behind the guns of the AT-AT. You don’t get to steer the giant, but that seems like a good idea when you realise how slow they are. Instead, you have access to three different fixed weapons and are able to change your view between them and punch down deadly laser blasts from the sky.
Although movement felt slow on foot to begin with, with careful use of a limited jetpack jump you can traverse terrain and flank enemies easily. A lot of the Hoth map I played on had trenches dug into the snow and what initially felt like a pain to navigate, soon became advantageous as you leap from one trench and into another, taking shots while in mid-air and dropping in to surprise campers.
These trenches create little skirmishes even while the bigger fight rages in the skies above you, with giant mechanical legs stomping down either side of your path. If that doesn’t call to mind Star Wars I’m not sure what else will. On this sample alone, developer DICE has nailed George Lucas’ initial vision. Fights alternate from man-to-man and vehicle-to-vehicle in an instant and not once did it feel forced or awkward. These are thrilling battles of scale and yet they still feel personal.
The most important thing for me is that whether it’s a Star Wars game or not didn’t matter. I’m not a super fan of the series and know little of the lore of these space wizards and alien gunslingers. Regardless of the dressing, the game works well.
I’ve only played a small portion of Star Wars Battlefront and there’s plenty more to see and judge, but I queued for two hours to play the game for less than 15 minutes and it was every bit worth the wait.
For more from E3, check out our extensive guide to all the big news from the publisher and format holder conferences.