Reviews suggest that Star Wars: Battlefront is only a so-so game. I think it’s a little unfairly maligned, although you’ve got to take it on its 2015 merits and realise what you’re actually buying.
As I noted in my retrospective, Star Wars games trade very heavily on nostalgia aspects, because so very many developers have seen marrying the battle of Hoth with whatever gameplay style they’re keen on as a path to easy riches. As that retrospective showed, it hasn’t always been that easy.
It’s a particularly high nostalgia jump in the case of EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront, because it’s trading not only on the general Star Wars mythos, but also the very particular nostalgia for its predecessor, also named Star Wars: Battlefront.
For years gamers (myself included) wanted a new Battlefront game, and for years there were suggestions, and teasers, and concept art from cancelled titles, and a largely forgettable PSP game, because it was on the largely forgettable PSP, but nothing in the way of a solid new game to play.
So that’s what Star Wars: Battlefront has to live up to. Having put some solid time into it, and seen plenty of other critiques that suggest that it’s a pale shadow… I’m torn.
This has been an interesting review to approach, because so many other places have already cast their verdict on the game, and it’s mostly been a resounding case of “Meh”.
IGN declares that it “doesn’t know what to do with itself”
Gamespot says that it “feels more like a homage to Star Wars than a substantial Star Wars game itself”
Eurogamer declares that it feels “more stunted than streamlined”
I get where they’re coming from, because there are aspects of a game that does trade on nostalgia not just for the Star Wars brand, but also for a couple of very well regarded classic games that don’t entirely sit well with me either, but make a certain amount of sense in the context of a high-cost (Disney doesn’t exactly give away the Star Wars IP for free, kiddies) title in 2015’s competitive games market.
Before starting to play Star Wars: Battlefront, I went back and played some Star Wars: Battlefront. Not the 2015 iteration, but the original pair of games, both of which I feel I should point out do work on the Xbox 360, even though they’re original Xbox games. Sometimes keeping things retro really does pay off, you know. Both games stand up very well in the modern context in terms of gameplay, although obviously the state of the art in graphics has moved on a little since then.
Here I can thank the folks at IGN for this snippet of video, which shows how things have changed in more than a decade. The new game is much more visually accurate, and is downright stunning in places, although I really don’t have too much of a problem playing in the murkier world of the original titles:
So visuals aren’t the problem. Neither in one sense is gameplay, because Battlefront was always a light FPS that relied on the idea that individual stormtrooper lives were easily expendable things. No, I never much liked playing on the Wookiee side, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, you’ll die a lot and curse a lot in Star Wars: Battlefront, before rejoining the battle mere seconds after you last died. It’s that kind of game, and it always was. It’s just that now, you have levels, and skill cards, and a slightly larger variable strategy pool depending on how you want to play online. The earlier games did support online play, but hands up those in Australia who had an original Xbox and a broadband connection good enough for satisfying online play back in the day? Yeah, me neither.
So why the poor reviews? Largely because the new game is rather shallow in that its focus is almost entirely around online multiplayer action. It’s not hard to see how and why EA and DICE ended up with that conclusion, and this is where I think Battlefront has had something of a bad rap, because this is pretty much exactly what you do with FPS in 2015.
Seriously, the market has spoken by buying endless iterations of games such as Call Of Duty that inevitably rest on their multiplayer roots, so that’s where the likely money and return are. Am I happy that Star Wars: Battlefront doesn’t have the single player or local options it used to? No, I’m not.
Yes, Star Wars Battlefront would be a better game with a robust single player mode, like it used to. Of course it would, and in some ways it’s hard to see why even the simple stuff, like the rudimentary but very fun Galactic Conquest mode wasn’t at least aped in the new game. Maybe Pandemic, or whoever now holds the rights to the Pandemic name kept that bit of gameplay under some kind of IP lock? I’ve no idea, really, but it’s missed.
The thing is that this doesn’t mean that Star Wars: Battlefront is a wasteland you should avoid. Instead, I’d argue that if the core concept appeals to you, it’s a game that makes the most sense it’ll ever make right now.
Everyone wants to release the “hot” FPS, whether that’s Destiny, the latest inevitable Call Of Duty game, or even DICE’s regular gig making Battlefield games. Star Wars: Battlefront is just the latest in the queue, and what that means in practical terms is that the player base is as big as it’s ever going to be right now.
In six months, it’ll be halved at best, unless there’s some very clever tie-in with The Force Unleashed that nobody’s yet talking about. Certainly within a year it’ll dwindle further, and while I still do enjoy playing the original Xbox Battlefront titles to this day, I don’t imagine anyone will be playing the new game in a decade’s time — or if they are, they’ll be such a high level and so au fait with the maps that the only challenge will be finding similarly skilled foes, or easily killing anyone silly enough to take them on.
What that means that in order to get “value” out of Star Wars Battlefront, as distinct from any of the other quite literally hundreds of FPS titles that you could buy, you’ve got to look at it as a short term entertainment option, because once those players are gone, the game’s got a lot less going for it.
Was that the best option for EA/DICE to take with this particular game? Maybe not, and they could always turn it around with some larger content patches, although that seems unlikely, with the announced DLC seeming to dig further into the online multiplayer world.
If you can get enough gameplay hours out of any game it becomes “worth it”, and the same is true of Star Wars: Battlefront — it’s just that the window of “fun” has a rather definite endpoint ahead of it.