With many excellent Star Wars games committed to gaming history, it's unfortunate that the last five years or so have been a bit of a disappointment. A trend towards mobile games and titles targeting a younger demographic has left many yearning for a Star Wars game that can stand alongside classics such as TIE Fighter, Knights of the Old Republic, and Jedi Knight. As a result, Star Wars Battlefront has had to carry the heavy weight of expectation that has been amplified by the imminent arrival of the next film.
With a focus on the original trilogy, developer DICE has – some would say wisely – made the battles between the Galactic Empire and Rebels the backdrop for this multiplayer shooter, completely ignoring the prequels. Everything you want from a Star Wars game on a visual and sound design level is present and correct, and it's clear a lot of work was put into getting everything looking and sounding just as you'd expect. Whether it's the clank of an AT-AT moving around, the sight of blaster fire criss-crossing the battlefield, or the iconic musical score, Star Wars Battlefront will successfully – and relentlessly – tweak the nostalgia centre of anyone with an interest in the films.
Not only does Battlefront ooze Star Wars from every part of its visual design, but it also manages to be quite impressive technically. Whether you're traversing the icey wastes on Hoth, or the dense foliage on the forest moon of Endor, each environment is chock full of nice little details for Star Wars fans, while also managing to look pretty dazzling to boot. On top of that it runs surprisingly well, and even when the action on screen is at its most frantic, with forty players blasting away at each other, the framerate remains solid throughout.
With no single player story campaign, you'll be spending a large proportion of your time in the online multiplayer. This has a variety of modes that are predominantly games types which you'll be familiar with, only they've all been given a Star Wars spin. Sadly, only Fighter Squadron, where you take part in one big aerial dog fight, and a couple of modes based on the use of hero characters – such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader – offer something you don't see too often in other multiplayer shooters.
The trouble is that the more unusual game types are also the shallowest, focusing too much on one element of the wider Battlefront experience. This almost guarantees that your interest will wane after only a few matches, sending you straight back to modes like Walker Assault and Supremacy. These are both much more rounded experiences, and see your team either attacking or defending AT-ATs as they cross a map, or fighting for ownership of sequential control points – which will be familiar to anyone whose played Rush in a Battlefield game.
It should be no surprise then that not only do these scenarios have the biggest player counts – with twenty players on each side – but they also turn out to the most enjoyable in the game. This is down to not just the inclusion of so many players, but also the fact they feature vehicles, spacecrafts, and player controlled hero characters, all of which propel the action to frenetic heights. During these battles the sheer volume of laser fire flying across the map can be staggering, and as X-Wings and TIE Fighters battle over head, and AT-STs stomp across the map, the urge to hit the share button on your controller will come all too frequently.
All of this spectacle and nostalgia would all be for nothing though if Battlefront didn't play well. Fortunately, whether you're on foot, in a vehicle, or in the air, it's consistently fun, and while it's easy to see the all too familiar Battlefield DNA at times, it's different enough that you don't feel like you're just playing Battlefield with a Star Wars coat of paint.
One of the more noticeable differences to other multiplayer shooters is that all the primary weapons are laser blasters of some shape and form. While these have the usual variety of stats which at least make them feel a little different from one another, after a while you'll wish that there was a more interesting and creative mix of weaponry than the eleven blasters available. This tightly focused selection of main weapons can be explained partly by the Star Wars license; however, it also fits with what appears to be an overall design that aims to streamline the usual systems found in multiplayer shooters so that they're less overwhelming to players.
While this approach can be seen in other aspects of the gameplay – such as gaining access to powerful weapons, vehicles, and heroes by collecting floating tokens on the battlefield – it becomes most apparent in the progression and unlock system, which shies away from the complex mix of equipment and perks that you'd find in Call of Duty or Battlefield.
Instead, the game has you build a hand of three 'star cards' from those you've unlocked as you level up. The first two of these cards can be filled with equipment such as grenades, jump packs, and anti-vehicle weaponry, while the last lets you pick from a number of modifications to your blaster, which when activated can, for example, improve accuracy or stop it overheating for a short period.
It's a system that's really easy to get to grips with, but long before your hit level 32 and unlock the last of the cards, you'll have already settled upon a couple of card combinations, leaving you with very little interest in changing things up at all. What's even more disappointing is that all you have left to unlock are cosmetics items – such as character skins and emotes – which won't be something that'll keep you coming back to the title long term.
The lack of a rewarding progression system normally wouldn't be an issue if there was a large pool of maps in rotation, but again this is where Battlefront stumbles. In the two big game types there are only four maps, and while they're large, well designed spaces, you'll not be surprised when you start to feel a bit burnt out after playing them for the umpteenth time. On top of this there are nine smaller maps used in varying combinations for the remaining playlists, which could be classed as a decent amount compared to other online shooters, if only they weren't confined to modes that you've very little interest in playing.
Should you want a break from the multiplayer for some smaller scale action, then there's also Survival where you're pitted, either on your own or with a co-op partner, against 15 waves of enemies. You can play with a friend both online and in split-screen, and this can be especially fun if you crank it up to the higher difficulty levels, which provides a challenge for even the most skilled player, and a welcome change of pace to the rest of the game.
As well these horde scenarios, there are a couple of other solo and co-op playlists where you can undertake tutorial missions, or battle head-to-head against a friend with an AI team. These turn out to be fairly simplistic affairs, though, and are very easy to dismiss. It's not hard to imagine that their inclusion was just so that EA would have something to point towards anytime someone asked if Battlefront was a multiplayer-only title.
Star Wars Battlefront is a good Star Wars game, but an average multiplayer shooter. If you have any love for a galaxy far, far away, you'll get a real kick out of the taking part in its fun, large scale battles, and your reverence for the source material may even be enough to keep you coming back despite its shortcomings. If, on the other hand, you're after the next big shooter to keep you occupied longer term, the limited weaponry and simplified customisation mean that this isn't the game that you're looking for.