Star Wars: Battlefront Plays Like You’re Watching the Movie
Star Wars: Battlefront is a raucous, chaotic ordeal.
As I sift through my memories of a weekend spent playing the new multiplayer shooter (via EA Access on Xbox One), I recall sheets of crimson laser fire blending with robotic voices barking updates on the match’s progress. It’s strange to admit that those abrasive moments were the most faithful interactive reproduction of the Star Wars experience I’ve ever seen.
The lush forests of Endor’s moon, the bleak expanse of Tattooine, and blinding white snowdrifts from Hoth are all brought to life with tenacious accuracy. Each of these is a backdrop for bouts between the series’ two big factions: the evil, totalitarian Empire, and the plucky, freedom-fighting Rebellion.
As often as Star Wars has been picked apart, repackaged, and sold back to gaming and non-gaming audiences alike, it’s a wonder that so many have missed the guiding heart of the franchise. Star Wars is about the messiness of our own emotions, whether it’s the overwhelming fear and grief that comes with losing a loved one or the wanderlust that comes from a lifetime of boredom. Unfettered feeling guides everything in the series.
In an era of competitive gaming defined by precision, Battlefront, an otherwise bog-standard multiplayer shooter from Battlefield developer Dice, manages the impossible. Battlefront strives to match through play what it feels like to watch Star Wars: It is loose, unfocused and often anarchic, but in a manner that is directed towards a grander aesthetic vision. One skirmish condenses all of the highs and lows of a film into an easy-to-digest 10-minute chunk.
That frenetic energy comes, at least in part, through Battlefront‘s sheer scale. After a handful of training missions, you can join with up to 39 others to reenact key battles from the classic trilogy. Once in the fight, you’ll see swarms of players incessantly firing blaster rifles, filling the screen with their iconic red laser bolts.
These blasts visually dominate the battlefield, as they did in the films, setting a tone of constant danger from all angles. For a moment, you’re on the precipice of a war zone that’s never been. It’s a surreal feeling, but it’s also an expressive one.
The scene is even more dramatic in the game’s largest mode, Supremacy. With 40 players constantly funneled into one of a few central areas, lawless firefights erupt. Death often comes in seconds, but players are tossed right back into the fight. It keeps games moving at a nimble pace, and doesn’t keep unskilled players out of the action for too long.
As these fights unfold, you’ll navigate the field, taking over entrenched turrets and gathering power-ups to help turn the tide. Some bonuses will let you call in strikes from huge battleships orbiting the planet, while others let you step into the role of an iconic Star Wars hero or villain.
Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Leia and Han Solo each brings a unique set of abilities to the fight. You can think of these characters as siege busters. They do far more damage than your standard foot soldier, and they can take quite a few blaster rifle shots before they’re down. Combined with their special abilities, any one of them can dash into an area and take out a dozen or more troops.
That might sound a bit extreme, but that extraordinary power is balanced by their finite health: Everyone else on the battlefield can regenerate any damage they’ve taken by finding cover for a few seconds, but once Darth Vader loses his HP, he’s out for good.
In practice this transforms these special characters into tools, means to a larger end. While it’s certainly fun to run around with a lightsaber and some extra powers, you don’t immediately become the team’s leader. You’re still one piece of the grand game.
It’s a relief to see these aesthetics match up with the reality of an online shooter. More so than recent commercial heavyweights like Halo or Call of Duty, Battlefront‘s brutal, tumultuous play keeps anyone from ever having too much control over the proceedings. It is unburdened by the exclusionary skill ramps that dominate much of today’s competitive gaming scene. Battlefront pushes its players to help one another instead—to band together and bring an order to chaos.
In time, perhaps, that may cap Battlefront‘s long-term viability. And without a single-player mode, there isn’t much incentive here for those who aren’t already fans of multiplayer shooters. But for now, it’s an encouraging and rewarding break from the norm, and it’s made me eager to step back into the Star Wars universe for the first time in years.
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