Star Wars: Battlefront made considerable waves with gamers and Star Wars fans alike when it was released last year. The original game went a long way with its simple, winning premise that had you fighting battles in the Star Wars universe using the military forces seen in the two trilogies. Although that's a game fans who grew up with the series had been playing out their whole lives (with their collections of action figures and ships), Battlefront managed to do our childhood fantasies one better with engaging game types and online play. Given the first game's success, it's hardly surprising to hear that LucasArts and original developer Pandemic will be deploying a sequel. Although Star Wars: Battlefront II will be officially announced tomorrow, to coincide with this year's Star Wars Celebration in Indianapolis, we recently managed to get an exclusive early look at the game, and we also got to talk to producer Shara Miller about what to expect from it.
In the wake of Battlefront's success, LucasArts and Pandemic both took a step back to soak in the good, the bad, and the ugly from players of the game. Fan feedback, coupled with LucasArts and Pandemic's own wish list of what to include in the Battlefront sequel, has formed the driving force behind the development of new content. Judging from our early look at what the game has in store, the above is shaping up to be quite a powerful combo. You'll find new gameplay modes, more locations to fight in, tweaks to the individual units in your squad, the debut of an all-new unit for each squad, the introduction of Jedi combatants, new battle types, and plenty of Episode III content in the ambitious sequel.
Battlefront II's gameplay modes will feature some fan-requested tweaks, as well as offer a deeper, more narrative-focused single-player campaign. Furthermore, it will add to the already robust online multiplayer mode of its predecessor. The single-player game will offer open-ended mission-based objectives that will obviously owe a thing or two to the six Star Wars films. The game will have a broader feel thanks to the different approach Pandemic is taking toward the planets you'll fight on. Whereas the planets in the first game had multiple maps set on different parts of the world, Battlefront II's 12 planets will only offer one map each, providing more variety overall. Expect to see some planets taken from Episode III, such as the crater world of Utapau (General Grievous' hideout) and the volcanic lava world of Mustafar (where Anakin gets the skin peel of a lifetime).
As you'd hope, the classic series will also be mined for some new locales. The interior of the Death Star and Princess Leia's blockade runner (as seen in the classic opening moments of A New Hope) will provide unique new environments to fight in. These new locations also hint at one of the biggest new additions to the Battlefront experience: space combat. This oh-so-cool addition to combat showed very well during our demo, despite its work-in-progress condition. The level we saw was set in the interior of a blockade runner, and it initially appeared to be following the standard Battlefront formula. However, when the troops reached the ship's hangar--which housed a TIE fighter, a TIE Interceptor, a TIE bomber, and an X-Wing fighter--the soldiers each hopped into the nearest ship and took it outside to join the fray going on between the capital ships.
From what we gather, space battles will offer you multiple ways of completing your missions, which usually entail destroying an opposing ship. For instance, you can hop into a fighter and head out into space for a direct attack so you can, hopefully, cause enough damage to the opposing ship to destroy it. You can also get some friends together in a transport ship and form a boarding party. Once on the ship, you can set out to inflict enough internal damage to blow it up. Another sneakier option we'll have to try out is boarding the enemy ship and commandeering one of its turrets to damage the outside of the craft. This approach will even let you destroy other turrets on the surface of the ship (which could be hazardous to the health of comrades on their way over in fighters), but you can also pick off enemy craft that might be harassing you or your side's ships. While we didn't get to see a lot of space battles, what we saw has us convinced these are going to be "the bomb" when Battlefront II hits the streets.
That's No Moon
There has also been quite a bit of work done to the individual units. One of the pushes during development was focusing on each member of your squad to give each different specialist a unique feel that would set him or her apart from the others, as well as setting him or her apart from opposing-squad counterparts. Your team will also gain one new member, the specifics of which LucasArts representatives remained mum. In addition, your combat experience will be seriously enhanced by the inclusion of playable Jedi. But, before you think you're going to own all with the lightsaber-wielding mystic monks, guess again. While reps wouldn't reveal too much about the specifics of Jedi in the game, they would say you'll have to earn them as you play. And while they'll have a formidable array of abilities, they're not going to be the terminators some might have hoped for.
Pandemic is making some welcome tweaks to the core squad-based action, which should please fans of the first game. Among them are the abilities to sprint when on foot or "dash" when in a vehicle, as well as the ability to switch between squad types, anytime you want, by heading to one of your command posts. The extent of the Episode III content is being kept vague, although we did note the aforementioned planets. The only thing reps on hand would reveal was that in addition to planets, we'll see a space battle above Coruscant and some other very cool odes to the upcoming film.
While hard details about all the extra elements in the online mode will be revealed later, we managed to get a few tidbits out of our hosts. The online component of Battlefront II will feature stat-tracking, as well as let you find buddies online. Most significantly, the amount of players has been beefed up some. The PlayStation 2 game will support up to 24 players online, the Xbox will handle 32, and the PC will handle a meaty 64. PC owners get another bonus, thanks to the removal of the maligned frame-rate lock that was in the original Battlefront.
While the demo we saw was early, its presentation seems to be coming along swimmingly. The graphics we saw were looking sharp. We got a peek at the interior of Leia's blockade runner, the Tantive IV, and a space battle outside of it. Furthermore, we got a tour of some of Utapau. The visuals are already on par with the original game, and LucasArts and Pandemic intend to push things a little further. We were pleased to see little touches, such as a complete remodeling of the clone troopers so that they reflect their appearances in Episode III, where they sport a bit more individuality. In addition, we approve of the smooth way battles transition from interior to space action. The audio was limited in many parts of our demo, but reps on hand assured us that Battlefront II will take the same approach as its predecessor. Of course, you can expect to hear a wealth of sound effects taken straight from the six films that make up the Star Wars saga, as well as many familiar tunes.
Based on our early look, Star Wars: Battlefront II is slated to feature some welcome additions to the experience that should go down well with fans and newcomers alike. While the addition of space battles alone is cause for celebration, the amount of fine-tuning the game is undergoing should make for better overall gameplay as well. If you're a fan of the first Battlefront or of Star Wars in general, you'll most definitely want to keep an eye on Battlefront II in the coming months. The game is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2, PC, and Xbox. Look for more soon.