Star Wars Battlefront Preview

LucasArts and Pandemic stage epic space battles without the use of action figures in the upcoming game.

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Star Wars: Battlefront (2004)
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The Star Wars universe has always been a tantalizing place to play for fans of the classic sci-fi franchise. However, the games that have been set in the rich world have always offered pretty focused experiences, which are usually tied to the films or to Jedi. Thankfully, the last few years have seen LucasArts and its developers having a lot more fun in George Lucas' sandbox. Star Wars Battlefront is the latest game to put a cool new spin on the universe that fans have come to know, love, and obsess over.

Battlefront serves as wish fulfillment for a generation of Star Wars fans.
Battlefront serves as wish fulfillment for a generation of Star Wars fans.

Star Wars Battlefront is, in many ways, a game that's been in development in the minds of kids since the first Star Wars toys hit store shelves in the late 1970s. While playing with the core cast of action figures that represented the main characters from the movies had always been a fun pastime, re-creating the epic battles from the films had been an equally appealing practice (provided one's action figure collection was beefy enough). However, the days of shelling out wads of cash to get more action figures, playsets, and vehicles to bring said battles to life may well be even further removed for many fans, thanks to Battlefront. Developed by Southern California-based Pandemic Studios, the game serves up a heaping dose of fun that even appeals to those players who don't own their own handcrafted stormtrooper armor or functional battle droid. The PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC multiplayer game lets you play as the forces of good or evil from both sets of trilogies, and you can also battle for control of a variety of familiar locations online.

You'll find two game modes to choose from in Battlefront--skirmish and galactic conquest. Skirmish is your run-of-the-mill custom match against computer-controlled bots or a friend, either online or offline. Galactic conquest is the heart of the game, and it lets you play as Rebel, Imperial, Republic, or Separatist forces in a brawl for control of one of the game's 10 planets, either online or offline. For those keeping score at home, the game will feature 16 maps that are spread out over 10 planets, including Endor, Geonosis, Kamino, Naboo, Tatooine, and Yavin.

The basic structure of the battles is pretty straightforward, so basically, you'll pick your side, and then you'll engage your opponent in combat. Each side will feature six types of units--four common and two that are unique. The four common ones include a standard infantry unit, a scout unit, a heavy weapons unit, and a pilot unit. Each of the units will have its own unique abilities, which you'll have to manage strategically to get the most out of your forces. For example, scouts will be able to snipe enemies from great distances, and the heavy weapons unit will excel at damaging vehicles, while the pilot will be able to regenerate the health of the vehicle he or she is in and will also be able to auto-eject when the vehicle's wheels are destroyed. The unique units will offer a broad range of abilities that stay true to their sides. For example, Rebel forces will have a spy that can infiltrate enemy areas. However, the spy's disguise is a bust once he or she attacks someone or once he or she is revealed to be a spy by an Imperial officer--one of the Empire's unique units. Spotting spies is just one of the Imperial officer's special abilities, which helps compensate for his lack of ground combat skills. In addition to spotting spies, you can call down an air strike from orbiting ships, or you can dispatch a probe droid to do some scouting. Not only can the probe droid let you have a safe peek at your surroundings, but it can also be directed to attack your foes. The only catch is that the Imperial officer is immobilized while the droid is out.

Endor, Tatooine, and Yavin are just a handful of the planets you'll wage war on.
Endor, Tatooine, and Yavin are just a handful of the planets you'll wage war on.

While the single-player game obviously has a lot going for it, the big draw for many players will be Battlefront's online multiplayer component. All three consoles are slated to have substantial online support that will let you duke it out with a small army. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox will support 16 players online or 32 over a LAN, while PC players will get a bigger chunk of action with support for 32 players online and 64 over a LAN. For those hankering for the most from their Battlefront multiplayer experiences, the game will include dedicated server support that allows you to use a console as a server. The PC game will also offer the same functionality once dedicated server code is released. In addition, Star Wars Battlefront will offer support for downloadable content via Xbox Live, as well as support for the PlayStation 2's hard drive. Hardcore multiplayer fans will be pleased to know that Battlefront offers roughly two pages of tracked stats to keep you in the loop regarding your game performance.

Star Wars Battlefront's gameplay is equal parts Battlefield 1942, EA's popular PC title from 2002, and Risk, the classic board game. Ground combat in the game is very much like Battefield since you'll run around collecting items and securing areas for your forces. When combat heats up, you can make use of nearby vehicles and turrets to help shore up your defense or offense. Fans will be pleased at the selection of ground and air vehicles that cover the essentials, like AT-STs, X-Wings, and speeder bikes. You'll also be able to make use of crates that are strewn about, which, once cracked by your fusion cutter, will yield some much needed bonuses. In addition to the opposing forces you'll encounter on the various planets, you'll find third parties that range from helpful to harmful. For example, the Ewoks of Endor will obviously help you out if you play as the Rebel forces, but they'll hinder you if you play as the Imperials. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the Tusken Raiders of Tatooine, who are mad at everyone and will shoot anything around them.

Battlefront lets you fight in two different time periods of the Star Wars universe.
Battlefront lets you fight in two different time periods of the Star Wars universe.

The graphics in the game are looking very sharp and offer some nice surprises, thanks to Pandemic's skill with technology. The environments on the various planets in the game stay true to the look of their movie counterparts, as do the various character models. The game's graphics engine relies liberally on visual filters and lighting effects to give the game a very slick look. While it's hardly surprising to note that the PC and Xbox games run smoothly and feature detailed graphics, the PlayStation 2 version is probably the most surprising of the trio. Despite its early state, the game is shaping up to be one of the most stunning games we've seen in quite some time. While the game still has the expected rough spots in terms of frame rate and camera, right now the overall look of it is very impressive. You'll really be able to appreciate the game's graphics, thanks to the optional first-person mode in the game, which will be the default perspective in the PC game.

From what we've seen so far, Star Wars Battlefront is shaping up to be the game many fans have hoped for. The ability to play as forces from all of the films (on familiar locations) against other players online gives it an undeniable appeal. The inclusion of some Episode III content and support for downloads in the future makes for some pretty tasty gravy as well. At this point, we'd just like to see the frame rate locked down on the PlayStation 2, and we'd also like to see the camera work smoothed out some. Otherwise, the game appears to be living up to its potential. Star Wars Battlefront is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC. Look for more on it in the coming months.

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