Star Wars: Battlefront Update

LucasArts shows off more of its Pandemic-developed team-based shooter set in a galaxy far, far away.

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Star Wars: Battlefront is the upcoming squad-based shooter from LucasArts that drops you dead center into the classic battles from George Lucas' epic movie franchise. The game, developed by the insanely productive Pandemic Studios, lets you play as the Imperial or Rebel forces from the classic trilogy or the Republic or Trade Federation forces from the current trilogy, set to wrap up next year with the eagerly anticipated Episode III, which we imagine will be subtitled "Things Go Real Bad for Anakin."

Battlefront will embroil you in bitter interstellar warfare across many familiar Star Wars planets.
Battlefront will embroil you in bitter interstellar warfare across many familiar Star Wars planets.

While we got a taste of what this ambitious game, currently slated for the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, had to offer at this year's E3, we recently had the chance to take a better look at the title. LucasArts showed off work-in-progress builds of all three versions at an event yesterday in a woodsy area of San Francisco's Presidio, which bore more than a passing resemblance to Endor (sans live ewoks). In the midst of some authentic-looking reps from the Imperial and Rebel forces, we had a look at all three versions, which, while still works in progress, were looking very promising.

The versions of Battlefront on display offered varying glimpses of areas in the game. While all versions will share the same worlds to battle on, specific worlds were shown on the individual platforms at last night's event. The PlayStation 2 featured Hoth, Endor, Yavin IV, and Geonosis, while the Xbox let you duke it out on Endor, Kamino, and Yavin IV. The PC had the most low-key showing of the three versions, with just Endor and Kamino on display.

Each of the worlds featured settings and vehicles that were in-line with the trilogy from which they were pulled. For example, Endor featured ewoks, speeder bikes, and AT-STs, while Kamino featured a rainstorm and droid ships. Despite the differences in processing power for each of the platforms, the game was looking sharp across the board. The PC offering understandably looked the best of the three, but the PlayStation 2 and Xbox iterations were hardly dogs. While there were some frame rate issues with the console games, given their early states, they were still very playable and featured eye-popping visuals that were suitably impressive. The PlayStation 2 version actually stood out in this regard. Quality visuals aren't too hard to come by on the PC or Xbox, given their powerful architectures, but the graphics produced by the aging PlayStation 2 hardware were testament to the fact that there's still some life left in Sony's little, black box.

Customizable controls for both on-foot and vehicle gameplay will let players battle it out in their own styles of play.
Customizable controls for both on-foot and vehicle gameplay will let players battle it out in their own styles of play.

The controls in the game are laid out nicely in their default form, but Pandemic has included the option for players to remap them to their liking (which is something we'd actually like to see more of on consoles). The basic rundown is as follows: You'll have buttons dedicated to primary and secondary fire. Primary weapons will include rifles and pistols, while secondary ones will be in the grenade family. Most characters will actually come with at least two weapon options in the primary and secondary slots, which you'll be able to toggle between on the fly.

While in battle, you'll move with the left analog stick, and you'll use the right stick to go into free-look mode and to toggle zoom on and off when you're using sniper weapons. The D pad will let you issue commands to your artificial intelligence-controlled squad when playing solo. The face buttons on the controller will let you reload your weapon, jump, crouch, and use turrets and vehicles you come across in the game. The game will feature a number of vehicles and weapon emplacements to use, all of which will be tied to individual locations. This control customization extends to all the control schemes in the game, meaning you can set up custom layouts for ground and air vehicles as well as for on-foot action.

While you'll have the ability to customize the game's controls, the default control scheme actually works well in combat. The various battles we played, while hectic, were easy to get a handle on. The simple matches we played over a LAN at the event were straightforward and simply required us to take over enemy positions. The mechanic is simple, and it's similar to the familiar scheme in the Battlefield games. As a result, you just have to get close to one of the markers, which will be red or green depending on your side. When you're close enough, an onscreen meter will appear, and it will slowly drain of the enemy's color until it becomes white. You'll then have to wait until the meter fills up completely with your team color before the point is claimed.

Each of the four factions will sport one unique class that sets it apart from the others.
Each of the four factions will sport one unique class that sets it apart from the others.

Although conquering a capture point is painfully slow when you're by yourself, it is possible to speed up the process by having other members of your team close by. If you die during the process, you'll have to restart it once you spawn back on the battlefield. Respawning after you've been killed is painless, so you'll just pick your preferred spawn point on the map. When you die, you'll also have the option of switching your player class if your current one isn't a good fit.

The various classes in the game introduce an easy-to-grasp bit of depth to the proceedings. You'll have five classes to choose from on each side. Although four of the classes will be similar in terms of ability, each faction will have a unique class with special abilities. Figuring out when to use the various classes during battle will present a nice, manageable challenge. As for the breakdown of classes for each side, we offer a quick rundown. The Rebel units will be made up of the soldier, marksman, pilot, wookiee smuggler, and vanguard. The Imperial side will have the stormtrooper, shock trooper, pilot, scout trooper, and dark trooper.

In the Episode I duels, the Republic forces will consist of the clone trooper, jet trooper, clone pilot, clone sharpshooter, and arc trooper. Finally, the Trade Federation units will be made up of the droideka, super battle droid, assault droid, droid pilot, and recon droid. While all but the unique classes are fairly straightforward, there are some race-specific bonuses in certain instances. For example, the fusion cutter-wielding units in the Trade Federation forces can repair all the units of that faction.

Battlefront is slated to ship the very same day the original film trilogy hits DVD.
Battlefront is slated to ship the very same day the original film trilogy hits DVD.

Based on what we've seen so far, Star Wars: Battlefront is coming along very well. As we've said before, the game is basically a virtual simulation of what scores of us were doing with our action figure collections back in the day--which is pretty much what any self-respecting, dyed-in-his-robes Star Wars geek has always wanted. The impressive graphics, accessible gameplay, and choice of battlegrounds is already an enticing package. If you factor in the fun of playing the whole kit and caboodle online (and the potential fun to be had with the downloadable content currently being mulled over for inclusion), you have one tight, little package that's not to be missed.

For those who don't own their own lightsabers and can't tell a wookiee from a yuzzum, Star Wars: Battlefront is still an appealing action title that's worth bearing a look. The game is currently set to ship this September on the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox--in tandem with the release of the classic trilogy on DVD (a day sure to be filled with more than a few absences from work and school). Look for more on Battlefront in the coming months.

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