Star Wars Battlefront reminds me why I love Star Wars. Its skirmishes unfold across iconic planets, with gorgeous landscapes and sweeping vistas on a massive scale. Endor's trees dwarf us. Tatooine's desert stretches for miles. And when the battle music reaches its peak, and I glide over Hoth's frozen trenches, I'm right back in my childhood living room, watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time.
But Battlefront lacks the longevity that makes its source material great. It offers initial engagement, and for the first 10 hours, it swept me through its harrowing firefights at a rapid pace. But then the cracks began to show. In the end, Battlefront feels more like an homage to Star Wars than a substantial Star Wars game in itself.
And yet, what a beautiful homage this is: dynamic lighting, vivid textures, windswept forests--developer DICE has crafted a nuanced, detailed world begging for a closer look, enveloping you at every turn. Rain glistens on drooping leaves. Icy crystals extend from cavern walls. You can even see clouds of dust billow across Tatooine's arid scenery.
This is all stunning, of course, but it's Battlefront's sound design that truly reels you in. The ambient wildlife surrounds you and explosions carry through bunker walls, even as the pitter patter of rain strikes ferns in the wind. It speaks volumes that I considered turning the ubiquitous soundtrack off at times, just to hear the detail in Battlefront's world.
Beneath all this grandeur, however, are shallow experiences. Maps look fantastic, yes, but they lack focused design. Endor's undergrowth lends cosmetic appeal, but not much cover. Hoth's barren fields impart a sense of distance, but few creative sight lines.
There are exceptions in some of Battlefront's locales, however--Tatooine's blend of exterior and interior environments, for instance, creates engaging battles from one match to the next. By darting into a nearby bunker, I avoided AT-ST fire. This also allowed me to flank a trio of enemy soldiers at a nearby capture point, and with a barrage of grenade launcher rounds, I cleared them out. Battlefront's best maps encourage these tactics across its various game modes.
And make no mistake, there's an abundance of game modes here. Star Wars Battlefront offers nine competitive variants, each of them distinct, for better or worse.
There's the spectacular Heroes vs. Villains, which plays out exactly how it sounds: as if a box of Star Wars action figures came to life and, unsure of what to do next, resorted to violence. There's Droid Run, a unique variation of zone control in which the zones shift locations throughout the match. And then there's Walker Assault.
Battlefront feels more like an homage to Star Wars than a substantial Star Wars game in itself.
This is Battlefront at its best. Walker Assault offers more emergent gameplay moments and, in contrast to much of the game's combat elsewhere, it lends the sense of a bigger objective. Imperials escort--and rebels attempt to destroy--AT-ATs as they march toward the base at the end of a path. That dichotomy between objectives means a different experience for both sides, and with numerous offensive and defensive options, battles unfold with surprising variety.
My favorite match took place on Endor. As a member of the Imperial team, I prioritized speed over anything else, sprinting along pathways toward Rebel uplink stations. If they captured enough of these, they would call more Y-wings in for bombing runs against our quadrupedal machine. So of course, I wanted to protect those stations.
But as the game progressed, and both sides adapted to the other's strategy, things changed. The Rebels made better use of their defensive turrets and whittled away at the AT-AT's health during bombing runs. So I began sniping from Ewok tree structures above the battle, focusing my aim on enemies operating laser turrets. In the end, we still lost--a well timed orbital strike brought our offensive juggernaut to its knees--but the battle remained engaging throughout. Walker Assault is the embodiment of innovative game modes.
I also spent a lot of time with Survival, Battlefront's version of a wave-based cooperative option. And despite this idea being beaten to death in the last two console generations, Survival offers a welcome respite from Battlefront's competitive modes. Working with one other teammate against Stormtroopers, AT-STs, Imperial probe droids, as we collect power-ups through Hoth's Rebel base, or Sullust's hangar bay, grants a compelling teamwork experience.
However, just as many of Battlefront's modes feel uninspired, or even poorly designed. Blast and Cargo are slight variations on team deathmatch and capture the flag, respectively, and are only exciting for several matches. After that, I had seen what felt like every possible scenario take place. Hero Hunt--in which a team of soldiers hunts down a Jedi, Sith, or bounty hunter--is imbalanced to the point of being frustrating. I grew tired of firing endless blaster rounds at Boba Fett right before he killed me with a wrist rocket--over, and over, and over. Battlefront has a depth of game modes, but only a few have much depth.
Every so often, outlandish events bring life to proceedings. There are cases when Luke Skywalker cuts through an AT-ST, or an errant rocket collides with an unlucky TIE Fighter. I've seen Emperor Palpatine corkscrew into a group of Rebels. I also watched a crafty Rebel heave a grenade at an AT-ST as she jetpack jumped over it. I was too amazed to even shoot her. Battlefront excels when it places me in this Star Wars fantasy world, where Leia squares off with Darth Vader, or Han Solo shoulder charges a low-flying TIE Interceptor.
If nothing else, Star Wars Battlefront is an exercise in pure spectacle, laid out in all of its neon glory.
But these moments don't feel as novel after Battlefront's early hours. This traces back to one root cause: Battlefront's combat can be monotonous. By and large, it consists of medium range gunfights where opponents hold the trigger for two seconds and hope they're the one left standing. Getting shot from a distance, on the other hand, often meant sprinting in another direction, rather than seeking nearby cover and planning a counterattack. There's not much thought in modes outside of Walker Assault, and I seldom felt as if I was impacting battles, or as if my skill played any wider purpose.
Vehicle combat, however, does offer some variety. Although X-Wings, snowspeeders, TIE Interceptors and the Millennium Falcon all feel great, with intuitive controls and fluid maneuvers, they don't always play a huge part in combat. Airborne vehicles fly too fast over maps that are too small in comparison, so strafing runs are often futile. However, snowspeeders are essential in Walker Assault, as their tow cables can bring down the four-legged behemoths if used right. AT-STs can also turn the tide at crucial capture points across larger maps. I wish more vehicles followed suit.
In a further attempt to encourage extended playtime, DICE does implement a progression system in its multiplayer, with everything from character skins to blaster variations, ion grenades to homing missile launchers. Some grenades do more damage to vehicles, while certain sniper rifles fire more accurate shots.
Aside from a few standout items such as the jump jet--which lets you leap across the map and into the fray--these unlocks don't change how you play in the long run. Trait cards, which grant you perks like radar masking or explosive damage resistance, are the most valuable options, and acquiring them felt worthwhile.They changed how I thought about my equipment loadouts: how they played into the current game mode, how they would help me in the long run, and how I might consider maps in a different way. Approaching Trait cards in the progression list offered me more incentive to play. They're gems in an otherwise bland array of abilities.
If nothing else, Star Wars Battlefront is an exercise in pure spectacle, laid out in all of its neon glory. I can't help but smile when the Boba Fett guns down three fighters in a row from his Slave I ship, or a snowspeeder careens past with flames trailing in its wake. The first 10 hours are packed with these moments, and it's worth playing just to watch them unfold.
But Battlefront doesn't go much deeper than its ambitious surface appeal. It front loads its best content, only to fade in quality as the hours roll by. Star Wars Battlefront's skin is beautiful, but its legs are shaking, and threaten to buckle with time.