Star Wars Battlefront Review
Few can deny that EA and Digital Illusions were hugely successful with their 2002 World War 2 shooter Battlefield 1942. It wasn't just the WW2 theme that kept people playing, though; the many vehicles and rock-scissors-paper balance of the game did something that most online FPS developers have been trying (and failing) to do for years.
It was kind of peculiar, then, to hear that Pandemic and LucasArts were working on a game that that took the BF1942 gameplay and applied it to the Star Wars universe. While I really never thought it'd be much of a great game before I played it, I've come to realize that Star Wars: Battlefront is a blast. It might be a bit of a guilty pleasure, but who cares? It's fun as hell.
Pandemic uses a proprietary engine for Battlefront, and they've put a lot of effort into it. The most noticeable effect is a subtle blur or bloom effect that softens the whole display, and while some won't be huge fans of this particular look, I really like it. Combine this with plenty of subtle pixel shader effects for peripheral vision during sniper zooms, excellent water, and beautiful surroundings, and you'll find that from a visual standpoint this game holds its own with the best online action titles out there.
Multiplayer is definitely where it's at here, and the game does a pretty good job balancing frame rates along with the huge battles that can take place. While we may not get the 150-player battles seen in Joint Operations, 32 players can jump onto an internet-based server at any time, and 50 people can join a LAN game. The best part is that for just about any computer other than those that barely meet the minimum requirements, the game's graphics can be tuned to make the frame rate fairly decent.
I found basically no bugs to complain about, although I was playing with the v1.01 patch that had already fixed a couple of server browser issues. The only real problem I have with Battlefront from a technical standpoint has to do with the game's visual effects - there are a couple that simply cannot be turned off, even though they're not really vital to the gameplay. I really wish that Pandemic and LucasArts would have added the appropriate options to turn these off on top of everything else, as I think they'd have improved frame rates considerably on lower-end computers by doing so.
Battlefront was developed simultaneously on the PC, PS2, and Xbox, and there are a few spots where I can see the cut corners for the PC version. The control configuration is a bit of a mess, and there are no default controls set up for those who want to use joysticks to control the vehicles. The server browser is only marginally useful at best, although you can always resort to GameSpy Arcade if you really don't care for it.
The in-game interface for spawning up as different classes and at various points is very well done, though, and the HUD gives you plenty of info while still looking good. LucasArts & Pandemic have also done an excellent job putting both third and first person perspectives into the game, and while the first person mode feels a bit "swimmy" when you control it with a mouse, it's perfectly useable. The third person mode is actually better in my opinion, as you get all of the functionality of the first person mode. On top of that, you can use the third person mode to see your character's various states of movement better, see when he gets knocked down from a blast, and can even peek a little bit around corners using the camera.
Battlefront pulls you in. At first, it seems like the whole Battlefield-Star Wars thing is stupid, but if you spend twenty minutes playing, you'll notice that the atmosphere actually works well and really lends something to the gameplay. The battles take place on many popular Star Wars worlds like Endor, Tattooine, Kashyyyk, Naboo, Hoth, and Cloud City on Bespin, while there are some new areas to spice things up as well.
Pandemic even set up two whole separate sub-games by allowing you to play during the period of the original movies, and also during the period of the prequels. While the maps don't change much, we get a whole new varied set of character models, weapons, and even special effects with the two different eras. There are even new sets of vehicles to accompany each era, and this means both land and air vehicles in some maps - they all look perfect and really add to the game's atmosphere.
The scenery is spectacular here, what with the generous use of pixel shaders, nicely done textures, and some excellent art that both borrows from the movies but also strikes out on its own. The PC platform is the best place to show off the quality of Pandemic's art, and if you have a good enough video card that allows you to run at higher than 1024x768 resolution, then this game is definitely worth getting on the PC.
Battlefront borrows very heavily from Battlefield 1942. While this game only really has one type of mode, it's a good one - each team has a pool of "lives" that gets depleted when people on your team die, and you can spawn from any base your team has control of. Take control of the enemy spawn points to stop them from spawning there, and if you take over enough, the enemies will start losing their remaining lives at an accelerated rate. The first team to zero lives left loses.
The single player "campaign" is pretty bare, as it has you move linearly throughout each of the maps and on different sides during the game's two eras (which means different vehicles, classes, and weapons). There's another mode that allows you to do something pretty similar, but you can use a variety of bonuses on each map; it adds little to the game, though. These serve mostly as a way to learn the game, as the real action is online.
Pandemic's AI-controlled "bots" are a major part of the single player game, and even have a pretty significant role in multiplayer as well. They're pretty stupid, though, and have a tendency to do some counterproductive things for your team, but there's not much that can be done about this when your computer is processing 30 of them constantly as well as the rest of the game at the same time. A few more tactical options would have been nice, as the commands you can issue the bots don't seem to help a whole lot. This is not to say I'd rather not have them, as they still help more than they hurt. It just means that at the end of a round, you'll have forty kills and three deaths while the bots are all hovering at something more like ten kills and twelve deaths.
With a huge range of classes to try out (along with a nice array of vehicles), you can play this game for days and still might not see all of the weapons and gadgets there are to be seen. The class balance is pretty well-done, with your standard blaster rifle types, grenade & missile launcher classes, snipers, and even a bit of support as well.
The vehicles dominate the action in some of the maps while they play no role in others. Every advantage has a disadvantage in Battlefront, and every seemingly unbalanced aspect actually has a counter - but you have to find out what that counter is. The huge AT-AT walkers on Hoth can be taken down by sheer force or by a couple of decent players in a snowspeeder; taking down Geonisis' huge tanks in the Clone Wars campaign will require the combined might of other vehicles as well as rocket-firing troops.
The multiplayer mode is obviously the way this game was meant to be played, and online play in SW: Battlefront is a blast. Many servers will throw in a dozen or so bots just to liven things up, but the best servers are full of real players - only then does one really start to enjoy this game. The maps are designed well, and they all require different tactics for players to excel.
LucasArts has frowned upon user-made modifications for any of their Star Wars games. While Raven's two Jedi Knight games were already built on the highly moddable Quake 3 engine - which allowed for mods to some extent - Battlefront will have to be modded from scratch, with presumably no help from the developers or from LucasArts. This obviously limits the potential this game has for any user-made content, so I wouldn't expect much in this area.
Many gamers might be wondering what the differences are between the PC, Xbox, and PS2 versions of Battlefront. Basically, the PC allows up to 32 players online, where the Xbox and PS2 allow 24 and 16 respectively (although these numbers can be augmented by bots). There are the obvious graphical differences that go along with higher resolution on the PC, and the controls are much more tuned to those who have been playing shooterhttp://www.atomicgamer.com/admin/articleAdmin.phps for a while already - for this reason, skilled players will likely have a larger edge on the PC than they would on the consoles. But if you're not sure that your computer can play Battlefront, you might be better off with the safe bet and get a console version.
In the end, I had a lot more fun with Star Wars: Battlefront than I expected to. The premise sounds like a cheap, cash-cow knockoff, and in a lot of ways, it kind of is. But nowadays I try to measure games by how much fun I have, rather than by my preconceived notions of what a game is supposed to be like. Battlefront completely destroyed any prejudices I had and really charmed me once I got a few hours in.
Just about any Star Wars game is going to include some of the original John Williams soundtrack and many of the classic sound effects. Battlefront lives up to this legacy by combining all this together with some of the newer Clone Wars themes as well as a pretty large range of sound effects that mix in with the old ones nicely.
While the game does include clips from the Star Wars movies to set up a specific single player scenario, there is no new voice acting going into any of the "hero" characters that can be on a map. It's probably for the best, though, as the original actors probably wouldn't bother and impostors just wouldn't sound right.
Star Wars: Battlefront may sound like a bad idea, but Pandemic and LucasArts have delivered a polished experience with some seriously fun action, the opportunity for real strategy during the battles, and a new take on the Star Wars gaming experience overall. Even if you're not a fan of the Lucas classics, it's a great game that I think anyone who enjoys multiplayer action games should try out.