Monday, 25 October 2004

Archive Review: Star Wars: Battlefront

(PC, Xbox review)

Use the Force, Stormtrooper.

Why do I get a buzz from playing games as the bad guy? Why do I actually prefer being evil in Role-Playing Games as opposed to good? It's likely because I have always thought that the bad guys are so much cooler than those of the good. And this applies particularly in the Universe of Star Wars. Whether it be a Stormtrooper in that cool looking armour or Darth Vader and his killer voice, or even good old Boba Fett (who is a female, apparently!) with his (or her) Mandalorian Armor and jet suit. And we better not all forget Count Dooku, Christopher Lee, so act like you know!

It's no easy task reviewing Star Wars: Battlefront. On the one hand it plays a heck of a lot like Battlefield 1942 / Vietnam and some will argue it simply just isn't as good as that God-like game.

To me Battlefront is an example of a game that manages, almost perfectly, to capture the essence of the content. It feels, sounds, looks, and plays as you would expect the Star Wars World to. Every single map shows a level of effort from the developers that surely must be respected.

Incase you have never played Battlefield 1942 and own a PC, i.e a foolish, silly type-person, then let me briefly go over the gametype that Battlefront is. It is a third/first person shooter where you can play as any of the main factions in Star Wars battles from Episodes 1-6. You can be a Rebel Scout in the woodlands of Endor, or play as a Dark Trooper in the Battle of Hoth. Whenever you die you select a respawn point on a map that represents the battle zone. The objective for either side (always 2 teams) is to capture the control points and take over the map. Control points are points where a presence of a troop from either side will have an effect on who controls it. If you are a Storm Trooper and enter a neutral or Rebel point the flag will slowly filter to red and the Empire will suddenly control that section. Some maps also have other objectives that are linked to the movies, like for example the Empire have an aim to destroy the shield generator in the Battle of Hoth (from Empire Strikes Back).

The game has a single player mode and multiplayer. Many say that Battlefront is really only worth playing online, whether it be against anything up to 32 players on the PC, 16 on the PS2 network, or 24 on Xbox Live. I agree it's great fun online but I totally disagree the singly player is merely glorified training.

My reason for this is the fact that, unlike Battlefield 1942, this games battles are always majorly huge in scope. This is down to the amount of bots or A.I that scatter around the maps. You get such a large amount of A.I allies and enemies in the fray that it feels very large scale indeed. Another factor to Battlefront is the amount of vehicles you can see or control. Everything from snowspeeders and X-wings to AT-AT's and Tie-Bombers are there to control, destroy, run from or simply drool over.

The actual A.I in this game will not only be a factor in single player but will be a factor online. Even battles with large amounts of players will also include many bots. This gives the battles a real feeling of scale. The only issue here is that many have argued that A.I bots in online games creates Lag and Lag has been an issue with Battlefront online, particularly on the consoles. Lucas Arts have released a patch though and it seems to have done something, at least.

The A.I has been the topic of debate in this game. Many argue it's downright pants and many will suggest it's absolutely fine. It was always going to be a very important factor with the game, since offline you totally rely on the bots to actually have a game. After really giving this game some solid playtime I really am of the opinion that the A.I is fine in Battlefront. It's not going to suddenly develop sentience and take over the world via Xbox Live, and it's not going to really turn the tide of events without you getting really involved but it is certainly good enough. The bots will heal each other, throw you ammo, control vehicles, repair fixed turrets etc, and do use cover. You can issue basic commands to them as well such as "Follow me", "Hold position," and other simple orders that really are all you need in a game like this. The A.I will confirm your order and do it just fine.

You soon find yourself running around the battle with large numbers of bots running alongside and behind you, all doing as you command. It feels great. What's nice about the command feature is that only bots near you will do as you say. So this will mean that you have to round up the numbers if you want to form some band of wannabe heroes to go behind enemy lines with you for some sabotage and recon action. This is good since imagine if your commands went out to every bot.... before you could say "Death Star" every bot on your team would have ran towards you, a big no no. It's good to split from the main gunfights and go off with a fire team of your own. It's also nice to see bots commanding other bots. You always get the bossy ones, demanding they take some fodder with them as they charge towards an AT-ST.

This is great online too. Whenever you run into a player on the enemy team they will likely be with a bunch of bots under their orders. So it feels like the players in this war are the big time General's amongst grunts and squaddies. It sometimes feels like something from Dynasty Warriors.

The vehicles are really cool and very varied. Everything is here and crafted in awesome detail. Some vehicles are very tough to destroy, the large AT-AT's in the Battle of Hoth are almost invulnerable when enemy troops make a point of repairing them as well as using them to own the Rebels. But a fast and brave Rebel pilot can use the tow cable from their snowspeeder to bring the mammoth down, like from the film. A.I bots will also do a fine job of achieving this and this is a really impressive factor.

The roles you play as also vary. It's all here, scout sniper, medic, engineer, pilot, heavy weapons, all the classes Battlefield players know and love but with some nice twists. Pilot's, for example, will repair what they control automatically just from piloting it. This gives players an incentive to select the pilot character. Unless your in control of a large shoulder mounted anti-vehicle weapon you have no chance of taking down a big vehicle (unlike the Battlefield series where hand grenades could end tanks) and some classes are just sweet. I have got really into playing as the jet-trooper class within the Empire and Republican Army of clones from Episodes 1-3. The Republic Commando is basically Boba Fett with a large EMP weapon and the Dark Trooper from the Empire has a less effective jet pack but a really decent shotgun-style primary weapon.

Playing as the Droid army from Episodes 1-2 (3, maybe?) is really fun too. The Droideka is the best class and seriously great to play as. These are the ones that roll around in a ball then extend up and deploy an effective shield around them and blast away with dual blasters. Apparently even Jedi Masters fear Droideka's... which is rather odd since The Emperor just didn't keep the production going and I'm willing to bet they'd have been pretty decisive in Episode 6, the Return of the Jedi :)

The maps are basically battles straight from the films. Some of them are weaker than others and their are obviously going to be those few maps that are played the most (Likely Genosis from Episode 2 and Hoth).

I do have some issues with a few of the maps from Battlefront. Some of them, like the cloud City from Empire Strikes back, include the full selection of aerial vehicles. You get the X-Wings, Y-Wings, Tie-Fighters/Bombers but on maps of a pretty small size. This means that you'll fly around in circles, closely avoiding the boundaries at the end of the map, as you get on with the dog-fights. As long as you fly slow it's no big issue but I would have liked to see some big time aerial battles set in large areas for speed build ups etc. It would have been good to see maps actually in Space, like the battle to take the Death Star out, but I guess Lucas Arts use other games to portray space combat - Battlefront not being one of them.

With this in mind one should see the flying in Battlefront as a nice extra, but just not one of great detail or implementation compared to games like, say, X-Wing VS Tie Fighter. (If I had to decide, it's Tie-Fighter all the way son).

Another nice feature is the inclusion of "heroes". In battles both online and offline you can, as an option, have A.I controlled characters from the movies fight alongside and against you. I personally spent 30 minutes trying to kill Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson) in the battle of Genosis. They can be killed but it's almost impossible as they deflect everything with their lightsabers and hack you up. It was particularly fun to fight alongside Darth Vader whilst he killed rebel scum after rebel scum on Tatooine. The sound of his evil breathing kept the morale of the Storm Troopers up quite nicely, until Luke Skywalker popped around the corner!

The sound is one of the absolute gems of this title. It is literally perfect. The music is awesome and includes many of the classic Star Wars themes and play's nicely in the background during gameplay. The sound effects from everything from a blaster pistol to a swooping Tie-Fighter are just marvelous and truly cinematic. The graphics are also very good but nothing groundbreaking.

On the whole, a really solid game. It's not very long or of much depth, but this was not the intention. It's pick up and play and a title that is one for those of us who want some serious fun, being partial to Star Wars really helps, too...


+ Pick up and Play

+ Decent balancing

+ Superb Sound

+ Acceptable A.I

- Lag Issues online

- Maps too small for flying


Solid Fun Star Wars Style

by The Critical Alien
© 2004

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