The world of Star Wars videogames has ben a tumultuous one. For every Knights of the Old Republic there's a piece of Phantom Menace shovelware. With the shuttering of LucasArts after Disney's purchase of their parent company, many doubted the future of Star Wars games in general. Then Disney announced a new partnership, with EA Games, who would gain the license exclusively for development of new "Triple-A" titles, immediately giving it to three of their top development teams, hiring the industry's top games makers, and starting work on new titles.
The first of those titles belonged to DICE, whose work on things like the Frostbite Engine have increased realism across EA's entire lineup. Keepers of the Battlefield franchise, DICE would change that last syllable to bring back a LucasArts favorite, Star Wars: Battlefront.
The new game would play much like the previous versions, with players taking up arms as members of the Rebel Alliance or the Imperial forces. In battles "inspired by" moments from the films (and some other, more liberal takes), gamers get to step into the world of Star Wars like never before. After seeing the game at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim this past spring, the intrigue only heightened. There was talk of the new, unique capture process, designed by the team to bring the original props, costumes and vehicles to games for the first time. When you see Han Solo's blaster, or Boba Fett's jetpack, it's the actual, original prop brought into the game's world.
Of course, watching a demo and hearing about the cool technology is one thing, but getting your hands on it and playing a round is another. At a recent press event, I got to play a recent build of the game on PlayStation 4. I played the 2-player couch co-op Survival Mission mode (it can also be played solo, or 2-player online) alongside an EA representative.
The game is very fun, with some of the tightest controls I've seen in a shooter. The experience could have been fairly generic. The basics were there, similar to the myriad of other Survival modes that have proliferated shooters for the last several years: it's you and your partner against the virtual world, as waves of increasingly difficult enemies attack you, seeing what you can handle. The particular mission we played had five waves, with a mixture of on-foot stormtroopers, hovering jetpack wearing scout troopers, and even AT-ST walkers.
And that, thankfully, is what makes this experience unique. Without the Star Wars overlay, it might have been slightly difficult to discern this from any other multiplayer-focused shooter, though it does have improvements in that category. The controls, as I mentioned, are a bit tighter. With a game like this, headshots and quick reloads (or rather, blaster cool downs in this case) are everything – if you can't make your kills quickly, you don't survive; it's really that simple. Aiming is precise, and I found that the weapons, from a single-hand blaster to a dual-hand blaster rifle, allowed for some good, quick killing. If you're adept at shooters, you'll have no problem jumping in and taking down the Empire.
The power-ups in the game may sound a bit silly to hardcore shooter fans, but they all work very well in the world of Battlefront. There are special shots you can choose at the beginning of each match, as defined by "Star Cards" you can collect and assign to your character. There are things like Ion Shot, which does extra damage to vehicles, a personal defensive shield, or a jet pack – you have three star cards per round, and you can pick them however you want.
"There are no classes in Star Wars Battlefront; instead we allow a lot of deep customization using the star cards,"our rep told ComicBook.com. Even with only a handful of options, that was apparent.
Once you start playing the game itself, the true collectible power-ups are picked up through achieving certain goals. You won't just find them lying around on the battlefield; instead, you'll have to secure air-drops (often for entire or even multiple rounds). Once you secure the drop pod, you can gain one of these power-ups. They're as basic as things like direct weapon powers, more powerful shots or less overheating and the like, and move into the exceptional, like control of an X-Wing, a TIE-fighter, a walker, or even one of the heroes or villains of the game, like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. While the latter weren't in this mission, it gives you an idea of what you can open up.
New power-ups and tighter than usual controls aside, the game gets special because of its trappings. Star Wars has never looked this pretty in a video game. As the game loads with a short cutscene showing your team deploying on Tattooine, there is a true "wow" moment, looking like you're entering a live-action film. As it moves from the prerecorded footage into your actual gameplay, the graphics, from your character model to the weapons to the backgrounds, don't change at all. It's all 100% in-engine, and it looks like nothing you've ever seen. If you are a Star Wars fan, this moment will absolutely drive you nuts. Somehow it was different than just seeing a gameplay demo – having the controller in your hands makes it more real, and even more amazing.
Midway through the third round, I had a moment where I simply exclaimed, "Man, it feels good to be shooting stormtroopers again." There was some laughter from the dev and PR folks in the room, followed by a simple, "I know, right?" This is the kind of moment that only fans can really have; simple phrases that actually imply and build a deeper connection. With those little words, we locked into our own personal memories. Maybe it was an arcade moment, or a thought of the SNES. Maybe I was thinking of Jedi Knight while he was contemplating the original Battlefront. The thoughts and memories are unique, but the feeling is universal. The closest moment I can relate it to in recent memory was seeing Darth Vader raise a walker over his head and continue his pursuit in Star Wars Rebels. You have a moment that just pulls you in and says, "this is Star Wars," and in just 10 minutes of playing Battlefront, I had that moment more than once.
This was just a short time in one of the types in one of the modes. That I had a strong enough impression of excitement and fun to last days later meant a lot to this die-hard Star Wars fan. Knowing there are other Mission types alone (aside from other content) like Hero missions (play as Darth Vader for an entire mission), Battles (play in a mission inspired by iconic battles from the original trilogy), or X-Wing training (become an expert pilot before you take on the worst the Empire has to offer) and more, alongside the massive 40-player skirmishes, and other unrevealed modes, is just absolutely exciting. I can't wait to play more Star Wars: Battlefront, and I pity my poor friends and family who will miss me so much come November.
Star Wars: Battlefront is scheduled for release November 17, 2015 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.