Review: Star Wars Battlefront (PS4)

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Title: Star Wars Battlefront
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (21 GB)
Release Date: November 17, 2015
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA DICE
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $69.99 (Deluxe Edition)
ESRB Rating: T
Star Wars Battlefront is also available on Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 453 of the podcast at 93:03.

I’m a big fan of DICE, and I’ve been a big fan of Star Wars since I saw A New Hope when I was five years old. So mixing the two together is an exciting prospect for me, and everything that I’d seen before the game launched simply looked amazing.

I’ve taken a while to soak everything in with Star Wars Battlefront, first to make sure that I cover as much as I can, but also because there seems to be a lot of outcry from the internet, and I’ve struggled to fully understand it. Let’s dig in!

Gameplay:
Overall, the core gameplay is similar to what we’ve experienced in the Battlefield series. The difference mainly lies in the fact that there aren’t specific classes anymore. This fact is actually the crux of many of the complaints that Star Wars Battlefront receives, and I can definitely agree with those frustrations.

I’m not sure if it was an attempt to simplify the experience to draw in a wider demographic, or if it was merely their way of balancing the game more than what they achieved in the Battlefield games. Either way it’s a lot of work to get used to it for veterans of DICE’s past offerings in the genre.

Of course, there are variances from those other games which exist mostly to mold things around the Star Wars aesthetic, and it’s incredibly well done. For every game that pulls you into a movie universe ever made, Battlefront sets the new standard in spades. You really do feel like you’re in the middle of those epic battles from the movies, but that’s also where not being able to play as a specific class really annoys.

I usually played the Engineer in the past Battlefield games because I really like playing the support role and I love taking the heavy machinery out of the equation. How DICE have compensated for this change is interesting and it definitely takes some getting used to. Quite frankly, I’ll never like it as much as having an actual class to build-up.

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Taking a step back though, let’s talk about how weapons and perks are handled. Since there aren’t any classes, all of the unlockable weapons and perks are available from the start by using Credits earned in matches. Of course, some of the upper-tier items only become available at higher ranks. So they’re still making you grind a bit for those “cool” unlocks like unusual character skins and better perks cards which I’ll talk about in a bit.

Every blaster, rifle, grenade, and uniform/species is straight out of the Star Wars universe and this only helps the immersion factor. You’ll have eleven different blasters to choose from, including famous guns used by Han Solo and the “standard” Stormtrooper. All eleven have four different attributes: Damage, Rate of Fire, Range, and Cooling Power.

All-in-all, it’s a good array of weaponry and I’m pretty confident that you’ll find at least one that fits your needs. One attribute that changes the way you play is the “Cooling Power”, because instead of hitting Square to reload, you either need to lay-off the trigger a bit or wait for the gun to cool down before you can use it again.

They even give you a “quick cool down” opportunity reminiscent of the Gears of War games where you can hit Square at a specific point on the cool down guage, cooling it instantly. If you get to be proficient at the timing, they really screw with you and make the point on the gauge smaller if you continually nail it.

… the ability to take to the skies or drive vehicles …
A new mechanic that we haven’t seen before is how you set your weapons/perks up for battle and it’s based around your two hands. After you pick your primary weapon, you’ll be able to set up a “hand” which is comprised of two secondary slots. Here you can equip things like Thermal Detonators or a Pulse Cannon which is a single slot Sniper weapon, and a Mod card which gives you a timed ability such as Focus Fire or a Personal Shield.

All three slots have specific cool down durations but if you find a comfortable combo, you can be quite effective in a battle. As you progress up the ranks, you’ll even open the other hand allowing you to free it up as an alternate. You can only use one hand at a time since your Primary Weapon is in the other.

It’s a nice option since there may be different types of battles that require a different loadout. Even further, you can gain an opportunity to use your Partner’s hand as well, giving you a chance to use perks and items that you may not have unlocked for yourself yet. We’ll touch on the Partner system in Multiplayer.

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Not only will you pound the ground in Star Wars Battlefront, you’ll also have the ability to take to the skies or drive vehicles such as an AT-ST, Speeder Bike, or even control the head of an AT-AT, among others. In the air, you’ll be able to fly the A-Wing, X-Wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Bomber, or if you find the Hero icon you can fly Slave 1 or the Millennium Falcon!

Flying actually isn’t too bad once you get the hang of it and one of the modes is actually all about air battles and can be a lot of fun. The same goes for vehicles on the ground. Strewn throughout the battlefields, you’ll encounter glowing icons indicating either upgrades to your abilities, the ability to play as a “Hero”, or to drive/fly a vehicle.

… the best representation of the Star Wars universe in video game form …
Hold the indicated buttons and you’ll either transport into said “Hero” or into the vehicle indicated. It’s an interesting counter to the standard “rush to the vehicles” that usually happens at the beginning of a round in a Battlefield game. Honestly I’d say this is one of the best changes that they’ve made from what we’ve been used to for so long from DICE.

The biggest change in gameplay though is that you’re using laser blasts instead of bullets, something that I could never get used to in the original Battlefront games from the PC/PS2 days. The timing is just a bit different, there’s no bullet drop to account for, and aiming down the sites just seems a bit off from what I’m used to from all of the other first-person shooter I’ve played in the past.

Maybe that’s a personal hurdle that I need to get past, but it is something that affects the way I play the game. It’s also something that’s quite ingrained in the way I’ve played almost every FPS since the genre first appeared.

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With all of this though, once I got used to the change in familiar mechanics, I really fell in love with the gameplay. Sure, part of it is probably that it’s the best representation of the Star Wars universe in video game form, but it is also a really fun game to play once you get past the learning curve if you’re a veteran.

In terms of solo options, you’re limited to the Missions Mode which allows one or two players to play what’s essentially a horde mode. You’re dropped into situations with mission objectives like “guard that thing” or “eliminate so many enemies”. While it can be fun for a while, and can be a good starting point to familiarize yourself with some of the gameplay mechanics, the fun-factor washed quickly away for me. Most of the game is built for online multiplayer and I’m completely fine with that.

… nothing can pull you out of this rich universe …
Visuals:
The screenshots in this review simply don’t do the visuals justice. If you’re a fan of anything Star Wars at all, prepare to be blown away. The Frostbite 3 engine shines in every aspect and the attention to detail is unimaginably impressive.

Textures are full of detail, lighting affects every pixel, animation is superb, and the effects are numerous. No matter if something is far away or directly in your path, nothing can pull you out of this rich universe that DICE has recreated.

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One aspect that stands out so much for me is the scale, both in the size of the levels and the fact that in the largest battles you’ve got thirty-nine other players to contend with. Even more impactful are the AT-AT’s and AT-ST’s in the Walker Assault mode, which are simply immense.

It sounds cliché but you really do feel like you’re in the middle of the battles that we’ve seen on the big screen for so many years. It’s a feeling that I can’t even describe. As a fan of the series since I was five, this game is finally the realization of what I always wanted as a videogame version of one of my favorite things. Also, it’s simply one of the best looking games that I’ve ever seen, Star Wars or not. It truly has set the bar for visuals in a videogame.

… the familiar tones of a thermal detonator at your feet …
Audio:
Acting as the perfect companion to the amazing visuals, everything that you would expect from a Star Wars game is here. From the memorable scores of John Williams to Slave 1 screaming past, your mouth will involuntarily open wide when your ears are attacked from all directions.

Surround sound is in full effect too, utilizing every channel your system offers. TIE fighters tear across the sky as laser blasts hit the walls behind you, then you hear the familiar tones of a thermal detonator at your feet, and everything sounds perfect all the time.

Star Wars Battlefront is the game that you’ll fire up when you want to show off your cool audio setup, or of course, when you want to crush someone’s senses with your cool new gaming headphones. It’s everything you’d expect and more.

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Online/Multiplayer:
As I said above, Star Wars Battlefront is really built from the ground-up as an online multiplayer experience, and they get most things right. My experience has been mostly fantastic online with no perceivable lag issues, except for launch day, which is usually expected in this day and age.

Matchmaking seems to work well, but the complete lack of a server browser limits your chances to play online with more than a couple of friends. It’s a huge limiting factor to how much we actually play this game now. Furthermore, the ability to create an in-game squad has been completely eliminated and instead you now only have the ability to connect with a “Partner”, and even then, making that connection has been problematic at times.

… regressing like this simply boggles my mind …
Being able to play with my friends is essential to me and that’s one area that Battlefront completely falls short. Even when friends try to join into the server that I’m playing on, a connection gets dropped or that person has to wait in a queue since the matchmaking always puts you into a “nearly full server”. It actually says that when it’s connecting your session. In these modern times on this newer platform that offers infinitely better connectivity than the past, regressing like this simply boggles my mind.

When you finally get into a game with a decent number of your friends, it’s a great experience. You just can’t act as a squad as you can in Battlefield 4 or Hardline which makes me rethink if I’m going to play the game or not. Playing with my friends is WHY I’m playing a specific game, and for me, the worst online experience is when I’m forced to play with “randoms”. Unfortunately, it seems like that’s Battlefront wants me to do.

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In terms of modes, there’s a fair amount of options, even though there’s not really an “original” mode in the mix, they’re just named differently than what you’re used to.

Blast = Team Deathmatch
Heroes vs. Villains = Elimination (Played with all of the “Hero” Characters)
Drop Zone = Headquarters
Supremacy = Uplink
Walker Assault = Rush (my favorite mode in Battlefront btw)
Fighter Squadron = Team Deathmatch with airships, with one objective in the mix
Cargo = Capture the Flag
Droid Run = Conquest with moving objectives
Hero Hunt = Hero Mode (from Warhawk)
Turning Point (Battle of Jakku map) = Essentially Rush mode on a larger scale

The amount of modes is impressive and appreciated, but what you’ll start to notice is that some modes only include a subset of the twelve available maps. So in Walker Assault, the map rotation only includes four locales. While I love that mode, the limited content can get tiresome after a while and this is another area that has generated frustration in the gaming communities.

I’m not going to climb up on my soapbox to argue the current dependence by publishers on leaning heavily on Season Passes, but how content is being handled in Star Wars Battlefront is creating a lot of controversy and I tend to agree with those complaints.

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Conclusion:
So, there we have it. I do really love this game but sometimes it simply feels like there’s not enough if it to play. I worry when it seems like the Season Pass for a game will actually hold as much or even more content than the core game, and it seems that I’m not the only one with those concerns this time.

On the plus side, what’s here is truly amazing in just about every way. But the limited online system and what feels like a purposeful effort to keep me from playing with my friends has made me play this game much less than I expected.

It’s also baffling that I have to wait for months to get the full effect of this game as I wait for more and more DLC content to be released. My fear is that by the time that content becomes available, I simply may not care anymore. Kudos to DICE for recreating Star Wars better than I ever expected though, it’s damned impressive.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • J.D. Dabbs

    The recent update added new models for Luke and Han on Hoth, but they were very severe with the nerf bat. Everyone that complained about the homing missiles got their wish as it is near useless, now. The Pulse Cannon is rising as the most exploited single-shot weapon.
    Sadly, they also heavily emphasize kill counts in the scores, which is a terrible thing to do in Walker Assault where objectives determine the win or loss of the team. As it is, games very quickly degrade to massive death matches. They should have just opened up the Walker maps to be 40-player Blast modes.
    With my style of play, I start in a good mood and ready to enjoy Star Wars goodness. Within a couple of hours I am frustrated as heck and quit for days.
    There really is not much replay value once you cap at 50 with all your cards upgraded as I have.

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