Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
It's hard to believe that Pandemic Studios shut down the way it did, especially with its line-up of games being so well-received. We're talking stuff like The Saboteur and the Mercenaries games, which gave you a full scope of control – and the ability to create mayhem – across various levels.
But of course, the studio is best known for its Star Wars Battlefront franchise, where you could wage war in the popular sci-fi universe either with the good guys or the Dark Side, using a variety of characters and items. Fortunately, EA has opted not to let this series go the way of the dodo as its developer did, bringing in DICE to create a multiplayer experience for new players and fans alike to enjoy. Now the real question is, does the new Star Wars Battlefront work? Thankfully, it appears that all those virtual Botham spies didn't die for nothing…
A New Kind of Force
As you may already realize, Battlefront is built more as a multiplayer experience, without any single player campaign to speak of. That may be a sore spot for some who were looking to recreate iconic moments from the movies, but it's not the end of the world. There are a handful of fun offline missions that sit in its place, getting you primed for the multiplayer action that lies ahead. You can also play them along with friends, if you feel like brushing up on your team tactics, but there's no real staying power to be found here.
The real joy comes from the massive battles strewn across multiple modes within the game. Some are obviously better than others – the Capture-the-Flag-esque Cargo doesn't have the same chutzpah as the 40-player Walker Assault – but the variety here is staggering. Feel like playing as a Hero hunting down other Hero characters? There's a mode for that. Want to get your Ace Combat skills up to speed in aerial combat? There's a mode for that. And, of course, Walker Assault is huge in scope, and a hell of a lot of fun – even if the Empire has that slight advantage.
The fact that there are so many multiplayer options is helpful to Battlefront, and DICE appears to have learned its lesson from the painful online woes of Battlefield, as we haven't run into a hiccup yet with our gameplay sessions. Each one connects rather quickly, and thrusts us right into the thick of the action (well, maybe not – it takes a few seconds to sprint to where all the enemies are). The fact it can run so smoothly speaks volumes for EA's consideration to the online community – give it a shot and you'll see. Unlike many online-focused shooters in recent years, server issues haven't been an issue in Battlefront's first days.
You Are Not a Jedi Yet, But You Will Be
In addition to strong multiplayer options, Battlefront also has a pretty good experience system where you can level up your player and unlock new items for them, including weapon-based Star Cards that give you new abilities, as well as accessories for your on-screen character – although it's not as plentiful as you might think. What I wouldn't give for an Admiral Ackbar rubber mask.
All the same, there's a ton to unlock here, including some great new weapons that make a difference, such as a powerful explosive that levels a large portion of the playing field, an orbital strike that works to similar effect as an air strike (but it's much cooler with Star Wars vehicles), and so much more. You'll be busy for a while leveling up and getting to your Emperor Palpatine status.
As for the gameplay, it's vintage DICE, but with a few contemporary touches to make the Battlefront series feel more right at home in the modern era. The aiming of each of your weapons feels spot on, and the ability to switch between DICE-preferred first-person and the classic Pandemic third-person on the fly is a superb option, really changing the perspective of battle. There may be times when the balance seems off – especially when a Hero enters the fray – but overall, the gameplay feels great.
"Look At the Size of That Thing!"
While Star Wars: Battlefront only utilizes a small selection of planets – Sullust, Tattooine, Endor and, of course, Hoth – it makes the most of them with some intricately designed maps, with plenty of interiors and exteriors. On top of that, the game is just absolutely beautiful, running at a fluid frame rate and featuring little touches here and there that stem from the Star Wars universe. You won't find a better looking Star Wars game on the market right now – even the enormous Disney Infinity 3.0 pales in comparison.
In addition, the music is superb, making use of various classic John Williams themes on top of some original ones for good measure. The audio effects are also spot-on, from blaster sounds to the "schoom" of your lightsaber when you swing it. The voicework can be hit or miss – sometimes pilots or fellow soldiers can be a bit annoying – but it tries to stay the course for the most part as well, so we'll allow it.