Reviewed: December 30, 2004
Released: September 20, 2004
The best thing about Star Wars games is that if you donít like whatís currently out there, wait a few weeks and something else will come along. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration but there is no denying the plethora of Star Wars titles since George branched his empire into computer games. And what better source material - the Star Wars universe is a rich one and the source of countless works of fan fiction, independent films, and computer games.
But what happens when you try to create a game based on a story-rich universe and not include a story? Star Wars: Battlefront. Battlefront is the latest Star Wars action title to arrive, this time from Pandemic Studios, hot off their hit release, Full Spectrum Warrior. Those looking for some epic new installment in the continuing Star Wars saga had better keep looking, but for those who enjoy games specifically targeted for cooperative multiplayer, this might be for you.
Battlefront could easily be summed up as Unreal Tournament with a Star Wars facelift. In fact, given enough time, I would have expected to see something like this for the PC version of UT2004 if the Lucas legal department didnít systematically stomp out such third-party works like an Imperial Walker.
The first thing I noticed is that this game has no production values whatsoever. I canít remember the last game that didnít feature some cool little animation for the LucasArts gold guy. I canít say that anymore. I canít remember a Star Wars game that didnít have a story or a reason to play. I canít say that anymore.
Battlefront is basically a collection of all the significant battles from the Star Wars films. The locations and the situations are recreated and you can choose to play as the evil Empire or the rebelliousÖerrÖrebellion. The stage is set and the rules are strictly in place for what it takes to win as you engage in mindless combat, either alone, with bots, or hopefully online if you want to have any chance for some fun.
Battlefront offers Historic Campaigns or Galactic Conquest, basically a Star Wars version of Risk. In Historic mode you pick your side and play through a series of battles that spans all the key events of the movies. There are a few bits and pieces of film footage, nothing near the scale of Rogue Squadron, and there are some fairly lame mission briefings that are neither attractive or terribly informative.
Galactic Conquest drops the pretense of any organization and puts you on a star map where you attempt to conquer the galaxy one planet at a time. Each planet consists of two maps and when you win those battles you win the planet and can then branch off to either of two new planets. If you lose a battle the computer will fight back trying to take over one of your planets. Itís a big game of acquisition through attrition.
This mode also offers some nifty feature like key planets that will reward the ďownerĒ with special battle perks such as heroes and army enhancements. The only problem with all of this potential is that it is wasted away on lackluster AI and a game that is so easy you are never compelled to explore these new features.
AI is deplorable, especially coming from a developer that just released a killer military strategy sim. Computer-controlled troops seem to be on some location-sensitive triggering system so they only react when they are near an enemy or something they can use. And when they do hop aboard a speeder or tank their driving is just as twitchy and dangerous.
The AI deficiency carries over into your team as well. They act and react with equal stupidity to the point where it actually interferes with your efforts to become a one-man army. Youíll be running for a speeder only to have an AI teammate jump in and drive around in circles or into a cliff.
Itís easy to see this game was intended for multiplayer from the onset. There is just nothing here for the single player. The Xbox version supports up to 16-player matches, a step down from the 24 players on the PS2 and the 32 on the PC (50 if you are on a LAN). And therein lies Battlefrontís only saving grace. If you are in this game for the online or system link multiplayer matches then feel free to add a point to the gameplay and overall score. Personally, I believe a game has to cater to both the single and the multiplayer gamer and I just canít score it any higher.
Despite the lack of story and presentation there are some true ďStar WarsĒ moments with plenty of familiar faces, locations, and all sorts of technologies specifically created to wage war. Taking control of a walker and stomping across Hoth or shredding through the forests of Endor, or racing speeders around the Sarlak pit on Tatooine are just a few inspired elements in this game.
Both the Empire and the Rebellion are fairly well balanced, both as a whole and with individual units. Admittedly, the Empire has some impressive technology but the rebel forces can use some teamwork and guerilla warfare to overcome most of it. Playing as either side offers its own unique challenge and it will take some time to master each sideís playing style.
The levels are generally large enough to accommodate a full complement of soldiers but can be rather small for the faster-moving vehicles. Control points are strategically scattered and require some finesse in capturing and holding, but some of the scenarios for actually winning a mission are tightly scripted and rather limiting. You either do it Pandemicís way (which follows the movies) or you donít win.
Perhaps I just never got over not having the animated gold guy logo at the beginning of my game, but I found the entire Battlefront visual package rather bland. The menus, mission briefings, and everything leading up to actual gameplay was all function and no form.
Once in the game things start to get better. The landscapes are nicely textured and rich with detail, especially levels like Endor. It easily edges out the PS2 version in overall detail but pales in comparison to the PC version. The units are detailed enough so they are distinct and easy to recognize from a distance. They even sport some decent animation even though itís a bit odd seeing a Trade Federation droid crawling through the tall grass of Naboo.
Special effects run rampant with real-time lighting, including colored lighting effects for the various laser blasts and explosions. Units and vehicles cast realistic shadows and there is a prevailing heat distortion effect over the battlefield that gives everything a subtle war zone hazing.
The mission briefings wonít be winning any awards but the rest of the game is rich with the Dolby Digital sounds of war. Units all have distinct sounds as well as verbal acknowledgements. Lasers zip around from all directions and explosions rock your sub-woofer. Walkers thump with each step and speeders whine across the dunes of Tatooine.
The music is classic Star Wars with all of your favorite themes from the movies and some original score to enhance the intense battles. Of course, there is full support for the Communicator so a lot of the audio will be you talking with your team.
Youíll likely tire of the solo gameplay long before you finish, but if you do manage to stick it out you will find about 10-12 hours of solid fighting waiting for you in the Historic mode and another 8 hours in the Galactic Conquest.
Going online is more of a battle finding the right group of gamers to play with. Thereís no ranking or friends list so matchmaking is a bit limited. Dedicated online gamers will probably milk another 20-30 hours out of the game before they get tired or move on to something else.
I was surprised and disappointed that there was no support for future content, or at least none indicated on the back of the box. Apparently we donít need to hold our breath for new levels or units.
There arenít a lot of Xbox games going after the exclusive online crowd these days, so if that is what you are looking for then Star Wars: Battlefront will likely please you a lot more than it did me. Donít get me wrong, I enjoy a good online session as much as the next gamer, but I donít want my sole enjoyment of a game to be dependent on somebody else, and this is one game that demands cooperative gameplay.
For those looking to relive your favorite battles from the Star Wars universe, this is the single-best compilation of battle scenarios going. What it lacks in presentation it makes up for in intense gameplay with plenty of authentic Star Wars flavor.