Star Wars Battlefront stays on target for legions of superfans

Launching ahead of The Force Awakens, EA's multiplayer online shooter Star Wars Battlefront overflows with reverence for its source material. But does that make it a good video game in 2015?

Online multiplayer shooter available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC

The Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back has been recreated in video games countless times, but never as convincingly as in Star Wars Battlefront. (DICE/Electronic Arts)

The first thing you'll notice in Star Wars Battlefront is the sound.

John Williams's timeless score blares as the title card recedes into the screen just as it does in the classic films.

R2-D2's beep-boops spatter over the minimalist menu. Soon after you join the battlefield, blaster rifles fill the air with the familiar, metallic echoing pew-pews innovated by Ben Burtt and guarded closely by Skywalker Sound.

TIE fighters scream as they strafe the battlefield. And, if you listen closely, the crackling hum of a lightsaber indicates the nearby presence of a certain Jedi.

Star Wars Battlefront, published by Electronic Arts and developed by DICE, is the latest marketing salvo launched just ahead of the new film, The Force Awakens.

It overflows with reverence for the source material — but does that make it a good video game in 2015?

The Millennium Falcon and Slave I are absurdly overpowered in the Fighter Squadron mode, but if you're sticking to the fiction they probably should be. (DICE/Electronic Arts)

Empire vs. Rebel Alliance

Players gather in multiplayer games that pit foot soldiers from the Empire and Rebel Alliance against each other. EA and DICE hedge their bets with the legions of fans of the original trilogy. You won't find a whiff of the newer, prequel films in Battlefront.

Most of the nine multiplayer game types you'll find follow the conventions of online shooters that gamers have become used to in the last decade or so.

Blast is a standard deathmatch, in which the team that gets the most number of kills within the time limit wins.

Fighter Squadron puts you in the middle of a dogfight between X-Wings and TIE Fighters. It will spark memories of the excellent Rogue Squadron games in some fans, but only one mission type renders it a fun distraction at best.

Power-ups in Fighter Squadron allow you to pilot the Millennium Falcon or Boba Fett's Slave I. They're absurdly overpowered, but it feels appropriate in what is admittedly a casual mode.

Most of the action in Battlefront is a shoot-em-up between Rebel and Empire infantry. (DICE/Electronic Arts)

20 vs. 20 in marquee modes

The star attractions are Supremacy and Walker Assault, chaotic 20-on-20 battles that take place on gigantic maps.

In Supremacy, each team has to occupy the most strategic points on the map, up to a maximum of five, while keeping the enemy from doing the same.

In Walker Assault, the Rebels have to take down massive Imperial AT-AT walkers before they reach the opposite end of the map, while the Empire has to defend them.

Some modes let you play as heroes and villains from the films: the Rebels have Luke, Leia and Han Solo, while the Empire has Darth Vader, Boba Fett and Emperor Palpatine. Each comes with his or her own unique abilities, but they never really mesh with the foot soldier run-and-gun foundation.

Seeing Luke throw half a dozen Stormtroopers with his Force Push is fun the first few times. Seeing the Emperor jogging through the snow on Hoth is preposterous.

The charming trashcan-like 'gonk' power droid is the star of Battlefront's capture-the-flag mission mode. (DICE/Electronic Arts)

Gorgeous (wasted?) level design

Besides the superbly authentic sound design, the levels are the real stars of the show. Battlefront launched with 13 maps on four locations. Three are instantly recognizable from the original films: the deserts of Tattooine, the icy Hoth and the forest moon of Endor.

We've been here in literally dozens of Star Wars games before, but they have never looked this good. Endor's thick forest and babbling brooks feel ripped from other exploration-heavy games like The Witcher 3.

Sullust, mentioned in passing in Return of the Jedi but never seen, is a welcome surprise: a volcanic world with lava flows and azure rivers streaking across a blackened rocky landscape in equal measure.

It's a shame that these gorgeous vistas are used solely for spastic online multiplayer. Stop for even a second to admire the scenery, and someone else will probably shoot you in the back.

Sullust was mentioned in passing in Return of the Jedi, but never seen. DICE took creative licence to turn it into a volcanic landscape. (DICE/Electronic Arts)

Throwaway single-player modes

Battlefront's single-player options are sparse. Training and Mission modes are only there to teach you the basics and whet your appetite for the online portion of the game.

Survival has you fighting off increasingly powerful waves of enemies, and it throws in enough side objectives along the way to keep things interesting.

It stings with wasted potential, since even the meagre offerings here, with maybe 30 seconds of cut scenes and character dialogue, are full of Star Wars flavour. A fleshed out storyline mode would be a wonder to behold and make it feel like a total package instead of a handful of context-less skirmishes.

You can play as main characters, including Luke Skywalker, in some of Battlefront's mission types, but the novelty wears off before long. (DICE/Electronic Arts)

For Star Wars fans first, obviously

What you get out of Star Wars Battlefront, then, depends on what you're looking for.

Unlike other shooters such as Battlefield or Call of Duty there isn't much in the way of unlockable skills or weapons. Anyone looking for a more robust first-person shooter will probably be more satisfied with Battlefield or Call of Duty.They will probably have seen everything they need to see in about 10 hours or so.

The thing is, lots of games let you shoot other people online. Only Battlefront lets you do that while standing on an AT-AT, as a commander yells, "Destroy the Rebel scum!" repeatedly in your intercom.

The relative simplicity of the multiplayer action makes it more accessible for only occasional gamers to jump in without getting bogged down in the details.

Fans will have to pony up for that fan service, though. This big budget video game costs $80 Canadian at retail. A season pass, which promises new characters, modes and maps throughout the year, will cost you $70 on top of that.

Only the Battle of Jakku mini-expansion, which takes place in the new location in The Force Awakens, will be free for players when it launches Dec. 8.


Jonathan Ore


Jonathan Ore is a writer and editor for CBC Radio Digital in Toronto. He regularly covers the video games industry for CBC Radio programs across the country and has also covered arts & entertainment, technology and the games industry for CBC News.


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