My female TIE Fighter pilot quips about the superiority of Imperial training as a Rebel ship is incinerated in flames. I bring the ship around to face the ongoing ground battle beneath me, seeing explosions balloon on the ground as two huge AT-ATs lumber on through the snow. At this point I just grin to myself, this is exactly what I was hoping for.
Over my entire life in one way or another I’ve imagined being the pilot of an X-Wing or TIE Fighter, whether that was video games, toys or tabletop games. The most memorable instance was at 10 years old, when I was obsessed with Rogue Squadron on the Nintendo 64, I would play it over and over and over. I couldn’t get enough of how true it felt to Star Wars. Of course I had played and enjoyed the earlier X-Wing and TIE fighter games, but it was Rogue Squadron that really made me feel like I was there in the cockpit.
Over the years I’ve tried to recapture that feeling, with video games like the earlier Battlefront games or even Rogue Squadron‘s sequels on the GameCube, but I never really felt that same sense of wonder. I’ve pondered since if maybe I was just the right age when the original game dropped, old enough to appreciate the gameplay and the story, but still young enough to suspend my disbelief that it was, of course, just a video game running on some seriously limited hardware. Either way, Rogue Squadron was finally knocked off of its plinth last week with the Battlefront beta. It was easily the most fantastically authentic Star Wars battlefield experience I’ve ever played. It made me momenterily forget about gameplay and kill counts and other technical features, all I did was just enjoy the feeling of being in the Star Wars galaxy again.
A Star Wars game that finally looks like Star Wars…
After spending about 8-10 hours with the Star Wars Battlefront beta I’ve come away with one resounding reaction: nobody has imitated Star Wars‘ cinematic battles this well before. Sure, there have been some great attempts in the past, but the hardware limitations have always gotten in the way of immersion. We’ve finally hit the point where the hardware is good enough for this to really look like Star Wars. I may have adored Rogue Squadron as a kid but you had to look beyond the blocky graphics for what you wanted the game to look like, not necessarily what it did look like. But with Battlefront it finally looks the way you’d expect it to, the way you remember from the movies.
Everything about the game mimics the movies to an exceptional level of detail. It even sounds like Star Wars with the iconic music and unforgettable scream of TIE Fighter engines, clanking of AT-AT legs and of course the hum of lightsaber blades. For hardcore Star Wars fans this is little less than wish fulfilment.
One thing I really appreciate is that developer DICE have taken it a step further by adding some diversity into the mix. As already implied, there are female pilots and Stormtroopers, matching the new canon. It would have been lazy but almost understandable to only see male Stormtroopers, as with the original trilogy, but that’s thankfully not the case. Furthermore we see welcome examples of racial diversity too which at the same time also implies the character customisation will come with some solid diversity options.
But is there enough content underneath?…
If I painfully set aside my ferocious Star Wars fandom for a second and try look at the game objectively, I admit I do see cracks and questionable choices; Characters are stunningly vulnerable to sudden unexpected death, respawn locations sometimes plop you directly in the line of fire, the Hoth Walker Assault map is unbalanced, starfighters equally seem unbalanced with the X-Wing clearly a much superior ship, the firefight-esque co-op mode seems thin and dull leaving me to suspect it was potentially only tossed in to quieten those looking for single player content. Yet, all of these quibbles aside, the game is so, so satisfying to play.
Again, ignoring the Star Wars shaped elephant in the room, it’s impossible to deny how gorgeous the game is, it’s probably the best looking game on the PS4 right now. Animations look natural and it’s almost easy to forget that’s another person controlling these characters, especially when that Rebel solider arcs her back in pain upon being fired upon, or the Stormtrooper stumbles to the ground under a hail of blaster shots. The background fluff of all three of the beta’s maps also contributes plenty of immersion, as the environments stretch out into the distance and huge ships loom overhead. It gives your battles a feeling of context in a wider war.
My only concern is the breadth of content. We can see the other modes available for play, but we only have access to three modes and three maps for this beta. However from those I’ve spoken with we’re in agreement that Walker Assault is the only way to play. The smaller more traditional map is still entertaining, but noticeably bland and soulless compared to marching across Hoth. Will this problem plague the full game? It’s impossible to tell for now. But if the spectacle of Hoth wears off and Battlefront lacks many other substantive experiences then the game could dry up fast.
However, this brief glimpse of the game was enough to convince me I need to pick it up. If you’re fairly ambivalent to Star Wars you’ve got a tougher decision ahead of you, but for the rest of us who get giddy at the idea of jumping onto a speeder bike on Endor or flying the Millennium Falcon through a horde of Imperial ships, then the decision is a lot more black and white.
Roll on November!