Thursday, November 19, 2015

A review of Star Wars Battlefront: best casual shooter you'll find out there

When I heard the female stormtrooper talking* I knew Star Wars had just been yanked in to the 21st century, and in a good way. It almost immediately seems weird to me now that there were no female stormtroopers in the original Star Wars films. Gender equality with galactic opression FTW!

Star Wars: Battlefront Preliminary Review (Xbox One Edition)

I've logged a few hours on Star Wars: Battlefront now, both with myself and playing co-op with my son (who will be 4 as of next week, so keep that in mind as I continue). It's a very fun, polished game that provides not just a really faithful rendering of Star Wars in a shooter format, but honestly one of the most polished, bug-free and nicest looking experiences this year. It's very pretty, and for Star Wars fans its a ton of eye candy.

However, the game is essentially four arenas (worlds) with a mix of ground pounding and aerial dog fighting. The ship combat is AMAZING and I am shocked to find that not only is it intuitive but I'm damned good at it. I've never been good at something like this before, so I assume I'm not actually that good, just better than everyone else who sucks more. Or something. My son so far is very, very good as slamming his fighter into the Tatooine desertscape, but eventually even he was able to take on a medley of TIE fighters and win a couple times.

The solo and co-op play modes consist of five training missions (that are actually quite fun and don't have that hideous on-rails training approach), eight combat arenas where you fight enemy AI or a buddy (mixed between normal troops and "hero" modes), and four survival arenas where you can solo or co-op against fifteen waves of enemies. Most importantly, it offers co-op split-screen multiplayer, something Halo 5 ditched which was a huge mistake for that franchise.

The solo and co-op modes suffer from one problem: you can pretty much play each one on the three modes of play to get extra unlocks, but after you've beaten each on the three levels of difficulty you probably won't care to keep replaying them. Even my son (he's almost 4, remember) was getting a little tired of replaying the same mode over and over after a couple hours. He's used to things like Star Wars Lego and Batman Lego, which have a lot of "busy work" in the game....he loves Star Wars" Battlefront but after you've used all your abilities and blown away a ton of storm troopers or rebel soldiers the game doesn't offer much more unless you move to multiplayer.

Multiplayer is more layered and I am still exploring it. I was shocked as I mentioned earlier to discover that not only do I find the starfighter controls really intuitive, but I'm apparently pretty good at it, averaging top three ratings in most of my play-throughs. That's just weird, as 3D dogfighting has been a video game element I've never been good at in the past (I think the PS1 Colony Wars was the last series I was able to play with any reasonable success, to give you an idea).

There are more multiplayer modes, but without exploring all of them yet I'll comment on the following: the game uses a card system to load special abilities and equipment. You have to earn these cards, and although I haven't poked around yet I am sure you'll have some game currency you can purchase in a RMT that lets you buy more cards (I think this was true in Battlefield 4 as well). I never spend money on this stuff, but apparently someone does.

Beyond that, so far I think it's safe to say that Star Wars: Battlefront is an excellent but very casual shooter experience. If you're looking for a hardcore multiplayer game to get you through the next year, this one's only going to work if you're like me, and will be lucky to get more than 5 hours a week in playing it. That said, I've found the feel and style of SWB to be possibly the best multiplayer experience yet, against the recent competition, and only CoD: Black Ops 3 wins out in the end because BO3 managed to both get the formula right and make for a very compeling, strategic new sort of gameplay experience. If you want hardcore multiplayer? Go to Black Ops 3. If you want a more casual experience that also won't teach your kid how to swear or make you wince at the gory death animations? Star Wars: Battelfront is your friend.

Here's a Pro and Con list:

  • It's got a smooth first-person and third-person mode.
  • Amazing, crisp graphics
  • Easy to figure out, even a 4 year old can play
  • Very family friendly; in fact possibly the only family-friendly game I've bought this season that didn't have "Lego" in the title
  • Has some single-player and co-op options, unlike say prior Battlefront games
  • Split-screen mode!!!!
  • Very easy to pick up and play; low complexity in design means long-term bar of entry is not set too high for the filthy casuals like myself
  • starship dogfighting is amazingly well done
  • Hardcore gamers will find the long-term complexity wanting
  • It looks like only 6 playable heroes at start (presumably more added with the DLC): Darth Vader, the Emperor, Boba Fett, Leia, Han and Luke
  • Why am I not seeing Ewoks on the Endor level, or are we just missing them? Why are there no Jawas on Tatooine I can shoot? (EDIT: They're lurking in certain multiplayer levels. But you can't shoot them...or at least, I can't successfully do so. Sigh)
  • Card-based power-ups might annoy people; if RMTs are tied in will annoy even more
  • So is there any arena in space for starships? Probably in DLC?
  • The solo and co-op modes are too brief; should have had more options and game modes available
  • Only four world arenas to start; they should have had double this number IMO but it looks like future modes are all end-loaded into the DLC
  • Battlefront's "you are leaving the combat zone" red warnings return.....GAAAAHHHHHH
Being a Filthy Casual Star Wars fan who's going to milk this for a lot of play time with his family, I'd giving it a solid A. But if you're child-free and hardcore, I think you'll rank this game a C at best and I would advise you to look to Black Ops 3 for the serious multiplayer (I'll see you there after my son goes to sleep). But.....

Should you buy it? I think anyone who's got a situation like I do (both young and old Star Wars fans in the house) and doesn't mind spending $60 will be okay.....but honestly, if money is a factor then it would make a lot of sense to wait until sometime next year when you could get the base game plus all DLC for $60 or less; the game as presented, with so much content planned for future release (I assume and hope) just feels too incomplete. That is both the hardcore gamer in me and the Reasonable Consumer in me speaking out....and because of that dearth of content I'd have to rank SWB a B- right now; it really does need more "stuff" to do.

(EDIT: I'm upgrading this to a A- because since I wrote this I've logged at least 1 or 2 hours a night in on the game, sometimes with my son, sometimes with multiplayer, and it not only hasn't gotten old but I'm pretty well addicted to it....neglecting the other multiplayer shooter fare on my plate pretty much entirely in favor of Star Wars: Battlefront. At least part of the reason is because it turns out the formula has more staying power than I thought. The other reason really is because--believe it or not--SWB manages to make for a very clean and friendly play environment; you do not see the weirdos and griefers, at least not right now, and I think it will be hard to see them in the future as the game is very carefully designed to mitigate opportunities for people to be jerks. You can't teabag, spawn points rotate with great efficiency making camping hard to do, if there's chat I haven't been impacted by it, and the game's underlying design is incredibly balanced and efficient. Most importantly: nothing within the game encourages asshattery, either; you do not have characters cursing at you for not stepping up your effin game like they do in Black Ops 3, for example. This is the cleanest and most enjoyable, relaxing yet fun shooter I've played in years.)

*The female stormtroopers in Star Wars don't just "fill a gap" in gender equality in Star Wars canon, they are a fundamental paradigm shift in Star Wars that retroactively changes how the original three movies feel: prior to this game, the original films depicted a monolithic empire that suppressed aliens and women from their ranks (if there was a female imperial anywhere in the original trilogy, I couldn't find her). Now, the Empire is oppressive to aliens alone, and both genders are equally involved in the inherent evil of the Empire....presumably in time for us to appreciate the cool female Chrometrooper Commander in The Force Awakens.

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