The announcement of a new Battlefront had me excited beyond belief. The previous game was a joyful Star Wars experience, containing interesting planets new and old, a variety of modes and the ability to play as the universe’s four factions: the Empire, the Rebel Alliance, the Galactic Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems, each with their own styles and weaponry. The greatness of Battlefront 2 was guaranteed to cross over to DICE’s new game.
And then, it wasn’t.
As details emerged about the sequel, unnervingly apparent flaws were continually surfacing. We learned it was to only have a handful of planets, one of which was free DLC; there would be no space battles; focus was to be on classic Star Wars atmosphere and visuals rather than exciting game play options; there would be no single player campaign; and, of course, it would only represent the original trilogy in terms of political factions and locations. All of these signs were far from good news.
However, when the on-foot gameplay was revealed during E3 this year, opinions changed to those of positivity, as EA showcased a game that was authentically Star Wars: exciting, vibrant and fun. But, after having played its newly added Fighter Squadron Mode at Gamescom this week, I can safely say that our concerns over Battlefront’s Spartan and perplexing qualities were one hundred percent warranted.
The battle in which EA had us warring was confined to flight combat around the skies of Sullust, a foggy, volcanic planet used to create the armaments of the Empire. Its lava-veined surface of red black rock looked perfect for an on-foot mission, with hiding spots, dangerous environmental obstacles and various levels of elevation, but unfortunately I was placed high above all of this; placed in a smoggy airspace that simultaneously reduced both visibility and fun. While I felt that the battle was frantic enough already, with enemy ships zooming around too quickly to hit, the cloud cover provided an extra hindrance. During a space or sky battle, whilst you’d expect that enemies should be able to evade your attacks, it was nigh on impossible to take any advantage whatsoever over my TIE fighter antagonists due to no lock-on function being available. I would reduce a ship’s health bar to half, only to have them speed off in a random direction and become lost amongst the fog. This was a frequent and frustrating feature of Battlefront’s dogfights throughout the entire demo.
The objective of each round was also as unclear as the sky in which they were fought. At the beginning of a match, a rundown of tasks would be given, but when playing, the objectives would wildly change from one to another. Multiple markers would remain on screen at all times: some would point towards enemies, others would point to God knows what. Every moment of the demo was lacking in clarity and direction.
Further deficiencies could be found in the design of Battlefront’s bare bones X Wings. I’ve already mentioned the missing lock-on function, but the Rebel Alliance seemed to have crafted a hollow shell of a vehicle. The X Wings failed to feature a substantial boost mechanic – a staple and an enjoyable characteristic of Battlefront 2’s fighter ships – nor did they contain any interesting weaponry beyond a set of small and heavy guns. I understand that DICE’s focus has been on authenticity, and although the X Wings in the movies may only have two simple weapons, a number of useful and entertaining pickups could add more variety to each confrontation. The sounds and visual design of each ship are masterful, but their extreme lack of ordinance became repetitive after only two rounds of play. If the entire game consists of these baffling ship battles, then a very boring and barren experience is sure to come.
Perhaps DICE can improve the lacklustre nature of their Fighter Squadron Mode before release, but for now, it remains a clumsy extra which unfortunately paints a discouraging picture for the rest of the game. The ground combat may be stellar, the cockpit views may be amazing, but Battlefront’s ship combat stands as a frantic mess, lacking in any substance past a slew of authentic Star Wars sound bites.