Star Wars: Battlefront
We like being evil, says LucasArts' David Zemke, as he lines up his Scout Trooper's sniper rifle sight at an Ewok and downs the cuddly creature with one sharp blast to the head. Star Wars Battlefront could well be the game that the hordes of rabid Lucas fans have been chewing their replica lightsabers for - a first- and third-person squadbased multiplayer shooter set on locations from all six movies and the extended universe.
This is Star Wars meets Battlefield 1942, says a brutally honest Zemke. We're putting people in the middle of the battle, giving them the ability to use any vehicle and be any character they want. You can choose any side or soldier and jump right in.
It's 7.30 in the evening and I've just arrived via minibus (complete with piped Star Wars music of course) to the Battlefront event, where San Francisco's National Park - the Presidio - is doing a mightily impressive job of doubling for the forest planet Endor. As well as shipping in legions of Stormtroopers and Rebels, LucasArts has set up tents with a 16-strong PC LAN, where I can sit and blast away at US journalists and the inhouse development team.
Although Battlefront is predominantly a multiplayer game, there are still three single-player modes for those less sociable gamers, with the ability to call on your Al squad-mates using simple one-key commands such as Follow Me' or Hold Position'. First, the Historical Campaign mode provides a story-based 17-mission experience across both the Clone War and the Civil War. Second,
Instant Action is just that - you can get straight into the battles and fight for any of the four factions (Imperials vs Rebels, or Clone Army vs Confederacy of Independent Systems) on any of the game's ten planets. These include Hoth, Tatooine and the Wookiee planet Kashyyyk from the upcoming Star Wars Episode III.
Finally, there's the Galactic Conquest mode, where you can create your own custom campaign and set off on a quest to rule the entire galaxy. Once you've conquered a planet, you unlock special bonuses to use in later levels, such as the Star Wars NPCs Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, who can bum through multiple enemies with their unique lightsaber weapons.
However, it's the online multiplayer element of Battlefront that's really getting us excited here today, with two of the 16 maps fully playable - Endor from Return Of The Jedi and Kamino from Attack Of The Clones.
The basic strategy behind the game is to dominate the battlefield by taking over control points by simply standing near them for a certain amount of time until they slowly change colour - red for the Rebels/Clones, white for neutral, green for the Imperials/CIS and yellow for various Al-controlled third factions. The process is painfully slow, but can be speeded up when additional members of your faction congregate around the marker. You also have other objectives for each map that can bleed your enemy's game points to zero much quicker if you capture them, such as the shield generator on the ice planet Hoth.
Each of the four sides has five distinct types of soldier class, each with different abilities and at least two weapon slots plus grenade and thermal detonator throwing using the right mouse button. So for example, the Rebels have a Soldier (armed with blaster rifle and pistol), Vanguard (missile launcher and pistol), Pilot (blaster cannon and pistol), Marksman (sniper rifle and pistol) and a Wookiee Smuggler (bowcaster and grenade launcher).
Since you last saw the game, we've beefed up certain classes such as the Pilot, who now has better equipment including a mortar launcher, the ability to build things, and dispense ammo and health packs, says Zemke. I decide to spawn on Endor as the Wookiee (of course) and immediately begin throwing grenades at the Imperial scum, one explosion flinging an unfortunate Stormtrooper several metres into the air. The enemy meanwhile have quickly leapt into their AT-STs and begun incinerating everything in the forest that comes within blasting distance of their colossal two-legged walkers - luckily the resourceful Ewoks have cleverly prepared lethal log traps, that I set off by shooting the ropes that hold them. Very cool indeed.
"The Ewoks are just one of many third factions you come across in Battlefront," continues Zemke. "On Tatooine you meet Tuskan Raiders, who are pretty tough and will try and take over spawn points in the middle of battle, regardless of whether you're playing as Imperials or Rebels. On Endor, the Ewoks run around and cause a lot of havoc, but as the Imperials you can actually shoot back. It brings out the mean streak in us, I don't know why - it's quite scary..."
Hitching A Ride
Soon after dropping my logs, I'm wiped out from distance by a sneaky Scout Trooper, so I decide to re-spawn as a Rebel pilot and have a crack at one of the most exciting aspects of Star Wars Battlefront - the vehicles.
As a Rebel, you can jump up and hijack vehicles such as an AT-ST (just like Chewbacca in The Empire Strikes Back) or if it's not occupied you can just hop in and take it over. Of course, as with the Battlefield games, several players or Al characters can take over the vehicles at once, with the largest craft, such as the Republic Gunship, allowing a maximum of six occupants. On the AT-ST I enjoyed enormous amounts of destruction, stomping around crushing Imperials underfoot, as my Rebel comrade from the LucasArts team shot at fleeing enemy troopers from a side window.
I then abandoned the smoking and damaged AT-ST to jump on a speeder bike, which proved to be rather different to control, accelerating much too quickly and careering spectacularly into the nearest tree. Let's face it - souped-up fast-moving vehicles and densely packed woodland aren't a good mix. However, once you get used to the handling, it really is a thrilling ride as you weave deftly in and out of the trees, taking pot-shots at Stormtroopers and rival speeders.
The battle maps are all different in look and feel, but also in how you play them," continued Zemke. The ice planet Hoth, for example, is a huge battlefield, so vehicles are a lot more important. That's why we also give you the opportunity to set up moving spawn points - the AT-ATs are actually moving points for the rebels, so that when you lump back into the game, you appear right beneath them."
What's very smart is that you can be the rear gunner at the back of the Snow Speeder who shoots the tow cable at the Imperial Walkers. Hoth has wide-open spaces and is great for multiplayer, but the team has also built in some indoor levels, with quick fighting in enclosed tunnels.
The rain-drenched ocean planet of Kamino is the next port of call, which involves an intense clash of Clone Troopers and the Droid Armies of the Separatists. The Droids have a decent selection of units, including the vicious plasma-pumping rolling robots the Droidekas, but it's the Clones, with the superb Jet Trooper unit that steals the show. A backpack icon on the top-right of the screen shows the limited energy for the jetpack, which regenerates after a short time. To use the jetpack, you double-tap on the default spacebar jump key to send your trooper zooming into the air - definitely the best use of this gameplay feature since Tribes. Myself and the 15 other networked players had a fantastic battle on Kamino using the Jet Troopers, flying outside between the different platforms and steep pathways that are built precariously above the raging sea below, while also having to hold the control room in the shiny-floored white surroundings of the base interior. All this while Jango Fett actor Temuera Morrison barks orders at you in his familiar New Zealand drawl. It's actually quite hilarious when you and a dozen other Clones are running and jetting close together towards the next control point, like a Star Wars version of Benny Hill.
David Zemke then took us on a virtual tour of some of the other ten planets in Star Wars Battlefront, beginning with the never-seen-before Outer Rim ice world of Rhen Var, on to Yavin IV containing the Rebel HQ and finishing with Bespin's Cloud City. We basically decided that if you're going to do a sky map, this is the best one to use," says Zemke. It turns into a sky battle with X-Wings and TIE fiqhters, but you can also touch down on the platforms and run into rooms to take over spawn points. It changes the nature of the game a little bit." So is there a Death Star map? "No, not in this game. But that'd be a great level, so we'll look at that for a possible future title or expansion." The version of Star Wars Battlefront we played was very much at the preAlpha stage, with some rough graphics round the edges and a lack of headset communication support, but it's already immensely playable and we're sure LucasArts will polish the game until it's shinier than C-3PO's ankles. Plus, the fact that Battlefront will be launching the same day as the feverishly awaited DVD edition of the original Star Wars trilogy, September 21 2004 will go down forever in the Jedi archives as the day responsible for the 'most sickies in a galaxy far, far away...
Welcome To Endor
Star Wars Battlefronts Stormtrooper And Rebel Meet-And-Greet: More Than Just A Picnic In The Woods
Having just become one of the first UK journalists to actually stay the night at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, I was already pretty fired up about Star Wars. However, the outdoor Battlefront event in San Francisco's National Park, the Presidio, was also very special, with dozens of Stormtroopers and Rebels lining the forest route up to specially constructed tents housing 16 PCs all connected via LAN. Also adding to the Endor atmosphere were the hidden speakers projecting Ewok chatter and a series of fires, echoing the ceremonial burning of Darth Vader in Return Of The Jedi. It's just a shame I forgot my Wookiee suit...
Download Star Wars: Battlefront
Begun, the Clone Wars most certainly have, but end in a protracted lawsuit, they quite possibly will. Impressed with the phenomenal success of EA's Battlefield 1942 franchise, LucasArts will soon, ahem, 'pay homage to' said series with a full-blown skirmish simulator of its own. Dubbed Star Wars Battlefront, the title should make 'large-scale online warfare' a household term when it ships this year. The only question is, will this be the online shooter Star Wars fans have always dreamed of, or another slap in the face for loyal Wars buffs? Obviously hopeful of the former, we tracked down the Battlefront bods at LucasArts for an early look at their new project. What we discovered was a game that builds cleverly on the Battlefield 1942 formula, as well as going out of its way to keep the fans (that's you) happy.
For the uninitiated, here's the gist. Participants plug in, link up, choose a team and blow each other sky high with an array of brand-specific weapons and vehicles. Like Battlefield, the main game sees you vying for control of a number of checkpoints in each map, and like Battlefield you can switch between firstand third-person perspectives at will. Learning from the fact that only one of Battlefield's modes (Conquest) is widely enjoyed, Battlefront offers only two major multiplayer modes - Instant Action and Galactic Conquest. And that's where the differences really begin.
"Gameplay in Battlefront is clearly similar to Battlefield 1942 in nature," admits LucasArts producer Jim Tso. "However, we want to immediately differentiate the titles, and we feel that adding a layer of strategy and depth between maps will achieve this." To wit, hostile exchanges aren't merely one-off encounters; they actually have a lasting effect on a campaign's outcome. In the Galactic Conquest mode, opposing teams literally compete for dominion over the known universe. Capture every checkpoint on a planet (usually involving winning at least two battle maps), and you gain control of that planet. Conquer all of the planets, including Hoth, Endor, Naboo, Tatooine and Geonosis, and the galaxy - and the game - is yours.
On top of this, if you manage to hold a territory for a certain period, your team will be awarded with one of a range of special attacks. These bonuses aren't simply gimmicks, either. If the Imperials control Tatooine for example, they can call upon Darth Vader for personal aid on the battlefield. And if you think the Dark Lord of the Sith isn't intimidating enough, control of Endor actually gives you access to the Death Star, which instantly vaporises an entire world. Bearing this in mind, it's a godsend that the Rebels can also seek occasional aid from heroes such as Luke Skywalker. As Tso suggests, "Features like this are going to impact gameplay in ways that audiences haven't even imagined yet."
A Wrinkle In Time
Needless to say, Battlefront is also a class-based affair, with over 20 character types spread across four factions: Rebel Alliance, Imperial Army, Clone Army and Battle Droids. Unfortunately, Jedi and Sith will only appear as NPCs, despite the fact that the game straddles both classic and prequel-era Star Wars. Not to worry though, as you'll still have some wildly different character classes to choose from, as each splinter group offers a distinctive selection of units. In keeping with the times, choices include scouts - sharpshooters armed with sniper rifles and probe droids - as well as low-level infantry types such as storm troopers and Rebel grunts. The ranks are further swelled by assault troopers, designed for anti-vehicular use, and pilots, the only class who can patch up damaged vessels. Unique selections also grace each political bloc, such as the Separatists' nigh-on unstoppable Droideka robot or the Republic's jetpack-equipped Specialist. The Rebel Spy should prove a favourite as well, given that these skilled confidence men can impersonate adversaries at will. Co-ordinated assaults will also be made easier by the inclusion of full voice-over IP technology. "Headset support is critical to team communication," comments Tso.
With four very different factions and the option to stage anachronistic matchups (say, Republic versus Battle Droids), replay value certainly won't be in short supply. Never mind that the purists will be up in arms.
Ride Or Die
Of course, there's also a range of vehicles to pilot, and again the range of options is generous. Over ten different air and ground vessels will be available at launch, some of which, like the Rebel Gunship, can hold up to six units. Manning a Trade Federation tank's turrets, employing a Snowspeeder's tow cables against invading AT-ATs, or hosing down enemies with laser fire from an X-Wing are just a few possible options. Even animal mounts can be utilised if fur, and not fireproof plating, suits your tender buttocks better.
Clearly, the ability to recreate major cinematic conflicts (which needn't play out as depicted in the films) is anticipated as a top selling point. So too is the fact that any character can commandeer any vehicle or man any firing station, though not every character performs as well as others behind the controls. Just be careful who you're trying to carjack - as Tso aptly puts it, "Let's just say facing an AT-ST with nothing more than a blaster rifle isn't advised."
Each vehicle is also powered by a distinctive physics model, the fanciful nature of which should do plenty to distinguish the game from its reality-obsessed competitors. LucasArts strongly believes such characteristics will see the product define a unique identity for itself among offerings such as Joint Ops and Battlefield Vietnam. The presumption, naturally, is that audiences would rather choose a speeder bike over a Sherman tank any day.
Predictably, proper game balancing will be crucial to achieving the title's goals. Aware of the challenges inherent with this sort of design, Pandemic has been addressing the problem since day one. Known collectively as the "War Room," an elite cadre of testers spends night and day with the product, submitting daily reports on progress from the sole perspective of playability. Code revisions are made shortly thereafter, and the process begins anew each dawn.
Open Beta programs are further anticipated, meaning you may yet lay hands on a tie fighter without a prolonged wait. Clearly, player feedback is being taken seriously for this project. The evidence of careful faction balancing can already be seen. The Rebels encompass fewer classes than the Imperials, yet can equip their grunts with a greater variety of weapons. Conversely, the Empire offers a greater unit selection, but characters tend to specialise and wield fewer, more powerful forms of offensive gear.
The Shotgun Approach
Aiming for Star Wars fans, BF1942 fans and FPS fans in one fell swoop, Battlefront could enjoy a huge following at launch. Rumours have been swirling regarding the product's cross-platform release (versions are planned for PS2 and Xbox), but readers needn't worry - we've already confirmed the PC as the 7 primary target platform. There'll be no skimping on online functionality either, with the product capable of handling 32 players via Internet or 64 on a LAN, as opposed to half those numbers for the console editions.
Indeed, with a proven formula in place and an exciting, unpredictable campaign mode to add flavour, Battlefront looks perfectly placed to conquer the online galaxy. "Wait and see what we've got cooking, smiles Tso. "Save an unpredicted calamity of galactic proportions, I can't picture any way Star Wars fans will be disappointed."
With DICE helming the new Battlefront, the safest bet is that the game will feel like a Battlefield reskin with pew-pew laserguns instead of rifles and X-wings instead of jets. Ideally, though, I'd want them to update Free Radical's original, pre-cancellation vision for Battlefront III, where massive skirmishes allowed players to seamlessly move from the surface of a planet to dogfighting in orbit. Either way, let's just agree to keep Hayden Christensen out of it.
Star Wars: Battlefront is more sci-fi historic reenactment than it is game. That doesn't mean I don't love it, it just means I could have loved it so very much more. Star Wars: Battlefront is really just a multiplayer game, if you don't have an online connection or don't plan on playing head-to-head against friends or strangers than don't even bother buying this game.
There's a single player portion of the game, but it's just the appetizer for a fairly robust online meal. The game does an excellent job of putting you in the thick of battles extracted directly from some of the most memorable scenes in the Star Wars trilogies. You can play the game in either first-person or third-person mode and can control any of 20 characters selected from the side of the Rebels, the Empire, the Clone Army or the Separatist Battle Droids. The game includes more than 30 different weapons and 25 types of ground and air vehicles including AT-ST, X-Wings and Republic Gunships. The always frenetic battles take place on a slew of maps on planets like Hoth, Endor and Tatooine. Heck, you can even run through the canteen.
Despite all of the variety however, the mammoth battle start to feel a little too scripted and repetitive far too quickly to herald a game that has any true lasting power. The game is extremely fun to play, I just don't know how many times a person can try to destroy or protect the generator shields on Hoth before growing bored.
The game does mix in a good number of AI driven bots to make the scenes more replete with enemies and enemy fire and to give you a chance to command small squads of men, but it just isn't quite enough to save the game from itself. I'm not saying that Battlefront is a bad game, or that you shouldn't buy it. I'm just saying that it's likely a game you won't keep around much.
Chief among the replay issues is the fact that the single player modes are basically the multiplayer games with nothing but computer-driven enemies. The plot is weak and sporadic at best and the maps are identical to their multiplayer counter-parts. Another small issue is the lag problems that seem to plague the PS2 version, which supports up to 16 players on a dedicated host. This may be an issue of just too much demand, but it should have been addressed quickly and apparently wasn't.
Overall, I'd say that this game is one of the better shooters I've played in recent days. Sure I've had a couple of minor complains, but in the long run it's simply a case of nit-picking a game I absolutely adore.
Decent graphics, bland game feel, and hokey old religions don't put a solid playing game in your collection, and so at first, my thoughts were that of the skeptic. Lacking the punchy, visceral feel of other shooters, I would've missed a great title in Star Wars: Battlefront, had I not piloted an AT-AT
To say the least, this was an exhilarating feeling. Even with its slow, lumbering bulk, it was truly satisfying to pilot my favorite of all childhood sci-fi vehicles. Finally, the gameplay was paying off. My response as an AT-AT pilot meant volumes on the battlefield, allowing my troops to dominate the area. Most definitely, the ability to control many of the different Star Wars vehicles is one of Battlefront's better points
Star Wars: Battlefront places you at the front of a host of AI players who have a limited number of respawns, and five different choices of combatant that change based on what battle you're playing. If you capture all enemy strong points, or kill every single one of their players, leaving them with no respawns, you win.
While the AI in Star Wars: Battlefront isn't challenging unless set on hard, it's nice to have so many people backing you up. For the truly great players out there, you'll find that you can definitely make an impact in how well the AI does, but you could run into problems as they hold you back. Less talented players will find the AI a reliable crutch upon which to rely, keeping a more seasoned player from dominating the game. With this automatic handicapping in place, I was able to play an incredibly fun game with friends my mine that had nowhere near the same experience at first person shooters.
For faults, Star Wars: Battlefront has a few big ones. The graphics are decent, but nothing to write home about. While the gameplay modes have a lot to offer, the game is abysmally short. And finally, without satisfying feedback from the weaponry, it's really boring to actually fire the weapons. If you're looking for the pleasing shudder of the controller, you'll pretty much have to play a Super Battle-Droid, which comes equipped with wrist rockets.
However, all in all, Star Wars: Battlefront is pretty satisfying, and playing the campaign mode, either co-op or versus, or alternatively playing galactic conquest against your friend, you'll probably be glad you at least gave this game a rental.