Rebels without a cause.
It's routinely taken for granted that the Star Wars movies were derived from a myriad of sources. But while Tolkienians give props to J.R.R., Campbellites cite the underlying mythical fabric spun by their idol and film buffs point to Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress as the true mother of Lucas' monster, there can be no doubt that the Star Wars movies have in turn been generative of some great video games.
From KOTOR to Episode 1: Racer to the classic X-Wing games, the Star Wars saga has fielded more than a few very serious games for the franchise. The latest is Star Wars: Battlefront for the Xbox and PS2. With Battlefront, LucasArts essentially brings the EA's Battlefield formula to the console market in a delectable Star Wars package.
Battlefront is a solid multiplayer action game spanning both Star Wars timelines " the Clone Wars (Ep.1, 2, and 3) and the Civil War (Ep. 4, 5, and 6). In any given battle, you'll either pick a side or be assigned to one. Clone Wars maps pit the droids against the clones, while in the Civil War you'll either play as the Empire or the Rebels.
Once you've picked a side, you'll choose from one of four basic classes: soldier, sniper, pilot and missile launcher. Soldiers are the versatile grunts, snipers specialize in long distance warfare, and pilots excel at operating vehicles. Missile launcher troops are the only class capable of taking out vehicles, but their rockets are underpowered and they get very little in the way of ammunition. Ammo droids are placed at strategic points throughout the various levels with this in mind, but you still wish the class could be a bit more self-reliant.
Rather than fleshing out each of the four basic classes, LucasArts included a fifth, special class for each side. The droids get the Droideka rolling assault-bot and rebels get durable Wookie smugglers, while the Republic and Empire forces may access different brands of jet-pack soldier. Each of these classes adds its own interesting play dynamic. For example, the Droideka can move to a position at a relatively high speed, then stop, turn on its shields, and let loose with its cannons. The Empire jet-pack soldier, by contrast, is like a human flea: he can bounce into a fight, deliver some thermal detonators, and then boost clear.
No matter which class you choose, your objective will always be the same: kill your enemies and capture the victory locations, key points throughout each map that can be controlled by either team. To conquer one, simply kill every enemy in the immediate area and stand next to it. When you've held the point for a period of time, it will turn green, allowing your reinforcements and fellow players to spawn into that location. It's exactly like the Battlefield games.
By controlling more victory locations than your foes, you can effectively cut off their reinforcements. At any given time, you and your opponents will have twenty troops on the battlefield. Those that aren't controlled by other players will be controlled by the CPU. When a troop dies, be it a player or a CPU-controlled bot, it requires one reinforcement to bring that unit back. Each team begins with about twenty reinforcements, and when that number reaches zero, the battle is over. This end can be achieved by killing your opponents' units as well as by cutting off their reinforcements, creating a constant drain on their reserves.
Nearly every vehicle from the Star Wars universe, from the lithe speederbikes to the menacing AT-AT's, is useable in Battlefront. They all handle reasonably well and are generally entertaining to use. What's not fun, though, is trying to stop one of the damned things, especially the faster crafts such as snowspeeders and X-Wing fighters. The problem is that only one class of rocket soldier can lock-on, and even then his missiles often can't catch up to their targets. There are some very large cannons available in a couple levels, but they don't aim quickly enough to reliably take out fast aerial targets. If you're quick, you're deadly. Too deadly.
The same goes for most tank-class vehicles. Though a couple dozen rockets will eventually destroy an AT-ST, if a pilot is at the helm he can simply run away and heal the darn thing. Furthermore, tanks deal massive damage to your reinforcements. I've single-handedly swayed the tide of a battle by hanging out at an enemy victory location in my AT-ST and bleeding off their reinforcements as they spawned in. On maps where one side has tanks and the other side has none, there is no balance in the Force, and the Dark Side of spawn camping always prevails.
Although Battlefront's various classes aren't particularly damaging to tanks, they are wonderfully mobile. Every unit (other than the Droideka) can jump and roll away from danger. Battlefront runs on a very smooth engine, and LucasArts even took a hint from Halo by allotting the primary weapon to the right trigger and the secondary to the left. As a result, tossing a thermal detonator in between bursts of blaster fire is as smooth and satisfying as it should be. The game can be played from either first or third person, though third is clearly the better option as it affords a wider view of the action.
The best thing about Battlefront, though, is that it works so well online. Finding and joining a game is no problem for Xbox or PS2 owners. Both consoles are supported by dedicated servers, and finding a good game to jump into is usually a breeze. The Xbox supports up to 24 players per game with a dedicated or non dedicated host, which exceeds the PS2's max of 16.
The gameplay experience can change pretty dramatically depending on how the person maintaining the server sets his properties. For example, an auto-aim function can be turned on or off. With auto-aim on, hitting opponents becomes a breeze; most shoot-outs boil down to who gets shot in the head. However, if auto-aim is turned off, mobile classes such as the jet-pack soldiers become infinitely more viable and firefights become more tactical affairs.
Unfortunately, the Dark Side manifests itself in Battlefront's limp single-player campaigns. Although gamers allegedly have two distinct options to choose from, neither Galactic Conquest mode nor the Historical campaigns should be considered anything other than the multiplayer mode minus the multi.
Take the Historical Campaign. Instead of assuming the role of a specific character, you're forced to play through a bunch of multiplayer maps as some random, respawning peon with no personality and no reason to fight. You'll never feel like you're part of the Imperial forces or the Rebel army because you're forced to switch sides in various conflicts for no apparent reason. Whereas you might expect some scripted events or dialogue, you only get some random cut-scenes ripped straight out of the films and crudely transplanted in between battles with no narrative support. While this technique holds up for the Clone Wars' campaigns (whose film plots were pretty flimsy to begin with), it's genuinely disappointing to take part in the Battle of Hoth as a literal nobody.
In Galactic Conquest, you compete with the CPU for control over the Universe. After picking a side and an era, you attack planets by " you guessed it " playing the exact same game you probably should be playing online. After winning two battles on a given planet, you take it over and get to reap its benefits. For example, controlling Tattooine allows you to use the Death Star to destroy one of your opponent's planets, whereas control of another planet causes all of your opponent's vehicles to spawn in with fraction of their health. Even though every battle in Galactic Conquest means something in a tactical sense, none of them are really meant to be single-player battles. In fact, Galactic Conquest would have made more sense as an interesting, online tournament feature. Instead, it's merely another collection of multiplayer maps hastily wrapped in single-player paper.
Whether on or offline, Battlefront looks good on the PS2 and great on the Xbox. The draw distances are solid, the water looks fabulous, and the action runs pretty smoothly. The only hiccups occur when you take up a gunner's position on a ship or a tank, when the framerate drops to about 10 fps. As a result, hitting anything that moves quickly, like another ship, is rendered nearly impossible. By and large, though, it's a pretty game.
Battlefront's sounds are spot-on thanks to the classic Star Wars music and effects. At this point, anything less than perfect audio would be a big disappointment considering the game's makers.
Star Wars: Battlefront, however, is far from disappointing. Even though its brand of battlefield warfare is by no means new, it's still plenty of fun and a must for Star Wars nerds. Just don't be fooled by any claims that Battlefront contains a viable single-player experience. This is an online game, period, and if you can't get online, then this isn't the game you are looking for. Move along.