Star Wars Battlefront – Review

From the 17th to 19th Centuries, Nostalgia was thought of as a disease. If that’s the case then Star Wars is an epidemic. There isn’t a childhood memory amongst us that doesn’t involve Star Wars in some way, even if you aren’t a fan and your best mate over hyped it. But what’s incredible is that for many of us born before the late 90s, our fascination, our love, our passion and a canon of books, games, cartoons and toys all came from only 6 hours and 39 minutes of source material.

I point this out because Star Wars Battlefront takes from that time, at least in the core version before DLC. So when it comes to content that you can enjoy and play, the selections are limited. This has been well known and discussed. The majority of the mostly Online only game comes from the original movies experience and includes such levels as Hoth, Tattooine, Endor and the once mentioned Sullust (It has been mentioned in two movies but was cut from A New Hope, and has since been established in to the wider video game cannon).

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That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the lack of a cohesive narrative campaign doesn’t really give you an introduction to the levels or at what part of the story you enter them. Of course you already know so that’s not an issue, it’s Star Wars, everyone knows. But there’s a certain arrogance in that mindset and the game gives you the levels and just says “there you go, shoot everything.” I think that’s why I’m a little annoyed at the lack of a “story” mode, for want of a more descriptive emotional word. But in some ways the game is better for it. It doesn’t have that corny attachment to a certain sequence of events and is in many ways given more freedom to express the gameplay without the need to pick sides.

Which is what really should be the champion here because Battlefront is the best Battlefield game I’ve played. I have to admit that my earlier issues and problems with the game, the engine and the style are mostly unfounded. I’ve played the PS4 version but if the Xbox One release is anything like the beta was then I’m sure its visually awesome. The technical specs are that the Xbox is doing 720p, the PS4 900p, much like Battlefield 4, DICE’s last outing. But the main thing here is that they’ve refined the experience now so that they can achieve the 60fps they desired (with the occasional dip) and have the gameplay experience as close to the PC as is technically possible on these consoles. Which is a terrific achievement but it does show that the Frostbite Engine is definitely a powerful beast that requires much taming.

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The level design is not your average FPS level. Yes it has the various required elements but it is rather constricted by the source material and the size needed for the scale of the battles. As such, we get incredible lush foliage and startling snow, but we do lose a bit of a competitive edge when playing. Sullust on Walker Assault ends up with two or three flash points that are death funnels and the scale of the height means that vehicle play can be a tricky exercise in not accidentally dive-bombing into the arse of your own AT-AT.

The thing is that it doesn’t bother me and unless you are a serious, almost competitive level PC FPS player then it shouldn’t bother you at all either. What Star Wars Battlefront has nailed is the casual element of picking up, playing, having fun, putting down and returning in a few days time when you get the itch again. It’s not a constant must play-shoot-unlock guns-level up affair that so many others are and, quite honestly that will irk some players. But it does mean that it’s a game that won’t just jump off in to levels of frustrating play against people far more powerful than you. In this regard, its very nicely balanced with a small range of weapons and grenade/special gun loadouts that best serve you rather than being ridiculously overpowered.

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In fact, the only thing that does make the game unbalanced in places is the level design in certain game modes, although that really depends on how the rest of your team do, as you might have found out if you played the beta. The best way to play this of course is with friends and the co-op wave modes are great and frustrating fun, even on local split screen and the drop to 30fps. But it harkens back to the days where AI wave games were basic and fun, and I honestly haven’t had as much fun in this kind of mode since Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight. The challenge of continuously using active reload is great and the whole gun play feels as loose and wild as the movies have always portrayed.

The other problems come from a lack of spaces and map choices. Each map for each type of game does feel suitably different given the same location but it still can get a bit predictable after the tenth go around. Sullust in particular comes up way to much and doesn’t really offer a lot in enjoyment either, and it is totally a homage to the various locals from the prequels they couldn’t do (think Geonosis and Mustafar). This could have been a problem in taking the cue from the original movies as it really limits the actual planet surfaces you can use. Although who wouldn’t have loved some modes in Cloud City or even inside Jabba’s Palace.

But the veneer of Star Wars is what will entice you to this game. Not even the music but the overall atmospheric, despite some naff voice work here and there. It’s the clean and easily relatable gloss that the franchise has the power to do. But what that actually takes away from slightly is how good the base game is underneath it. I don’t know if it’s that both serve the other very well, or even if the modes would work as well without the franchise, but the marriage of both has made an excellent experience. Take away the franchise and the title and DICE have done something very good by giving us a game that is a “return to basics” simple multiplayer game and it excels because of that.

Summary

Star Wars Battlefront provides the best, the easiest and the most accessible pick-up-and-play multiplayer shooting experience on this generation of consoles. Its simplicity is enhanced by its smoothness and by really good optimisation of the Frostbite engine. This isn’t a big competitive Call of Duty type game, and that will put a lot of people off, most notably on PC. It is a video game for genre fans who might not really be as hardcore as most FPS fans and if you are the latter, you’ll see why you need to play it in moderation. The lack of a story mode and maps, along with some occasionally too open level design is the only criticism in an otherwise great casual shooter.

Good Points

  • Easy pick up and play
  • Looks beautiful
  • It’s Star Wars

Bad Points

  • It doesn’t have much to offer hardcore FPS players
  • Lack of maps, or held content for DLC
  • Some of the levels aren’t that well designed

Why an 8?

In truth this is a hard game to score because it’s such a subjective subject. Is this a good FPS game? Yes for the more casual/younger player. Is this a good Star Wars game? It looks great but in actual Star Wars content, probably not. Is it short lived? Well that entirely depends on how you play it. There are so many variables but I’m constantly being drawn to the fact that DICE have created a brilliantly accessible game in a genre that can really be dominated by die hard players and difficulty extremes and successfully whacked one of the worlds most popular and enduring franchises on it seamlessly, and still kept it fun.

 

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

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Battlefield Hardline – Review

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“Sir, Mendoza’s last run in the field, no offence, was a total clusterfuck.”

It’s hard to not see Khai Ming Dao’s first critique of her new partner as a tongue in cheek look at the last Battlefield outing. Battlefield 4 was one of the titles badly affected by EA’s 2013 of discontent… Ok it wasn’t really called that. But Battlefield 4’s online issues and subsequent board and legal battles are well documented. Enter in to the fray 2015’s Battlefield Hardline. A game in itself that was delayed twice after an arguably poorly received Beta last year.

[Nick Mendoza - Greener than a field of grass in the spring time]

[Nick Mendoza – Greener than a field of grass in the spring time]

Rolling the DICE this time around is Visceral, a studio best known for the Dead Space series (although they also had quite a run of 007 games in the past). And as a departure from the more futuristic armed forces based gameplay, we enter the world of the Miami Police Department and their never-ending war on drugs. Nick Mendoza, a police detective who is also a refugee of Cuba, comes fresh faced in to the department and starts by helping to botch a simple search with his partner, Stoddard, stumbling upon an worrying development in the cocaine trade. Nick then gets partnered with Kelly Hu’s character, Khai Ming Dao, and the two unearth worrying revelations about the force they work for as well as the drugs trade they’re trying to curb.

I’m not giving away any spoilers, although you have probably guessed at this point that Nick ends up as a prisoner and there’s a lot of shouting and comedic lines. That’s because they’re all in the trailer. To be perfectly frank, despite the TV presentation, this is just a B-movie script. You’d see this plot in the summer movie list starring someone like Jason Statham or the never-ending ream of former SNL comics who straddle the action movie/funny man circuit. It’s an entertaining don’t-think-too-much romp of gratuitous gunfire, explosions, criminal underworlds and broken trust. In fact the only thing missing from its action movie stereotype is some pathetically carnal whimsy between the main characters. Although you will get you comical tech wizard sidekick and his crazy Ex who you’d never have pictured him with – literally ticking all the boxes of a mindless audience approval screening for a formulaic American TV detective show.

[Press X to administer Savlon to wound]

[Press X to administer Savlon to wound]

There is something with the episodic format that works though. It worked very well for Alan Wake, it’s worked very well for TellTale games although that’s become more strained as they become more generic in their design, and Battlefield Hardline is no exception. However, because the whole game is there from the off (as in you don’t have to wait months for DLC or the next episode) and you could easily complete the story within a days gaming, you could very well miss these nuances. The “Next Time on…” and “Previously on…” segments simply don’t exist unless you save and quit out of an episode. All of the little nods to the popular TV formats are there, from characterization, multiple layers of intrigue, secrets, lies, etc, etc. But it doesn’t make a game. It makes for some entertaining cut scenes and moments but the gameplay of Battlefield doesn’t really match it. And personally I can find it quite jarring when the 30fps cut scene changes in to the 60fps player controlled shooting time.

The mechanic in the game is the ability to be non-violent. The reward for not spraying bullets into a zone is that you can unlock and upgrade weapons, attachments, etc, for arresting people rather than mercilessly capping them. In effect, the reward for being a pacifist is that you unlock newer, more customisable, shinier ways to kill people. Once you’ve hit level 15 and you’ve found all the case files to unlock everything, that’s it. With the recent issues with policing in America and what is seen as a militarisation of the force and a reduction in accountability, there’s probably been better times to release a game where a major part of the gameplay is arresting, or killing several unnamed Latino racial stereotypes for bonus points. But once you’ve earned those points, the hypocrisy can begin and you can start playing the game the way first person shooters are meant to played – Like a mindless, bloody, hilariously over the top, unaccountable hero: Utterly empty

[I know it's American but I want a Swag bag, not loot]

[I know it’s American but I want a Swag bag, not loot]

In that regard, absolutely nothing has really changed in the game since Battlefield 4, at least not for me. Yes, there’s been little changes to the gameplay here and there, the removal of grenades from the single player changes the game into a bit of a Metal Gear Solid stealth simulator (albeit a pretty poor one), but very little actually changes the game or how you play it. The graphics on the Xbox One version run at a lowered 720p so that the frame rate can be consistently hit. The PS4 version does run at a higher resolution, but a lot of the game is, simply, quite messy. Certain areas are graphically very poor, which isn’t surprising given the resolution. But the textures at times are shoddy, the aliasing is abysmal and the whole thing plays like a faster frame rate past generation game, and not the HD re-release kind. Yes there are some awesome moments in the game that take in sound and visual cues like the hurricane hitting the mall, but for the most part it really is sub-par. I’ll be honest, I’ve not been impressed with EA’s flagship engine. The Frostbite 3 engine seems to be either beyond the capability of the consoles it’s running on or no one knows truly how to get the best from it. In fact the best game using the engine so far has been Dragon Age: Inquisition. Hardline is most definitely not a good advert for the engine, away from the high-end PC hardware acceleration.

The graphical difference is very clear in the multiplayer modes. Battlefield’s multiplayer relies on not being graphically heavy so it can withstand the big team nature. Personally, I find the amount of people and the utter chaos utterly confusing and frustrating. The now tried and tested CSGO style of earning money and unlocking weapons and bonus packs is in full force here but those feel incredibly difficult to achieve thanks to how tough the early level options are to use. The game modes, mostly variants on Capture the Flag and Control game types slightly amended to suit the policing theme, are fairly obvious rehashes of normal game modes with swanky names and aren’t a massive departure from Battlefield’s past. Whilst it can’t graphically hold a torch to Call of Duty in these modes the more realistic and frenetic gameplay does aid certain game types, but only once you’ve racked up multiple deaths in your effort to level up. At least a lesson has been learned from the previous release and the servers are plentiful and fully operational. The benefit of having what is essentially a good, competitive multiplayer environment is that the infrastructure is finally there to support it. And for all its entry-level difficulty, once you do get some success and push on through the levels it can be very enjoyable. Much like many other recent online games, it benefits a lot more from having a group of friends that are all in on the action and playing regularly.

Whether or not it is the right time to release a game based on heavily armed police forces full of corruption against a nameless, seemingly replaceable, throng of Hispanic and Latin organised criminal gang members is slightly contentious. But it’s recent events that have dictated that the game can be perceived as insensitive, not the initial conception and plan that must have been drawn up 18-24 months ago. Sadly the game hasn’t really improved or built much upon any lessons within that time since Battlefield 4. For all of the criticisms, the beta feedback and the delays, the game hasn’t grown like, and it’s a bad comparison, Call of Duty has in the recent years. In fact, its distance from Activision’s franchise in the release cycle has certainly brought more of the series’ faults to the fore, at least more so than normal. This one is certainly for fans of Battlefield’s multiplayer and is definitely focused to capturing an audience that is willing to dedicate time and form groups to play it, much like its PC online FPS cousins. For the rest of us though, it’s a short-lived action romp and getting the box set of The Expendables movies could better scratch that itch.

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Battlefield Hardline excels in what it does best. Which is really frustrating for the game as it spends a long time trying to avoid it – That being the frantic shooting of all manner of bullets against the enemy. The police drama is a good enough B-movie and the style certainly works as a format but the content holds very little for video games like this. A consistent and functioning multiplayer hides a game confused between a pacifist setting and a all guns blazing FPS format.

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  • Interesting change in game focus
  • Multiplayer is fully functioning and well supported
  • TV style and Episodic format works very well

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  • Incredibly poor graphically for next generation consoles
  • The usefulness and novelty of hypocritical non-violent gameplay wears off quick
  • Very little improvement on Battlefield 4

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[tab title=”Why a 6.5?”]

This game has tried to change the landscape a bit. It hasn’t been too overly brash about itself or claimed itself to be a new frontier in gaming. TV episodic tropes are tried and tested. But beneath the good intentions lies a game that is incredibly hypocritical of its pacifistic direction due to its FPS roots, a game that is graphically shoddy and a difficult multiplayer for entry-level players. It is at least stable and works, but all in all is confused and lacking.

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This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game.

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