Star Wars Battlefront beta - Impressions
There's something about the sound of a Star Wars blaster that can bring out the "pew pew pew" in even the most straight-laced grown-up boys and girls. While the power of the franchise gives Star Wars games an edge, it has all too often led to a chasm of bitter disappointment.
Star Wars is undeniably iconic. The sounds and visuals alone are enough to trigger something hardwired deep within a certain generation and there's enough love there to sweep the rest along for the ride.
The pressure on the Battlefront Beta was immense because, like all things Star Wars and new, the hype had built up to deathstar proportions. If it went well, the strength of the brand would rocket the game to first-person-shooter dominance, while a miss-step might see the buzz bubble not only deflate but plummet in to a sea of fan backlash and hate.
The look and sound of the game is spot-on. Everything feels part of the Star Wars universe and there are no jarring interface choices or unfortunate new sounds. So far so good, but any Millennium Falcon fan will know the looks don't necessarily determine the performance.
On offer was two multiplayer modes and a solo survival mission.
Drop Zone was the first of the multiplayer options. A territorial battle, two teams fight it out for control of an escape pod. Once the pod is captured and held for a certain time, rewards appear and the combat moves wherever the next pod drops. It's a familiar mode that appears in a number of multiplayer shooters, but it's done very well here.
Set on the barren volcanic planet of Sullust, the battle takes place in craters and rat-runs blown into the rock. The level design forces a varied battle while also being compact enough to cut-down on time away from the fight. The trench warfare vibe adds a level of tension and the size of the map means there's no sense of bases, it's more a case of crashing into the enemy in key points. It was hard to find a flaw with this mode.
Next up was Walker Assault. Here developers Dice create a truly series specific confrontation. Set on the ice planet of Hoth, the imperial forces are marching ever closer to the rebel base, backed by the formidable AT-ATs. While the movies take the approach of using an A-Wing to entangle the colossus legs of the machines, here the rebels are calling in Y-wings to bomb the threat.
The Empire have to prevent the Rebels from calling in the Y-wings and keep the AT-ATs intact. The Rebels have to run to a pair of static uplinks, activate them, secure them until the Y-wings get a lock and then attack the AT-ATs. If that sounds like an unbalanced workload, well you're completely right. While the imperial forces simply need to repeatedly attack the uplinks, the rebels need to keep multiple targets in mind. It would take serious organisation on the part of the rebels and I didn't see a rebel victory throughout the beta.
While there were definite balancing issues, Walker Assault did showcase a huge map, vehicles and the playable legendary characters. Why I thought I could take on Darth Vader with a blaster is beyond me.
Finally, Survival Tatooine is a pretty standard mode, where waves of ever more difficult enemies try to kill the player. The terrain here was pretty great, full of rocks and scenery to hide behind. While many survival modes feel like a shooting gallery, here there's a real freedom to run amongst the rocks and stay mobile.
A nice twist to the pacing is the introduction of the giant mechanical chicken-esque AT-STs, which force the player to go on the run. Drop pods land before each AT-ST and collecting the weapons inside is recommended. The survival mode felt more fun than the usual grind, but it was still a survival mode against AI. Nice, but not enough to keep solo players satisfied.
Overall the Star Wars Battlefront beta was a great success. The match making was quick and seamless, a variety of modes were playable and the game was a lot of fun. EA were also on the ball on social media, virtually high-fiving anyone tweeting about the game. The success must have been all the sweeter following the partial disaster that was Rainbow Six:Siege's open beta a week previous.
First impressions: The force is strong with this one.