When I saw that Star Wars: Battlefront‘s release date leaked yesterday, I couldn’t help but smile. Not because the prospect of getting my grubby mitts on the game — arguably my most anticipated of the year — on November 17 wasn’t exciting (it was); rather because I had just come from a private demo of Star Wars: Battlefront at Star Wars Celebration where representatives from Lucasfilm and D.I.C.E. demonstrated the game in action. Though the footage they showed us was from the pre-alpha stage, the game looked fully operational and like a worthy successor to the Battlefront franchise. In short, this is shaping up to be a title well worth the ten year wait.
To say that I have been waiting for this game for a long time is an understatement. I still play Star Wars: Battlefront II regularly with my friends. Using the local co-op feature, we’ll sit on the couch, waging digital wars in the galaxy far, far away until our eyes glaze over and our thumbs are thoroughly blistered. But that game came out in 2005. It has been ten long, arduous years since we’ve had a new entry in the series. So, naturally, the prospect of seeing the new game in action was more than a little bit exciting. With nearly 50 assembled journalists crammed into a tiered room made to look like the interior of a starship, all eyes were locked on the massive screen as a counter ticked down from 60 to zero. A brief screen informed us that what we were about to see was pre-alpha in-game footage from a PS4 build. What followed was pure bliss.
The First Impression
The camera opens on the forest moon of Endor, with a blaster-toting Rebel soldier making contact with his unit. As the player traverses the wooded terrain, he is nearly turned into roadkill as two speeder bikes whiz past — one Rebel and one Imperial. With the chase well and truly afoot, the player and his comrades follow their trail only to come face to face with an AT-ST stalking through the trees. After taking a frenetic hail of blaster fire, the AT-ST’s cockpit explodes and the machine crumples into a lifeless heap. However, our heroes are out of the frying pan only to find themselves in the fire, staring at a brigade of stormtroopers and an AT-AT with its cannons unleashing hot, laser-fueled death.
Fortunately, moments prior, our hero earned a power-up giving him a missile launcher. What could be better for taking down Imperial instruments of war than rocket-propelled ordnance? Unfortunately, neither blaster fire nor the missile can penetrate the AT-AT’s thick outer armor. Our heroes are down, but not out. Running across the battlefield, the player makes his way to a satellite uplink where he manages to input a distress call and coordinates. A few moments later, the screech of jets fills the air as Republic fighters soar overhead, unleashing a payload on the AT-AT, destroying it and saving the day. Well, almost saving the day. Even more Imperial soldiers appear, flanked by additional AT-ST’s, prompting the player and his squadmates to sprint for a nearby bunker. The player is standing dead center in the AT-ST’s sights, coming to terms with his own mortality when suddenly he punches a button that closes the bunker door just in time.
Once inside, everything seems hunky-dory; the Republic fighters have a momentary respite from the heat of battle. The player’s companion wanders off ahead, turning a corner just out of sight. When you next see your squadmate, he is levitating a few feet off the ground, the life being choked out of him by some mysterious force. Once the player turns the corner, they’re greeted by an all-too-familiar face: Darth Vader. The Sith Lord slowly walks towards the player, deflecting blaster fire with his lightsaber all the while and never breaking pace. Before you know it, the Dark Lord is upon you and death is all but assured. It is at that moment that we smash to the Star Wars: Battlefront logo and fade to black. Now that, dear reader, is how you make one hell of a first impression.
Building a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Star Wars: Battlefront is an important game, not only for fans of multiplayer shooters, but for Lucasfilm and Electronic Arts as well. Lucasfilm’s Vice President of Digital Business, Ada Duan, noted that Battlefront is the first game in a 10-year partnership with EA, emphasizing that this is “not a normal licensing relationship.” She explained that they didn’t want to just make another movie game; they wanted a deeper relationship between the two companies. In that spirit, they welcomed the Swedish video game developer D.I.C.E., best known for their work on the Battlefield series, into their little family with open arms. As Star Wars: Battlefront design director Niklas Fegraeus revealed, they were granted unprecedented access by Lucasfilm in order to make the game as faithful as possible. Taking copious photographs of everything in the Lucasfilm Archives and vaults that they could get their hands on and traveling to the real-world filming locations, D.I.C.E. used a process known as photogrammetry (the process using photographs as reference points to craft 3D models) to create the most realistic and insanely detailed models possible.
The goal of Star Wars: Battlefront is to “immerse players in an authentic Star Wars experience, creating their own Star Wars battles,” Fegraeus explained. More than anything, they wanted to create the same sense of unbridle fun and imagination that we felt as children playing with toys and action figures, bringing our own battle fantasies to life. To further the level of verisimilitude, D.I.C.E. sent their artists to the real-world filming locations for further research so that the team behind their Frostbite engine could make the wondrous worlds of the galaxy far, far away feel as real as possible, using a process called physically based rendering (PBR, for short), a jargon-y design term that translates to creating photorealistic environments rendered in all of their three-dimensional glory.
Making the game look pretty was one thing, but making it sound like the real McCoy was another matter entirely. To ensure that the game would be as close to living the experience of the films as possible, D.I.C.E. made the trek to Skywalker Sound, where they were given access to the complete library of original movie sounds. That means that every time an AT-AT stomps its metal foot, a blaster fires, or a Wilhelm screams, it will be as George Lucas and Ben Burtt originally intended. Fegraeus also revealed that Battlefront will be the first game to feature Dolby Atmos 3D sound on the PC. The new surround sound technology creates an immersive aural experience in real-time in a 3D space. In short, when an X-wing screams overhead unleashing blaster fire, it sounds as though it’s really whizzing past at breakneck speed. To the uninitiated, that might not seem particularly impressive, but after hearing stereo sound, surround sound, and Dolby Atmos side-by-side-by-side, the difference was tangible — and loud as hell.
Drool-worthy technical specs aside, the game itself looks like a damned good time. “Fun is the final ingredient,” Fegraeus told us matter-of-factly. Indeed, all of this technical achievement would be for naught if the game weren’t any fun to plan. The video I described above was of a mode called “Walker Assault”, a team-based multiplayer mode that pits two teams against one another with ground vehicles aplenty. Like the Battlefield series, it seems like it’ll be an objective-based mode with each faction given a predetermined number of tickets that will deplete upon deaths and subsequent respawns.
With the ability to seamlessly switch between first-person and third-person POV, the game looks like a perfect union between past Battlefront games and the Battlefield titles in which DICE made its name. As is par for the course with modern multiplayer shooters, killing enemies is rewarded with point modifiers. Netting several kills in rapid succession will earn you point bonuses, as will making precision shots like headshots, damaging and destroying vehicles, and getting sweet, sweet revenge on some jerkface who has been killing you over and over again.
Exploration too is an important part of the gameplay experience, Fegraeus stressed. By wandering around the map and exploring every nook and cranny, the player can find power-ups that will grant all manner of bonuses. The power-ups run the gamut, including missile launchers, enhanced explosive capabilities, calling down your own personal AT-AT or X-wing, and the ability to play as some of the greatest characters in the Star Wars universe. That’s right — like past games, players can step into the shoes of Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and other iconic characters, essentially creating player-powered boss fights that can sway the tide of battle. Seeing Darth Vader Force choke the life out of a Rebel soldier in the gameplay video sent shivers up my spine, so I can only imagine the thrill of controlling the sinister Sith myself.
DICE is offering additional incentives for players to log on and play with other people. With the Partner feature, you can invite a friend to form a tag team with you. Once you have linked up with your partner-in-crime, you’ll be able to share previously unlocked weapons, vehicles, and power-ups with one another. Let’s face it — being a hero of the Rebel Alliance is way more fun when you have an actual alliance watching your back.
Though Battlefront is “first and foremost an online multiplayer game,” as Fegraeus puts it, there are still offline options for those who don’t want to brave the wild, teen-filled world of online multiplayer. The Missions mode will allow players to play through a plethora of scenarios set in the Star Wars universe with an array of challenges inspired by the films. With multiple challenges and variables on each level, Fegraeus promises that they will be very replayable. These Missions will be available in both single-player and local splitscreen multiplayer, with support for up to two players. There is no word yet on whether it will support four players as in games past, but the screenshot shown only depicted a two-player split, so that’s all I can confirm for now.
Though there will be additional game modes, they have not yet been specified. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the campaign-style Galactic Conquest will make a return too, as it added a tremendous amount of reply value and character development to Battlefront II.
Once again, the game looks to offer a compelling multiplayer experience, pitting massive squadrons for mammoth objective-based battles in some of the most iconic locales in the Star Wars universe. In the gameplay footage we saw, Hoth, Tatooine, and Endor were all depicted as playable locations; however, Fegraeus revealed two additional locations would be included in the final game: the first is Sullust, a planet seen in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and mentioned in Return of the Jed. The second could be considered a mild spoiler for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
Remember that shot from the newest teaser of a ruined Star Destroyer on a desert planet that J.J. Abrams swears isn’t Tatooine? Well, it isn’t Tatooine — it is Jakku, a backwater desert planet on the Outer Rim that played host to the Battle of Jakku, a pivotal conflict between the New Republic and some of the remaining Imperial forces in the wake of the Rebel victory at the Battle of Endor. Chances are that The Force Awakens will pick up in the days and weeks after that fateful battle, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey scavenging the lifeless husks of the scuttled Imperial ships for scrap. As for the Battle of Jakku itself, my best bet would be that Chuck Wendig’s forthcoming novel, the aptly titled Star Wars: Aftermath, will provide insight into the calamitous conflict. After all, the novel is supposed to serve as a bridge between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, so it makes sense…
Okay, possible spoilers are over
The good news is that the Battle of Jakku will be available as free DLC to all Star Wars: Battlefront owners on December 8, 2015. However, if can’t resist its siren call, pre-ordering the game will grant you early access to the map beginning on December 1.
Though it’s still in its early days, everything I have seen from Star Wars: Battlefront so far has filled me with confidence. Though the Battlefield franchise hasn’t quite achieved the same annualized status as its Call of Duty counterpart, D.I.C.E. seems to be taking more time with Battlefront, going the extra mile to ensure that this well and truly is the game for which fans have been waiting. Judging by the pre-alpha footage, the game seems to be making the most out of next-gen hardware, pushing the envelope for what we’ve seen from shooters so far. Obviously, footage in these situations is polished and massaged to look as good as possible, but to look as finished as it does at such an early stage in the process is a heartening sign. We’ll likely have to wait until E3 for more information — and hopefully a playable build — but in the meantime, EA and D.I.C.E. have given us an awful lot of food for thought. Now if I could just make the Kessel Run all the way to November, everything would be great…
Are you looking forward to Star Wars: Battlefront? What battle would you most like to recreate? Let us know in the comments below or tell me on Twitter (@Osteoferocious).
Star Wars: Battlefront is available on November 17, 2015 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
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