A long time ago, in a gaming-verse not so far, far away, Free Radical Design’s Star Wars: Battlefront III died an unceremonious death, reportedly cancelled by LucasArts at the eleventh hour “for financial reasons”. Millions of fans cried out in terror when Battlefront III concept art and pre-alpha gameplay footage leaked online, which teased the game that could have been. The leaks showcased alternative takes on beloved heroes, such as a Sith Kenobi, alongside an enticing all-new gameplay mechanic that would have allowed players to travel from space battle to ground combat in a single, united map.

While Battlefront III went the way of the Bothan spies that leaked information about the second Death Star, the dormant series has reawakened at EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE). We were fortunate enough to see a behind-closed-doors gameplay preview, which we were told won’t be revealed to the public. That latter point is actually a shame, given how beautiful the publicly released gameplay trailer is and how some people thought that, despite its beauty, Battlefront can’t look as good as what the in-engine trailer depicts.


This is exactly what we thought as we watched what appeared to be a tech demo that shifted out of free-roaming camera to first-person perspective. Niklas Fegraeus, design director of Star Wars Battlefront, described what we were seeing as “footage taken from live multiplayer gameplay”, and it was hard to contemplate given how pretty it was. What’s more impressive is that it was PlayStation 4 gameplay, meaning the pretty factor should be boosted for the PC version of the game, which appears to be what was used for the publicly released trailer, as well as the well-rounded screenshots.

Despite the noticeable absence of antialiasing during the gameplay presentation, the in-game rendering of Endor, the forest moon from Return of the Jedi, was breathtaking. The wind blew through the trees and impacted the foliage seemingly at a micro level, with real-time shadows moving realistically in turn. In order to create an authentic Star Wars universe, DICE visited the real-world locations such as Norway (Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back) and the redwood forests in Northern California to digitally recreate the Endor level for the gameplay demo.

DICE’s goal in terms of visual fidelity is to push for photorealism, a lofty aim that’s being partially achieved by the implementation of the union between hotogrammetry and physically based rendering (PBR). Photogrammetry is a technique that involves Matrix-like camera work, wherein an object is photographed from every conceivable angle, and those images are fed into specialised software for lifelike rendering.

Fegraeus mentioned that DICE also was allowed “unprecedented access” to the Lucasfilm archives, which means that everything from blasters and stormtrooper armour to X-wings and AT-ATs look like they were pulled off set and put into the game. Scratches, dints and other imperfections add a level of detail that would be painstaking to achieve if rendered manually, and the results are picture perfect.

Physically based rendering has been implemented into the Frostbite engine so all future titles powered by the engine will have the option to use it. For Battlefront, PBR increases the potential for photorealistic objects thanks to a combination of the lifelike rendering of the physical properties of material, combined with how light interacts with the object in real time. It’s a technology that’s being used in Star Citizen and, as far as our eyes could tell, it made for a stunningly believable recreation of the Star Wars universe.

The other all-important immersive factor for playing out a Star Wars fantasy is the soundscape. Given DICE’s pedigree with sound in the Battlefield series, it was unsurprising to hear how well audio was utilised in the presentation. John Williams’ iconic soundtrack was put to fantastic use during the peaks and troughs of the battle between Rebel soldiers and Imperial stormtroopers. That being said, DICE has readily admitted that its dynamic presentation during the demo may not make it through to the final product, even if that is its intention. The soundtrack will be there for sure, though.

As for the rest of the soundscape, nothing was out of place. The range of blasters sounded exactly like they do in the movies, the appearance of an AT-AT provided the kind of weight you’d expect from the mammoth walker, while chatter between soldiers added to the fantasy of being caught
up in a hectic battle between the Rebellion and Empire. Speeder bikes zipped through the trees on Endor, an AT-ST stomped around in an attempt to not be surrounded by flanking Rebel troops, and there was even a Wilhelm scream in there for good measure as a stormtrooper fell to his death.

Endor wasn’t just the setting for the gameplay demo, either; it seemed to take place during the prelude to the battle against the second Death Star, given the noticeable presence of the radar-dish shield generator in the background. Fegraeus revealed that the gameplay was part of Walker Assault mode: a 40-player battle between Rebel and Imperial soldiers that includes a combination of infantry combat, vehicular devastation and heroes.

According to our one-on-one interview with Sigurlina Ingvarsdottie, senior producer on Battlefront, Walker Assault’s 40-player count is as big as it gets. While this may disappoint fans of Battlefield’s 64-player modes, it’s one example of DICE’s efforts to delineate between a Battlefield experience and a Battlefront one. From what we saw of the mode, there didn’t appear to be any shortage of action once the blasters started firing, aIlbeit we acknowledge the sequence was shown under specific controlled conditions.

Battlefront has a scoring system similar to Battlefield, with 100 points allocated per kill. On top of this was a running killstreak counter for the player character, the impact of which was not disclosed. Similarly, points were allocated as part of a nemesis system. Like Battlefield, the overall player score appears to be linked to an unlock system, with the player character unlocking a missile launcher in an unmissable front-of-UI pop-up revelation.

The Rebel soldiers didn’t appear to have access to vehicles at this point of the mode, while the Imperials had no shortage of them. Speeder bikes harassed the Rebel troops as they stormed up a hill, only to be greeted by aIn intimidating AT-ST. Interestingly, the player’s primary-weapon blaster was able to deal damage to the chicken walker, albeit not enough to take the vehicle’s health down from full to empty.

What did make short work of the AT-ST was a rocket launcher which, unlike the sci-fi renderings in past Battlefront games, followed the Star Wars film approach of adding a sci-fi touch to World War II-era weapons. It looked like a modified American bazooka, which you may notice in the screenshots. It only took a single rocket to destroy the mostly healthy AT-ST, as the Rebel soldiers cheered the result.

When the player collected a rocket launcher and used it on a bigger threat, the mammoth AT-AT, the rocket didn’t even scratch the paint because of the thick armour. There was a red player name above the AT-AT indicating that it was being, at the very least, partially controlled by a human opponent, but we’re wary as to whether this will translate to full control in the final game.

The AT-AT was stomping up a shallow creek bed towards the Rebel soldiers and, during its short lifespan, didn’t alter direction, despite its swivelling head that was making short work of the Rebel soldiers around the player. There wasn’t a whole lot of Frostbite’s trademark environmental destructibility on show, despite an abundance of explosions, which may mean that bigger vehicles such as the walkers can’t forge their own path through the splinters of felled trees on Endor.

The AT-AT also appeared to act as a lumbering spawn option for Imperial troops, who were dropping like Rebel pilots at the Battle of Yavin, yet there never seemed to be a shortage of the white-armoured foes. There was also evidence of a customisation system, with an assortment of familiar alien races for the Rebels, alongside the presence of female soldiers, as well as concept art for Imperial snowtroopers and stormtrooper variants. On top of this, there was a variety of weapons and special equipment on offer.

That aforementioned Wilhelm-screaming soldier was camping out on an Ewok-forged bridge, high in the trees. When he was shot, he fell with his sniper rifle, which the player character collected and put to good use popping headshots courtesy of the rifle’s enhanced zoom. His regular blaster had a scope, too, albeit with reduced range. The time to kill with the character’s primary weapon didn’t appear to be terribly long slightly shorter than what you’d expect from accurate fire in a Battlefield game despite the supposed armour of the Imperial stormtroopers. It will be interesting to see if armoured Imperials enjoy a health advantage of unarmoured Rebel soldiers in the final game, but it didn’t appear to be the case during the demonstration.

The player character’s UI had four slots, one of which was blacked out and may be for a secondary weapon. As for the other slots, one was occupied by the effective primary-weapon blaster, while another had the familiar thermal detonators (grenades) with delayed fuses. Whether these can be cooked before throwing is yet to be seen, but the one we saw explode took out multiple stormtroopers.

The third occupied slot held five personal shields, none of which were used by the primary character, but we spotted another player running past in the background, with the personal shield activated around their head and torso as accurate incoming fire deflected off the protective bubble. A larger version of the shield was used in the public reveal trailer, and appeared to provide heavier cover for multiple soldiers beneath its protective dome.

A jetpack was the other main piece of equipment used during the gameplay preview. A Rebel soldier used it briefly to gain a temporary height advantage, possibly scouting out the area ahead, before returning to the ground. It’s unclear at this stage whether the jetpacks will only offer short-use possibilities, or whether they can be used to hold a player in the air for longer, or to access otherwise inaccessible heights.

One argument against the likelihood of this latter mechanic is the reality that Boba Fett will be a playable hero character, and it’s reasonable to expect that his jetpack will be more powerful than the regular unlockable variety. In the reveal trailer, he was seen battling on Tatooine, but Fegraeus explicitlymentioned Fett would also be playable on Hoth, which lends itself to the idea of randomised or multiple heroes per map. According to Fegraeus, players will be able to spawn in for a single life as a heroic or villainous character whose power has the potential to turn the tide of battle.

The hero mechanic is tied to a collectable power-up system which, according to Fegraeus’ teasing explanation, involves various pick-ups scattered around the map. DICE was unwilling to confim whether this takes the form of old-school Quake-style weapon/buff pick-ups or randomised drops. Fegraeus said that heroes are the “biggest” power-up, but he also mentioned “huge shields, massive explosives, your own X-wing or your own walker”. The shields most likely relate to the team-friendly one depicted in the reveal trailer, and the massive explosions could refer, in part, to the Uplink Station that was activated to call in a Y-wing bombing run that flattened the AT-AT in both
trailer and gameplay presentation.

As for the references to the vehicles, they may be as simple as determining the player that gets to control the AT-AT in Walker Assault, while the X-wing may be in reference to another yet-to-be-named mode that involves aerial dogfighting. While space combat won’t be present in Battlefront, players will be able to duke it out in planetary dogfights in iconic craft such as X-wings, TIE fighters, and we spied a TIE interceptor during one of the slides of the presentation.

To help stand further apart from Battlefield comparisons, Battlefront will not have a class system. Instead, players will be able to freely pick weapons and equipment at their discretion. Similarly, it appears DICE is encouraging more of an individual player experience withine the team structure, with a so called 'partner system’ that lets two players on the each other, track one another on the
field and even share unlocks.

For those wishing that Battlefront would be Battlefield in the Star Wars universe, this isn’t necessarily the game you’re looking for. Instead, DICE has taken what worked best about the preceding Battlefront series and combined it with what works in Battlefield to forge an enticing first-look at a sci-fi shooter experience that’s poised to tick all the right boxes.

CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW
Fans of the original Battlefront games should be relieved to hear that DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront game will allow players to switch between first-and third-person perspectives. While the majority of the demo was played out in first-person view, it jumped to third-person perspective at certain points for a fitting old-school Battlefront feel.

3D SOUNDSCAPE

Part of the Battlefront demonstration was dedicated to showcasing the audio advantages of the new Dolby Atmos technology. Fegraeus confirmed this feature would be exclusive to the PC version of Battlefront, and if the demo was anything to go by, it’s bound to add a level of immersion on par with the impressive visual fidelity.

UNITED BATTLEFRONT
The DICE developers went out of their way to emphasise that Star Wars Battlefront is, first and foremost, a multiplayer title. There are specific solo or cooperative missions on offer, but it’s refreshing to hear that DICE is sticking to what it knows best: team-based competitive multiplayer with a mix of vehicular and infantry combat.

NO DISINTEGRATIONS
The official EA Star Wars Twitter account has eluded to the fact that destruc-tibility in Star Wars Battlefront might not be on par with recent Battlefield games. “We’re using destruction where it make[s] sense but also working to create something that is authentic to the universe.”