Star Wars: Battlefront, A galaxy far, far away

The old Battlefronts were somewhat bloated affairs, slopping together four factions from two movie timeframes. DICE’s reboot clears the decks: the focus is firmly on the original three films on Stormies and Rebels, blasters and thermal detonators, with nary a whiff of Jar Jar. It spans at least five planets, including Hoth, Tatooine and Endor, and brings to life some of the trilogy’s most cherished set-pieces the Imperial assault on Echo Base, the Rebel attack on Endor…

It’s full-blooded fan service, but there’s an element of universe expansion, too. You’ll get to explore areas and incidents that have never been screened, ranging from desperate struggles in the shadow of a Jawa sandcrawler, to a battle on Sullust, a volcanic planet that crops up in dialogue for Return Of The Jedi. There’s also a free DLC map set on Jakku, a brand new desert planet that will appear in JJ Abrams flick The Force Awakens players will set foot on it 30 years before the events of the film.

Limiting the game’s chronological scope has allowed DICE to apply an unreal degree of attention and finish to the classic props and models. You might be wondering whether April’s reveal trailer is a match for how Battlefront looks in-game.

We’ve seen a pre-Alpha version running at 60 frames a second on PS4, and the answer, so far, is yes. The weapons, gadgets and vehicles have all been rendered using ‘photogrammetry’, whereby pictures are taken from all angles, then used to generate a realistically weathered 3D object. And DICE’s Frostbite engine has been updated to support physics-based rendering materials have naturalistic properties that affect how light reflects upon them.
“It’s full-blooded fan service, as well as a universe expansion.”
A field of stars
What the new game borrows from battlefield, and what it doesn’t

When the new Battlefront was unveiled, there were fears that DICE might just reskin Battlefield bolting S-foils to all the helicopters, and introducing Tuskan Raiders to the hills of Caspian Border.

Here’s evidence that the developer understands what made the old games tick: you can switch freely from first to the original third-person view, in order to see further when in cover or bossing allies about. Iron sight aiming has been kept to a minimum, too some blaster rifles have scopes, but for the most part you’ll be shooting from the hip.

This shifts the emphasis from quickdraw and computer-enhanced accuracy to agility, positioning and good old-fashioned hand-to-eye coordination. Hey, it’s just like bullseyeing womp rats in your T16 back home, right?

That’s not to say Battlefront doesn’t share DNA with DICE’s other works. There are no longer any classes, for one thing you’ll put together a unique loadout by unlocking items with XP. Also as in Battlefield, bonus XP is awarded for headshots and streaks.

Lest this sound like the usual progression grind, you can share unlocks with less experienced players via the new Partner system and many of the better weapons or abilities spawn on the map. You’ll punch terminals to summon a Y-wing bomber run, scoop up launchers to wield against AT-ST walkers, and even, if you’re extra-watchful, reincarnate as a legendary Hero or Villain character and effectively become the boss.

Boba Fett has his charms, but we suspect most will make a beeline for Darth Vader himself. His Force Choke and knack for deflecting shots should put paid to any number of objective campers…
“Share unlocks with less experienced players via the new partner system.”
Armed and operational
You’ve seen them take out an at-at. now do it yourself

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first DICE’s Star Wars: Battlefront doesn’t offer space combat, mainly because this would apparently create too extreme a divide between the infantry gunplay and dogfights.

It does feature pretty much every other form of vehicular carnage, however, including giddy X-wing vs TIE fighter engagements over Tatooine’s canyons, the (suicidal-sounding) opportunity to ride a speeder bike through Endor’s forests, snowspeeder escapades on the glacial plains of Hoth, and air-to-ground strikes aboard the Millennium Falcon.

Cockpit and external views are in the works, so you’ll get full enjoyment of those lushly outfitted models. And what’s that in the sky over Jakku a Star Destroyer? We’ll be very surprised if you get to pilot it, but if the trailer for The Force Awakens is any indication, crash-landing it is a definite possibility.

We saw just the one mode in action behind closed doors Walker Assault, in which the Rebels hold their own against a relentless march of quadrupedal AT-ATs and their chicken-legged AT-ST brethren. The Rebels appear hopelessly outgunned, but have some nasty anti-vehicle tools at their disposal, such as deployable energy shields that’ll buy you a moment to reload your rocket launcher, or jetpacks that put you within swinging distance of an AT-AT’s weak spots.

It’s a chaotic affair, with 40 players (the maximum headcount) duking it out at once, some taking potshots from rope bridges while others attempt to fortify a stream bed. There are also smaller skirmishes the dinkiest are built for eight players that put the spotlight on certain approaches, such as fighting without vehicles.
“A jetpack will put you within swinging distance of an at-at’s weak points.”
Mission Improbable
Prefer to play solo? Here’s what you’ll get up to

Like its predecessors, the new Battlefront is a multiplayer-led title, but it isn’t devoid of offline options. The only ones DICE is talking about right now are Missions: “crafted challenges” featuring bots that are based on the best bits from the movies, with loads of custom options.

PSN averse players can still sample these cooperatively in horizontal split-screen mode, but you can also go it alone. Enemies aren’t designed to offer quite the same degree of challenge as online players DICE general manager Patrick Bach compares them to extras from the films. Think of Missions, then, as quick-fix time-wasters for when you lack the stomach for an online brawl, but still have a taste for some action.

It’s possible that some Missions will start you off as Heroes or Villains such as Vader holding a corner against the Alliance for as long as he can but the only action we’ve laid eyes on so far features generic Rebel characters.

Don’t forget that Partner system: in co-op it’ll enable you to see your ally’s location on the HUD, and spawn on each other to save travelling time. There’s no campaign in the traditional sense, which is perhaps sensible given DICE’s wobbly track record with Battlefield, but may deter those who love Star Wars for its story.

Intriguingly, DICE won’t confirm or deny the return of the old Galactic Conquest mode at the time of writing. This saw players taking turns with the AI to attack planets, unlocking mid-match bonuses map modifiers, effectively for every planet in your possession. We’d love to see it make an appearance.
''Spawn directly on an ally and save valuable time with the partner system.”

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