By Michael Ros
The scope of the Star Wars fanbase can be considered as vast as the franchise’s universe itself, and a chance to immerse ourselves in said universe has come in many forms. Video games set a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away have come and gone. Some disappear into obscurity, such as Masters of Teras-Kasi or Star Wars Demolition, while others have become classic video games in their own right like Jedi Outcast, Knights of the Old Republic, and Rogue Squadron, which was recently reviewed by our very own Marshall Garvey. Few games, however, are as prevalent as the ever-popular Battlefront series, which as we all know at this point has a new installment in development for next-gen consoles.
Many games have put us in the shoes of unstoppable Jedi warriors mowing down countless enemies with ease, or in the cockpit of a starfighter chasing down Imperial TIE Fighters. Yet the Star Wars universe is so vast and its fans ever yearning that even wielding a lightsaber was not enough to quench us. We wanted to step in the shoes of a Stormtrooper and take to the snow fields of Hoth with an army behind us. Star Wars: Battlefront (2004) and its 2005 sequel traded our lightsabers for blasters and set us loose on an experience that has captivated fans for a decade now. Today we’re going to look at the series’ two main installments, whilst also asking what the forthcoming title in 2015 can learn from them.
First to note is the specific and similar array of roles to choose from for both the Rebels and Empire. Like any class-based shooter, each trooper class plays their own unique role on the battlefield. For the most part, these two games are nearly identical in terms of how the different classes operate: the Soldier mainly kills people, the Heavy Trooper focuses on destroying armored targets, the Sniper snipes, and the Pilot drives vehicles. Then there are the special classes, the wild cards of the bunch. While far from broken, some of them can be frustrating to deal with at times, such as the Droideka’s strong shield and the Bothan Spy’s incinerator. Perhaps in the future special classes can be tailored to counter other special classes. I’m not saying the game has to be Team Fortress 2, but some sort of balance would be appreciated so that a few Droidekas don’t dominate the whole match on their own.
While I haven’t played the spinoffs such as Renegade Squadron on the PSP, I saw that they had de-emphasized the class system in favor of customizing your own fighter. It’s an interesting idea as long as they don’t abandon the class-based system entirely. There are many games already in which you are placed in the shoes of an individual fighting a personal conflict. The point of the Battlefront series is to put the players in the role of the uniformed foot soldiers fighting on the frontlines. However, pitting your personalized sniper Twi’lek against another person’s rocket-launcher wielding Ithorian is always a welcome scenario. I hope the new installment keeps both and utilizes them to their full potential, balancing the class system and providing plenty of options for customizing your own soldier.
The original game stuck to ground-based battles, from the metropolis of Cloud City to the barren Dune Sea. Overall we saw sixteen battlefields across ten worlds, one of which was never shown in the films. Battlefront II on the other hand stuck to locations in the films, focusing mainly on Revenge of the Sith, which was released the same year. While I understand the need to capitalize on its concurrent release, I felt it was a missed opportunity. Star Wars video games can be a means to expand the universe, taking us to brand new worlds. Rhen Var and Kashyyyk to this day remain some of my favorite maps in the original simply because they were new locations not seen in the films. (Revenge of the Sith hadn’t come out yet, and even then the maps bore little resemblance to what we see in the film.) While again I haven’t played the spinoffs, they did include more locations from the Expanded Universe such as Ord Mantell and Korriban. I sincerely hope that we see some new planets in addition to familiar ones in the next installment, and not just ones featured in Episode VII.
The space battles introduced in the second game were a fun addition, though on reflection there wasn’t much to them. The maps overall felt a bit empty and could have perhaps benefited from some space stations that you can land in, or just something to fill the massive gaps between the two capital ships. Speaking of those capital ships, the advertising for Battlefront II highlighted the ability to land in an enemy hangar and storm their ship. However, you only had access to a few chambers that housed some of the ship’s critical systems. I would have liked for the capital ships’ interior to be a bit more extensive, as they are massive in size. After all, who wouldn’t want to storm the bridge of a Star Destroyer with some friends?
Leaked footage from many years back of what was supposedly going to be the third official installment showed a soldier fighting on land, jumping into a Jedi Starfighter and taking off into space where another battle was taking place (this was before original developer Pandemic was shut down). He then landed in the hangar of one of the capital ships in orbit. This idea has huge potential, and could really make Battlefront feel new again. Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron on the PSP and Nintendo DS combined land and space battles, but they weren’t seamless. Rather, they transitioned from one to the other with a cutscene. If they do combine land and space battles, I hope they can find a way to make them more fluid.
Something worth mentioning about the original games is that the majority of the maps were set in broad daylight. Those of you who have played Jabba’s Palace on the PS2 know why I bring this up. On dark maps like that one and the city of Theed, enemies can be difficult to make out until it’s far too late. Given how graphics technology has progressed between generations, I don’t think we’ll have that problem anymore but my point still stands. As someone who firmly believes that today’s graphics have thus far been wasted on realism and bland, dark, greyish-brown settings, I personally would love to see locations like Felucia or Cloud City remade in HD. Star Wars has many vibrant and colorful worlds that are marvelous spectacles in their own right, and the new generation of consoles have the capability to bring them to life in a way unlike anything seen before.
The vehicles in the original Battlefront were BEASTS. All of them. The firepower of almost any vehicle’s standard laser cannons could send a group of enemies within its immediate vicinity flying through the air, and it felt amazing. Fast forward to the second installment, where the firepower has been significantly toned down, but now every vehicle has a slower yet more powerful secondary weapon. I understand why they did this, and for practical purposes it was a reasonable decision. However, if I’m in an AT-AT gunning down fleeing rebel scum, I want to FEEL like I’m in an AT-AT. I want to feel like I’m in a nearly impenetrable monster of a machine. Perhaps some sort of middle ground can be sought out in terms of firepower.
Heroes played a minimal role in the first game as non-playable characters that aided you on the battlefield. The announcement that you could play as Jedi in the second installment was no doubt a huge deal and indeed had me excited. On reflection though, they might be a bit broken. While you should indeed feel overpowered playing a Jedi versus a group of hapless Stormtroopers, their presence definitely offset the balance and their health-bar system didn’t help. The purpose of the ever diminishing ‘Health Sword’ was to ensure that the players couldn’t keep the hero for the whole battle, but a skilled player would be able to keep the hero regardless and the very idea of a Jedi simply falling over dead because they went too long without killing something is absurd. Few things are more satisfying than being one of the few remaining units on your team only to make a comeback, defying all odds when the reinforcement count was 5 versus 20. Said comebacks are then ruined when you’re the last one standing and you keel over because you couldn’t replenish your health with the souls of your enemies.
Perhaps they could have healed like normal units by standing next to a medical droid, only they take ten times longer like they already do in the Hero Assault mode on Mos Eisley. That way you won’t take their abilities for granted, choosing to be more careful with your newfound power rather than recklessly diving headfirst into every enemy you see in order to keep the lightsaber health bar for longer. It would also give the opposing side a chance to spring back while the Jedi is holding back for a prolonged healing session. If it were up to me, however, I would cut hero characters out entirely. I understand that’s a pretty radical change, but there are already plenty of games that make you feel like an unstoppable Jedi warrior that have done it better. As I said before, the purpose of the Battlefront series is to put you in the role of the footsoldiers fighting the large-scale battles that would shape the galaxy.
Video games have let us experience the Star Wars universe in new and exciting ways, and the Battlefront series is no exception. To this day I still enjoy blasting Imperial Stormtroopers with friends on a frequent basis. I understand that I’ve made quite a few suggestions, some of them minor and some of them extreme. I also understand that not all of these suggestions (if any) can be incorporated, but if just a few of them are I will be the most happy gamer/Star Wars fan in the galaxy.