I still have doubts after 30 minutes with Star Wars: Battlefront, but I’m slowly embracing The Force

My first experience with Star Wars: Battlefront was a decade ago. It feels like yesterday. Few games in that era had the same level of competitive latency, particularly on consoles. I turned into such a Battlefront fanboy that I even forked out for the disappointingly shallow PSP port of Battlefront II, which lacked online multiplayer and instead only had limited four-player local play. Somehow I made it work: I put in a further 20+ hours with that version after weeks of playing the Xbox version. Now that the series is being rebooted, it’s refreshing to see a competitive shooter on consoles that isn’t called Call of Duty, and rest assured that Battlefront certainly doesn’t feel like a Battlefield game with a Star Wars skin.

I spent about 30 minutes playing Battlefront at E3, and I left satisfied. It was admittedly a lot better than I expected — my expectations were high, but I have admittedly lost a little faith in DICE after two bad launches with Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 — and it was one of only three games that I found myself clamouring to play again after my session. It’s safe to say that, while I’m still skeptical about the game’s longevity and value, objectively it certainly plays like a very well-polished, tight game.

The setting was Hoth. Even the most novice of Star Wars fan will recognise this place. Really, there probably isn’t a better location to test the game out on. Long, clear sightlines. Plenty of trenches for cover. Let’s also not forget that it’s the home of one of the film series’ most memorable battles. Aesthetically, it looked and felt like a Star Wars game. If anything, the Battle of Hoth showcase was DICE’s and EA’s opportunity to say to the gaming world, “Look at what we’ve created!” I certainly never felt as though the gameplay itself was front-and-center as much as the Star Wars look and feel was. The sounds and visuals of the battlefront in this instance scream the franchise’s name, and I don’t think we could have asked for anything else. It looks “Star Wars”, and, most importantly, it plays like a game confident in its own identity.

I played on the side of the Empire. “Good. Goooooood,” I thought to myself. Playing as an Imperial soldier gave me what I can only describe as a psychological edge: when you have Imperial AT-AT friendlies slowly stomping ahead of you, you just generate a sort of battlefront superiority. I definitely felt as though I was part of a cause, which is not something I often feel in competitive shooters. This is an edge I hope DICE takes advantage of over the broader Battlefront experience: someone playing as a Rebel should feel vulnerable yet empowered, while an Imperial soldier should project a sense of arrogant power. I actually did have that: I wanted to crush the Rebel scum! So far, so good, Battlefront!

Storming uplinks with 19 other soldiers felt somewhat disingenuous, but developers have always fought the uphill battle to make team-based objectives feel reliant upon each individual player. At times I felt like I was just shooting at nothingness, whereas other times I felt genuinely part of a coalition of players aiming to take down an uplink. It was easy to get lost as just a guy trying to build up a killstreak, but when I actively found myself striving towards a goal, it just reinforced my purpose as an Imperial soldier.

Gone is the complicated perks system from DICE’s Battlefield games, which might be music to the ears of Battlefrontdiehards, or cause for concern from Battlefield fanatics hoping for a hardcore shooter. There are no ironsights, and weapons have hardly any recoil. They will overheat though, but at least you don’t need to worry about ammo. When my special abilities rebooted, I could either light up an electrically-charged blaster shot, or use my jetpack to jettison out of a tough situation. Weapons all felt distinctly different although similarly powerful, with the abilities there as a booster for some added battlefront “oomph”.

Of course, in a mode called “Walker Assault”, one would expect to, as an Imperial soldier, drive an actual Walker. Medals scattered around the map allow you to build up towards accessing special vehicles, and while my first time in a Tie-Fighter was momentary — I was shot down almost immediately — I loved the complexity of its controls and the perfection of its aesthetic and audio. I landed the Imperial AT-AT twice, and I must commend DICE on designing a balanced yet powerful beast. These things feel heavy to control and move around the combat area, yet they pack a powerful blast that gave me an unprecedented rush of authority. At no point in my play time did I feel more at ease with fighting for the Empire than when I was controlling one of these behemoths.

After a brief time with Battlefront, I’m now far more confident that DICE has honoured the Star Wars franchise and the Battlefront series proper. My concerns still lie in the amount of content available at launch, and whether the game’s competitive element has the longevity to counter what seems like a barebones launch experience. I had fun … but that was over only 30 minutes. Nonetheless, from both a gameplay and aesthetic perspective, I’m really excited about what I saw.