Review by Evil Dave
"Epic Online Battles, Idiot-Savant Offline AI"
In 1977, George Lucas and 20th Century Fox teamed up to release a film about intergalactic conflict, Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. It would mark the beginning of an incredibly influential and profitable franchise for its creator, as well as a frenzied following by many devoted fans of the series. Since the original came to release, 4 new movies have followed suit (with another on the way shortly), and in what can only be described as a logical extension of the brand, more than 2 dozen videogames have also been created bearing the Star Wars name. Star Wars: Battlefront is the latest of LucasArts videogame iterations of the Star Wars universe. In the game, you are given the opportunity to actually live the battles' that have been cemented in the heads of Star Wars junkies for so many years. While the premise of being able to actually take part in one of the many large-scale battles from the movies is certainly enough to hook fans of the franchise, is the game fun enough on its own to entice others to join in? Read on:
The game's interface is very stylized, which fits in well with the futuristic Star Wars motif. All menus in the game do their job with minimal distraction, and everything you would want to do is easily accessible. Once you get in-game, your HUD displays all pertinent information in a clear, graphically concise manner. All the vital stats you need to keep track of are represented in an easy-to-understand manner.
In-game graphics are of a very high quality. The worlds from the movies are extremely well recreated, with everything remaining as true to the source material as possible. All of the levels look gorgeous. The character and vehicle animations are also very well done. Each race looks and performs smoothly, and the sight of an infantry battle being fought while large and small vehicles crowd the battlefield is truly a sight to behold.
The game also features an occasional clip ripped directly from the movies. While these certainly won't bring anyone to buy the game (Star Wars fan or not), they do help retell a bit of the back story for each mission.
The visual quality of the game will make Star Wars fans jump for joy, and should also prove to be a strong point to those who are not similar with the series.
Since LucasArts is the company that invented the Dolby Digital sound format, one would expect the audio quality to be top-of-the-line for Battlefront. These expectations are proven true, as the sound effects and music truly help to simulate the feeling of involvement in a Star Wars battle.
The sound effects are masterfully orchestrated, with each weapon and vehicle making the Star Wars-appropriate noise associated with it. The cacophony of battle surrounding the player does an excellent job of immersion, as you will constantly hear explosions and weapons fire erupting around you, giving you a frenzied feel.
The Star Wars series' music has long been renowned for its quality, and Battlefront draws from the library to great effect. Music that you would have heard in the movies plays during the same battle that you're experiencing in the videogame, which will give any Star Wars fan the chills. For those not familiar with the material, again they should come away duly impressed with the quality of the experience.
Voiceover acting comes in short spurts, with an unseen character for each force simply providing an announcement when an important event occurs in the battle. You'll also occasionally hear a character say something during the battle, such as a warning to move out of the path of an oncoming explosion. These simple voiceovers are done well, and help you get into the feel of the battle.
The audio quality in Battlefronts matches well with the visual quality, creating the Star Wars worlds in such a way that even those who have never seen the movies can appreciate their distinct expression.
The gameplay in Battlefront really breaks down into two categories: XBox Live play, and offline play. While the two are from the same game the experience is very different from one to the other, which will ultimately hurt or help sell the game.
Controls are mapped in a fashion extremely similar to those of Halo, which has seemingly become the industry standard. You'll move yourself and your sights with the left and right analog sticks, respectively. The right trigger serves as your fire' button, while the left utilizes your secondary weapon, such as a grenade; the black and white buttons are used to cycle through these weapons. The A button jumps, B toggles your character between standing, sitting, and going prone, Y serves to trigger actions (such as entering and exiting vehicles), and X reloads your weapon. The D-pad issues a few simple orders to the friendly soldiers in your vicinity. Start pauses the game, and the back button cycles through map modes.
The controls are very well done, which is to be expected from any game that clones Halo's control layout. Everything handles very tightly, and all the buttons are remappable to suit the desires of individual players. Vehicle controls are roughly the same as those for infantry, and are similarly solid. Once you've played for a bit and get a good feel for the way each vehicle moves, you'll be able to maneuver around the landscapes with enough precision to be a threat. Some of the vehicles are a bit tough to control, though, and take more time to learn than others.
Offline, the gameplay is simple. You go around your chosen battlefield fighting off enemy forces, while attempting to gain control of command posts.' These posts serve as spawn points for reinforcements. When one team has control of all command posts for 20 seconds, victory is attained. Victory can also be achieved by defeating all of your enemy's units. You play controlling a nameless soldier from one of 5 classes a sniper, heavy infantry, regular infantry, shock trooper, or pilot. Each job uses different weapons and tools, and has different strengths. You can switch between classes when you die.
The single-player campaign modes feel a bit uninspired. The foremost problem is enemy and friendly AI Enemies will run in droves to chokepoints, getting slaughtered in the process. They will ignore enemy sniper fire to stay in one spot, no matter how many of their teammates die around them. They will clamber into nearby vehicles, only to drive them to sure doom in enemy-controlled areas. They'll get stuck on scenery, unable to move but firing infinitely. Friendly CPU characters will do the same silly things. Playing in a battle with this type of behavior will be a turnoff for many. For a game that plays towards many people's fantasy of becoming their hero from a movie, seeing Darth Vader running forever into a wall, swinging away his light saber at nothing in particular definitely dulls the feelings of heroism.
Overall, the offline battles should still appeal to players looking to take part in big, wonderfully orchestrated clashes, and will certainly be a selling point to fans of the Star Wars franchise, but the stupid behavior by AI-controlled characters will take away from the draw for many.
There are two offline modes: Galactic Conquest, where you choose a race and then set out to conquer the galaxy planet-by-planet with them, and Historic Campaign, where you follow the events of the movies from the perspective of one of the sides fighting.
The game supports XBox Live play, which is detailed below. You'll also see System Link support, so you can play with 16 of your friends (and their 4 XBoxes, 4 TVs, 4 copies of Battlefront, and 16 controllers) rather than going on Live.
The offline modes can be played through in 2-player co-op, which helps to alleviate some of the incompetence of the AI.
Live play is what many will come for (especially since early releases of the game feature an offer for 2 free months of Live), but the co-op and split-screen will help for those without Live capability. The two offline modes are a small distraction from the real competition.
Battlefront's gameplay truly is at its best when it is experienced on XBox Live.
On Live, you can join into a battle featuring up to 15 other human-controlled players fighting either with you or against you. Unfortunately, since the battles themselves are much bigger than 16 people, they are populated with the same dumb CPU-controlled bots as in the offline mode. This doesn't cut into the fun too greatly, though, as the skirmishes you'll have with other human-controlled players will leave you wanting more. All the trimmings of any online shooter are here, and when combined with the huge battlefield and the atmosphere of Star Wars, it creates a memorable experience.
The game so far doesn't offer any special support for the Friends list, nor does it allow for downloadable content as of this review. It does support the Friends feature's regular uses, as well as the use of the XBox Communicator headset during gameplay. Latency is fairly good for the game, with most of the matches being run by a solid enough host to withstand even a full 16-player match.
The XBox Live portion of Battlefront is obviously the focus of the game, and it delivers in a big way. While the limitations of the platform cost users the opportunity to eliminate the CPU-controlled characters completely, the gameplay is still strong enough that any Live subscriber would do themselves well to at least rent it.
Overall, Star Wars: Battlefront ends up as exactly what the designers intended: an opportunity for devout Star Wars aficionados to actually take part in the epic battles that for so many years they have enjoyed on the big screen. Anyone with the opportunity to play it on XBox Live would do well to give it a shot, although those without a previous predilection towards the series or a broadband internet connection may find it hard to overlook the game's offline AI woes.
Score: 8/10 (not an average)
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/04/04
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