"Battlefront II vs. Halo: Yes, I go there (long review)"

INTRODUCTION

I have to admit, I was late to the Battlefront party. In the fall of last year, I picked up a used copy of Battlefront II for the Xbox on a whim, never having played the original. As soon as I had that disc doing 360's in my 360, I knew I had been missing out. On a LOT.

If you're a newcomer to the series, you should know that the main factor that sets Battlefront apart from other Star Wars titles (and there are lots of Star Wars titles...) is that instead of primarily controlling one of the main characters from SW lore, you fill the boots of ordinary infantrymen. At first glance, this sounds like marketing suicide. The pitch must have sounded something like this: "Okay, how about we make a Star Wars game, but here's the twist. You ready? You're going to like this: we take out all the most recognizable characters!" Crazy, you say? Crazy enough to work, as Battlefront is the best-selling Star Wars game of all time, and for good reason.

I should say that the most recognizable Star Wars characters do make appearances as heroes, but the bulk of the gameplay is centered around your rank-and-file droids, clones, imperials, and rebels.

The premise sounds simple. You line up droids on one side and clones on the other and let chaos ensue. But it's the little gameplay nuances that make Battlefront II, in my opinion, the Best. Shooter. Ever.

Better than Halo, you ask? Better than Halo, I reply, and I'll tell you why I think so.

GAMEPLAY

I'm going to compare Battlefront to Halo explicitly here, as Halo is the de facto gold standard for first-person shooters. Now, I don't want some hardcore PC fanboy to email me with, "But you haven't played the illegally translated version of Stellar Sniper: Platinum with the 2.8 patch and hAN_sh0t_1st_2002's custom mods!" Save it. I'm a married man with a full-time job who's way too fond of actual sunlight to scour the four corners of the internet for the perfect gaming experience. Put simply, I'm giving you a casual gamer's evaluation.

There are several key factors that elevate Battlefront II above Halo.

1. The battles are larger-scale than Halo's multiplayer battles. The hallways get clogged with droids. A swath of Rebel soldiers stream over a hill in daunting numbers. A large open field is peppered with blue and red laser beams like a futuristic fireworks display. The carnage is quite impressive, and what makes it more dramatic is that there are two discernable sides clashing on the field of battle. There's something visceral about seeing a squad of Storm Troopers headed towards you that just can't be replicated by different-colored Master Chiefs.

2. The class system is a breath of fresh air. The part I hate the most about multiplayer Halo is the mad scramble for good weapons at the match's outset. Some people, for some unfathomable reason, like this aspect, but to me it feels absolutely contrived. I prefer Battlefront's approach, where each soldier has a specialty as he is fully equipped and prepared before ever stepping foot on the battlefield.

For instance, I have a "sniperish" personality. In Halo, you're lucky to get one sniper rifle on a map, and if you don't get it first, then it's T.S. for you. In Battlefront, you make your choice before spawning, which means no contrived Easter egg hunt. You get right down to the action.

3. The command posts make SO much more sense as spawn locations than random points on the map. In Halo you're dropped from to void at an arbitrary spot, and most likely your head is right in an opponent's waiting crosshairs before you can take your first breath. In Battlefront, command posts are those areas your side has already taken over, so you've likely got some support and a bit of elbow room before joining the battle. If enemies camp at a command post in Battlefront, they eventually TAKE that command post, and thus you can't spawn there. It's all about territory, and it works wonderfully.

4. The heroes change the game, for the better. If you earn enough points in the match, you can unlock a powerful hero or villain from the Star Wars universe, such as Yoda, the Emperor, Han Solo, or Boba Fett. They're far more powerful than regular soldiers, but let me tell you why this is a good thing. Say you're a rebel soldier, and you're leading a nice little squad through the Death Star. You're picking off Storm Troopers with great alacrity, but when you turn the next corner, you've got Darth Freaking Vader headed your way, buzzing red light saber in hand. Immediately, your fight or flight response is triggered, as one of your squad mates yells, "It's Vader!" Do you roll the dice and stand to fight, or do you seek cover and avoid the business end of a saber strike? It creates some memorable moments, my friends, and there's nothing in Halo that duplicates it.

I've spent most of my time on multiplayer, but let me also add that the Campaign modes and Galactic Conquest are also extremely worthwhile. They don't really need a long section, though, because they all rely on the same formula. There are no "levels," per se, only maps. This game sticks to what it's good at.

GRAPHICS

I'm no graphics whore, so this game looks excellent to me. Yes, I've seen Gears of War and GRAW, and I'm still fine with these humble Xbox polygons. The Wookiees look like Wookiees and Obi Wan looks like Obi Wan, and that's good enough for me. The maps faithfully recreate familiar scenes from the movies, like Jabba's Palace and the Tantive IV, giving it a distinct Star Wars flair. I won't spend a lot of time here because I can't really ask for anything more.

SOUND AND MUSIC

The game really shines in the aural department. The music is classic John Williams Star Wars fare, which is good news to everyone. Hearing the Empire's theme gives you a sense of foreboding and anxiety. When the Rebellion music kicks in, it's more upbeat and exciting. The Star Wars score is classic for a reason, and you can't go wrong duplicating it in a videogame.

Equally important are the sound effects. The fluorescent-like buzz of the light sabers is instantly recognizable, and faithfully recreated here, as are the high-pitch shots of blasters and AT-AT walkers. In addition, the use of voice-overs successfully immerses you in battle. As mentioned above, your squad mates will announce when a hero draws near. Storm Troopers will yell, "It's Skywalker!" and Clone Troopers exclaim, "General Grievous!" They also chime in about regular troops as well, with lines like "Take out that sniper!" and, my personal favorite, "We've got DROIDS!" They'll compliment you on nice shots and warn you of nearby grenades. You won't believe how much the dialogue adds to the experience. It makes Halo seem eerily quiet by comparison.

CONCLUSION & CRITICISMS

It may seem like I'm hammering the Halo series throughout my review, but believe me when I say I love that game. I cut my teeth on that game. The entire reason why I pitted Halo against Battlefront in this review is because I didn't think it was possible for a shooter to be better than the venerable Halo... until I played Battlefront II, that is.

I'm here to tell you, if you're into shooters, it's infinitely worth it to pick up this gem. As of this writing, you can buy a new copy for US$20 or less, and the game hasn't aged, my friends! Even better, it's fully backward compatible on the X360.

As this is one of the best games I've ever played, I don't have many harsh words to say, but I'll end by listing some of my gripes. First, you can't play with any faction on any map. For instance, you can't play the Galactic Civil War (Empire vs. Rebels) on Geonosis. There may be some reason behind this; I'm not sure, because unlike everyone else on the internet, I'm not a Star Wars historian. If they're staying faithful to the storyline, however, I shouldn't be able to play Clones vs. Droids on the Death Star.

The rest of my "gripes" are, really nothing more than a wish list. This is one of those games where I can't really complain too much about what's there; I can only hope for what they might put in when (or if) Battlefront III rolls around. More maps, more heroes, more multiplayer options are all I can say. Keep it the same, only add more, because Battlefront is an absolute, certifiable masterpiece.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/08/07


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