Luke Skywalker was surrounded.
A Stormtrooper, this one a woman with her helmet off, was directly ahead. To the left, behind a curvature of sand dunes, stood three more. Luke’s lightsaber went into a block position, deflecting blaster fire to knock out two of the Stormtroopers, but it was too little, too late. Luke had taken damage earlier, and she got me.
Luke Skywalker was dead — for a few seconds, at least.
In “Star Wars Battlefront,” players can rewrite “Star Wars” history. The arcade-like action allows for the narratives of battle to change at a moment’s notice. Play as Luke, Leia, Han or maybe Boba Fett and be prepared to play with others. This is a multiplayer-focused game that skimps on single-player content.
The Electronic Arts-published game is the first major “Star Wars” title to be released since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, and it’s coming at a time when “Star Wars” mania, the 2015 edition, is at a high point.
The release of “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” is just weeks away, and plenty of opening weekend screenings across the country are already sold out.
Now a $60 video game seeks to distill the franchise’s galactic action into frenetic yet accessible set pieces. “Battlefront” is like a “Star Wars” clip show. You want to see AT-ATs? They’re here. The Emperor’s deadly lightning bolts? Those are here too.
“Battlefront” looks like “Star Wars.” It feels like “Star Wars.” It sounds like “Star Wars.” But it raises a question: Is that enough?
Can a “Star Wars” product that’s simply competent fulfill fans’ pent-up desire for all-things related to the Force? “Battlefront” won’t embarrass anyone, but capable will have to do.
The game, a mix of blaster battles, lightsaber wielding and dogfights in space, has the aura of a “Star Wars” party playlist — one where the songs are all chorus and no verses. Pilot an X-wing, use the Force to lift an enemy off his or her feet, jet pack around a planet as Boba Fett. Missions are objective-based rather than story-driven and run the risk of feeling repetitive over time.
Still, as a game based almost entirely on the original saga, with a downloadable addition inspired by “The Force Awakens” due Dec. 8, Electronic Arts developer Dice has delivered a game that’s efficient, confident and is indeed playful. Most important, it takes the potentially imposing genre of the multiplayer shooter and gives it a glossy, inviting “Star Wars” sheen.
It needs to be said that “Battlefront” may in fact be the best-looking game released in 2015. When X-wings dip into the caverns of Tatooine, it’s easy to be mesmerized by the photo-real look of the canyons and the soft red glow of the ship’s engines. Lightsabers, too, have a fuzzy effervescence, and when I was dying every few seconds on Endor, I did so while admiring the lush forests and glistening leaves on the gargantuan trees.
It’s a digital universe that more than one-ups the one created by the cartoon-like “Star Wars” prequels. “Battlefront” makes you want to spend time with it. I just wish there was something more substantial to do with its elegant world than blast away.
Solo players, in fact, will likely want to steer clear of the title. There are some single-player-focused training runs — piloting an Imperial speeder on Endor is indeed a thrill, albeit an extremely brief one — but the push here is to get players online and take part in the game’s large battle arenas.
The Stockholm-based Dice, a studio known best for multiplayer-focused franchise “Battlefield,” has essentially delivered the “Star Wars” game it promised, one that successfully revives the long-dormant “Battlefront” name as a brand dedicated to multiplayer shoot-outs.
Competitive in nature, the game boasts nine different multiplayer modes, some allowing for as many as 40 players, one based on capturing droids, some in which ships can be piloted and a couple that allow players to cycle in as recognizable heroes or villains. Smaller arenas, such as “Hero Hunt,” pit seven players versus one “Star Wars” icon. I spent most of my limited time with the game perishing in the bigger online courses.
Given that I generally avoid the strictly challenge-based online multiplayer experience, “Battlefront” is probably not the “Star Wars” game I’ve been looking for. But I won’t try to pretend that the “Star Wars” fan in me wasn’t ready to cheer the first time Luke threw up his lightsaber and deflected blaster fire.
And I loved the look and enjoyed the tone. Firing a blaster feels less contentious than, say, a “Call of Duty” rifle (no need to worry about bullets), and Dice has nailed the “Star Wars” audio design.
Make no mistake, watching and listening to blaster fire from all angles is an exciting proposition.
There are some concessions made to those who don’t want to battle online with strangers, but less than such an accessible title such as “Star Wars” should probably have. There’s a mission called “Survival,” in which players try to hold off waves of enemies and can do so with a friend online or local co-op (via a split screen) and there are large-scale battles on planets such as the icy Hoth or desert-based Tatooine.
Here, it’s possible to play as one of the six heroes or villains, powering through Hoth as Vader (he can throw his lightsaber like a boomerang) or blasting around the planet as Leia, who has a wicked one-armed aim. Expect some corniness, such as Leia taunting Stormtroopers by hollering lines of dialogue such as, “You want to try that again?”
But what would “Star Wars” be without a little silliness? “Battlefront,” in fact, could benefit from a little more — more corniness and more content.
“Battlefront” hits the right notes, and then keeps on hitting them. Again, and again and again. Mileage, dependent on one’s penchant for battling online, will vary.
“STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT”
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release date: Out now
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