Star Wars Battlefront is at an unusual stage of game-maturity. Gone are its hey-days of 2004, when children and adults alike would sit down for a fiery exchange of battle droid arm rockets. Those days are replaced by impending adolescence, a game faded into obscurity but never quite leaving the collective gaming consciousness, thanks to its infinitely playable nature. Yet when playing Battlefront in 2015, you tread a fine line between stirring feelings of longing and just being a bit uncool. The original game is at the point where it isn’t afforded nostalgic status (nostalgia is left to gaming classics like Goldeneye, or possibly Fantasy World Dizzy). Battlefront instead resides in the uncomfortable space between modern and retro.
It’s this obscurity of Star Wars Battlefront that has allowed EA to release a new game in the series, which is confusingly named Star Wars Battlefront. Thanks to an industry that can’t stop kicking the same dead horse fifty-thousand times in the hope of it coughing up some nostalgicy spleens, EA has taken the Sony approach of rebooting an entire franchise less than a decade after its previous instalment (I’m looking at you, The Amazing Spider-man!) rather than simply naming the game Battlefront 3, like the internet had already christened it.
After the release of the Star Wars Battlefront Beta, and the completed game inching closer, it seemed fitting to dust off the ol’ PS2 and give the original disc a good spinning. Let us compare Star Wars Battlefront, and see how it holds up to …Star Wars Battlefront.
For those of you that haven’t played the original game (what on earth were you doing in late 2004?) it helps to think of the original Battlefront as a sort of Mario Kart for the huge world of Star Wars franchised games – minus the racing, deadly exploding blue shells, floating item boxes and small Italian plumbers. Okay, so although Mario Kart and Battlefront are entirely different in almost every way, Battlefront did manage to capitalise on the local-multiplayer niche that is currently occupied solely by Nintendo. Although it has a single-player campaign, the game is instead best enjoyed with drinks, friends and the occasional yell of “FOR THE CHANCELLOR,” only afforded to those who could gather enough people willing to take it in turns to play. If you were even luckier, you might have drilled a hole in the wall and stuck an Ethernet cable into the back of your original PS2’s network adapter (lovingly referred to as the PS2-phat) to have a bash at the “WITH NET PLAY” so prominently featured on the game’s cover. Although the boarded-up, barren servers of the game are now filled with the screams of virtual dead Gungans, Battlefront paved the way for how the internet would shape multiplayer games in the future. Thanks to a dash of Wi-Fi and several years of patience, that future is about to come to fruition, with the help of DICE’s technical wizardry.
It’s almost easy to forget that the original Battlefront had a single-player campaign, but it does – albeit one that works best as a training ground to figure out the most efficient way to destroy your friend’s armies. Single-player is split into three separate areas; Instant action, Campaign, and Galactic Conquest. You can find all these modes by working through the games frustratingly slow menu system, a system which decides to only recognise the button presses it thinks you put the most effort into.
The campaign is the most important of the three modes, giving the game a story mode that very loosely resembles that of the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, with cut scenes of the films spread throughout (on replay, the cut scenes look like a low-resolution, eerie glimpse at the 2015 reboot). The missions throughout the campaign mode are laughably easy, with goals that are simple to complete and AI that has the intelligence of a wet sandwich. The first mission is a particular highlight of this, as a field of Gungans run, arms flailing, in a large field full of muddy textures – occasionally throwing the odd grenade, occasionally throwing a witty Gungan-like remark – all eventually end up riddled with holes. It is somewhat sad (yet oddly satisfying) to see a field of these gormless Gungans reduced to a single one, which then proceeds to run directly into gunfire, without a care in the world or any semblance of an understanding of how battle works. Finding that last Gungan can be tricky, however, as the fields of battle can be overly-large and the journey to the last enemy can be arduous. Many times have I wandered around deserted areas previously teeming with droids, looking to find that last one, only to give up and force my character repeatedly into a wall until the word VICTORY inexplicable appears in a sudden jolt, leaving me both relieved and startled.
The missions curve a little in difficulty, but campaign mode remains easy throughout. Most rounds are either won by capturing all the command posts, or killing the entire enemy army – such is the lack of difficulty in the game that it’s almost impossible to capture all of the command posts without killing everyone, anyway. These objectives are thinly veiled in story-driven ‘reasons’, usually delivered to you during the loading screen by a drunk-sounding Yoda, or a terrifying impression of Palpatine that still haunts my ears; both seem to guide me at random, leaving me to believe that the character I play as is both a) immortal, and b) unable to decide if they are good or evil.
Galactic Conquest adds a little variety to the single-player mode, as you conquer the galaxy (no prizes are given to those who guessed the aim of Galactic Conquest), by completing a series of missions identical to that of the campaign mode.
This leaves us with Instant Action, which is essentially the Campaign/Galactic Conquest without the pretence.
Let’s not kid ourselves – very few people pick up and play Battlefront to enjoy the single-player modes. The game is most well-known for delivering a fantastic multiplayer experience, which it does in droves. It feels as if Pandemic Studios designed the entire game with online and local multiplayer in mind first-and-foremost. The fantastic controls, gameplay, locations, mechanics and end-of-round statistics are brilliant, but some elements feel tacked on when translated into single-player. When finishing a round, you can see who made the most kills, captured the most command posts or died the most times – but when playing on your own these measurements are filled by a wall of “WOOKIE” or “DROID 2832132”. A lonely experience this game is not.
There are a few caveats to the online multiplayer of Battlefront, the main one being that it no longer exists. Amazingly, however, this is only a recent occurrence, as although the original servers for the game have long since died, custom GameSpy servers remained open until 2014, when the final servers for Battlefront II closed. Despite their stubborn existence, actually getting to these servers could be a bit of a pain. Getting the PS2-phat to work with an internet connection could be awkward, requiring the use of an adapter, an Ethernet connection (or sometimes a dial-up phone line!), a network start-up disc and the knowledge to put it all together onto your memory card - a memory card which came with a whopping eight-whole-megabytes of data! Yet the difficulty of getting it all up and running can be forgiven – this was 2004 after all – as Battlefront was one of many games in its era to force consoles into the internet-age. The era that was usually reserved for the PC master race and its legions of Team Fortress (now Team Fortress Classic) players.
With a lack of online multiplayer, Battlefront should be relegated to the bottom of my game pile, but it’s the split-screen that keeps me firing the game up. Playing Battlefront with a group of friends is a lot of fun! Simply playing with another real life player with an IQ higher than the AIs (probably that of a doorknob) leads to a far more interesting game. Suddenly, tactics start to matter and running straight into the field of battle can be dangerous. Ignoring the large vehicles and weapons can leave your side decimated (thanks, AT-AT walkers of Hoth), and planning your excursion to the opposite side of the map to capture that vital command-post becomes far more interesting. Finer details can be lost, however, thanks to the already low resolution and lack of widescreen, splitting the screen in two leaves players with very few pixels to make out the fuzzy grenades that land at your feet. In fact, the graphics as a whole look atrocious by today’s standards - but then so do those of any game in 2004. There’s little point in spending time complaining about the ability to count the polygons on individual structures – I’d much rather spend that time shooting down droidekas.
Besides, what makes Battlefront so playable is not the graphics, or the repetitive, incredibly easy single-player – the original Battlefront remains playable today due to its tight controls, fun split screen mode and legacy. There’s a reason we’ve been anticipating another instalment in the franchise. Any game set in a world as richly dense as the Star Wars universe piques the interest of gamer, but one that delivers on the promises paved out by the original Battlefront – that of an infinitely playable online and offline experience – is key to delivering on the hype that’s been built up.
2015’s Star Wars Battlefront has been a long time in the making. Let’s hope it lives up to the promises it made over ten years ago.
Journalist, optimist, and gamer - Jake is usually the biggest Zelda fan in the room. He also tweets and eats Jammy Dodgers, almost always at the same time