I’m firing a friggin’ blaster! On Hoth! Yes, I’m a hated Imperial stormtrooper crushing the Rebel Alliance. But dude! I’m firing a friggin’ blaster! On Hoth! Electronic Arts decided they’d better play-test their monster franchise reboot and see if this shooter could handle a million fanpeeps before it comes out for real. So yesterday, like the Deathstar powering up its planet-searing cannon, the beta for Star Wars Battlefront hit the console stores. Download it we must. But is the Force with EA’s anticipated title? Brace yourself for the jump into hyperspace, and let’s take a look.
The beta offers just a taste of the full game. So there’s three modes to dig into. But they’re all pretty fun. For single players, there’s Survival Mode. You drop onto Tatooine as a Rebel soldier and have to survive waves of Imperial enemies. The planet’s red crags are beautifully realized, as you run through twisting gullies, your feet crunching on the gravelly sand. The controls take a little getting used to, but they’re pretty good. The player’s single jump leaves a lot to be desired for evasiveness, but running and crouching have a decent feel. Dialling in the aim of the guns takes a bit of finesse, too. Those blasters are quirky! But as you level up you can get better weapons with more control. The beta maxes out at level five for your character, so just enough to get a sense of what playing with more power would be like. You can also play the survival mode co-op with a friend, which I didn’t try out. It was pretty easy, taking out stormtroopers and defending drop-pods. Enemy animations are fair, not as pretty as the surrounding landscape. Mostly, it was just cool to immerse yourself in Tatooine’s environment.
The multiplayer modes are more frenetic, verging on slaughter in the early going. Drop Zone is similar to survival mode, but with sixteen players. Drop pods come crashing down, and opposing teams converge to stake a claim and defend them. Walker Assault is even crazier, but kind of amazing, with forty players (!) fighting simultaneously on good old ice planet Hoth. You can either be the Rebels defending your base, or the Empire closing in with their mighty Imperial Walker. It’s wild, utterly chaotic trench warfare, running through channels in the snow to stop Rebel communications and protect the Walker. I died and died and died. The radar is a bit tough to read and shots can come out of nowhere. But it was pretty wicked all the same. The multiplayer seems solid, too. In the admittedly brief time I was playing, I didn’t experience any glitches or lag issues, so kudos to EA on that front.
As an adjunct to the console game, Star Wars Battlefront players get Star Cards that they can monitor online, logging into an EA account. Through the web portal, you assign upgrades to your character, like earning grenades and better weapons. Appearance upgrades are locked in the beta, but will probably be pretty fun in the real deal. The web portal aspect is a curious choice, but a lot of these multiplayer games are doing it (Destiny does something similar with its grimoire cards, for instance).
The verdict? The feeling is there. The perfect, burned-into-your-brain John Williams music. The imagery. The dialogue. But you don’t get the fun of the full game, where you’ll be able to play your favourite characters from the entire burgeoning Star Wars franchise. So for the beta at least, it’s not as exciting as it could be. I give the Star Wars Battlefront beta seven midi-chlorians out of… why the hell did Lucas come up with that crap again? Anyway, as a free beta it’s a total no-brainer. Check it out. Besides, we have to demonstrate the capabilities of this station.