If you've ever fantasised about being part of the Star Wars Universe, fighting as - or alongside - your favourite heroes, you're going to love Star Wars Battlefront.
Don't confuse it with Star Wars: Battlefront though, which came out in 2004. This latest entry in the Battlefront series of games isn't just missing the colon, it's developed by EA, the same folks who brought as the Battlefield series, so you can be sure they know a thing or two about multiplayer combat.
Oh, and unlike 99% of the other hands-on reviews out there, I'm not going to pepper this one with Star Wars quotes and catchphrases. It's gotten cliche.
The way you play
As usual, you can either play Battlefront in first or third-person view, and take part in various battles on planets from the Star Wars universe. Right now it's limited to Hoth, Tatooine, Endor, and Sullust, but Jakku is coming for free in December.
While earlier Battlefront titles drew from the prequels as well, this one focuses on the original trilogy with the Rebel Alliance versus the Empire, which is all everyone should care about anyway. If you prefer the prequels, you are a terrible person.
That doesn't mean EA won't add content from the prequels or the upcoming movies into the game though, but that'll come in the form of DLCs. EA's already announced a season pass for you to get all of them for a fixed fee at a later date. Knowing the source material's dedicated fan base and the upcoming films, there'll probably be no shortage of takers.
For now, you'll play as either a rebel or stormtrooper, with the opportunity of playing as one of six heroes, with three to choose from on each side. You'll also be able to pilot iconic vehicles such as the Millenium Falcon and Imperial walkers, which is simply awesome. Essentially, it's everything we wanted to do growing up. You didn't watch Star Wars for the romance, did you?
Unlike previous editions where you had to choose from preset classes, you now have full control over your character's appearance, abilities, and weapons. Unfortunately, you have to buy separate appearances for both the Alliance and the Empire, so that's double the cost there.
However, to unlock and purchase these options, you have to level your character and earn in-game credits via multiplayer gameplay. You could also supplement how you accumulate these by playing the Star Wars Battlefront Companion app on your smartphone.
It can seem like quite a grind at first, but the basic items you have access to at lower levels are definitely not underpowered. Hey, at least there aren't in-game purchases here. If anything, the higher-level stuff lets you tweak your character more towards your playstyle, which is definitely useful.
I chose to make my trooper a bald, bearded Chinese man with a heavy blaster rifle and lots of explosives. Because that's how I like to play - throwing grenades into an area right before I rush into it and blow myself up.
Upon launch, the heroes available are Luke, Leia, and Han on the Alliance side, and Vader, Palpatine, and Boba on the Empire's. You'll either have to find rare pickups on the battlefield, or pick specific game modes to use them though.
Having tried all of them, I can safely say they are real game changers, and can easily swing the tide of the battle in your faction's favour. Non-hero characters basically drop like flies when facing them. One Boba Fett I played against racked up close to 70 kills in a decisive victory.
Luke and Vader are melee powerhouses with their lightsabers and Force powers, Han and Boba weapon-heavy shooters, while Leia and Palpatine fight from afar with their abilities. In a nutshell, they're your classic warrior, ranged, and caster classes.
You respawn as a basic soldier if your hero ever dies, though that takes a lot of effort. It requires focus fire from a large group or another hero to do it without getting massacred yourself.
EA tells us they take hero balance very seriously in order to ensure neither faction gets a clear advantage, and there's a sort of rock-paper-scissors approach to how they counter each other.
Operating heavy machinery
Besides playing as your favourite characters, the best thing about Battlefront is blowing stuff up with heavily-armed vehicles. Every single one is awesome, and will similarly require you to find the required pickup or play certain game modes.
The list is impressive: the Millenium Falcon, X-Wings, A-Wings, snowspeeders, speeder bikes, AT-AT Walkers, AT-ST Walkers, TIE Fighters, TIE Interceptors, and even Slave I.
The Falcon and Slave I are hero vehicles, which are rare pickup spawns, and like hero characters, are really powerful. They take down enemy fighters with ease, and are really hard to kill. Plus, you get a real kick out of actually piloting them on a personal level.
The starfighters on both sides are quite even in general - they have to be since there's a Fighter Squadron mode that's pure aerial dogfight - but the Empire definitely has an advantage on the ground with the walkers. They're just like tanks with heavy weaponry and armour.
That said, you can fly fighters on ground maps to help destroy them, and the snowspeeders have tow cables to take them down. Yes, just like in The Empire Strikes Back.
Overall, they add a whole other dimension to the game, and very well implemented.
All by your lonesome
There's no campaign mode in the game, with the game coming with something called Mission Mode. That lets you play the game's four maps alone or with a friend, either locally via split screen or online.
However, playing against the AI in the Hero Missions also doesn't come with a hero on the opposing side, meaning it's you decimating troopers alone. And yes, that can feel really sad. On the plus side, they will help you to learn the map layouts, which will help greatly when you do venture into more competitive play.
Plus, the training missions really do teach you how to operate and take down the different vehicles and heroes in the game too. And that's essential, for you'd look really silly not knowing what to do with them if you ever pick them up in multiplayer.
Flying, in particular, is really difficult. Even after doing the training missions several times, I lost count of the number of times I died instantly via crashing. It can be embarrassing, especially in the uncompromising realm of online play. I could practically imagine the taunting from pimpled teenagers cackling over my headset.
There's also a survival mission, which is where you try to fend of 15 waves of enemies by yourself, and see how long you take to do it. It's pretty challenging, and could help improve your skills considerably.
There really isn't much to keep you playing Mission Mode past a certain point, since replay value is pretty low once you've learnt the ropes. It'd probably only come in handy if you had a friend over to your place, where you'd play cooperatively locally. If you did have access to online play, actual multiplayer is definitely the way to go instead.
This is undoubtedly the highlight of Battlefront. With 12 game modes ranging from eight to a massive 40 players, there's sufficient variety to keep things fresh for a long time to come. They aren't your usual kill, die, respawn affairs.
Despite the many varied names these modes have, they're essentially game types we've seen before in other multiplayer shooters. You can tell EA Dice's Battlefield experience really helps in this regard, because they're all suitably polished in terms of implementation.
If you prefer smaller, more tactical games where more team strategy is involved, Cargo and Droid Run are lots of fun. Cargo being Battlefront's version of capture the flag, with Droid Run being King of the Hill. As with similar games of this type, communication, coordination, and teamwork are key.
Alternatively, if you hate teamwork of all types and just want to run around shooting people, Hero Hunt is just the thing. An 8-player mode, you are either a randomly chosen hero character trying to kill everyone or one of seven troopers trying to kill said hero.
If you ever land the killing blow on a hero, that player goes back to being a trooper while you become one yourself, and everyone then turns on you. The player who hits 50 kills first or has the highest kill count at the end of the timer then wins. It's an interesting way of bringing the hero characters into the game, and great fun too.
If you like the game's aerial combat, Fighter Squadron's 10v10 dogfight is delicious mayhem. Now you're playing in three dimensions, with no way of telling where someone's going to come at you from. You play as either an X-Wing or A-Wing on the Alliance side, and TIE Fighter or Interceptor on the other. There are also unique pickups to become either the Millenium Falcon on Slave I.
Of course, there are also straighforward team deathmatch modes, such as the 10v10 Blast and 8v8 Drop Zone. In the former, the team with the most kills simply wins, while in the latter, your team just needs to rush random spawning points on the map and defend them for a set period of time before moving on to the next one.
Throwing heroes into the mix is Heroes vs Villains, a 6v6 affair that lets half the team play as the main characters. Once a hero dies, that player comes back as a regular soldier, and whoever manages to kill all three of the opposing heroes wins the round. The first team to win five rounds then takes the match.
Lastly, there are the game's two massive 20v20 monsters. Walker Assault will be quite familiar to those looking forward to the game, since it was part of the recent Beta. EA's balanced it very well though - where the Beta saw the Empire winning all the time, out of three games played, the rebels won two.
Also, in our time with the game we found out that Walker Assault isn't limited to Hoth! It can actually take place on any of the game's four planets, all with the same basic mechanic - the rebels must coordinate their efforts to destroy the Empire's AT-AT Walkers before they destroy the Alliance base.
The other is Supremacy, which is a battle-based tug-of-war. There are five capture points on the map, with both armies starting with two. Each team then has to move forward and drive their opponents back, capturing each main point in sequence to claim territory.
Both modes require lots of coordination to win, so every player on the map has to be aware of the map's objectives and try to achieve them. It can be very frustrating if you've got an uncooperative team, but victory is made all the sweeter.
As with all multiplayer team games, gathering a group of friends to play together will greatly boost your chances of winning, since that should ensure better teamwork. Unless they're not good at that, in which case should you really be grouping with them in the first place?
Relying on random strangers shouldn't be too much of a problem either, as the game will try to match players of similar character level together to ensure an even playing field.
If you're a Star Wars fan, Battlefront's got more than enough content to keep you happily engaged with the game. As far as multiplayer games go, it's one of the most complete experiences around, with a good variety of challenging game modes. If you aren't a fan (you weirdo) it's still a really fun game, especially if you play with friends.
However, the single-player aspect is somewhat lacking, even if it does have its uses. That means the actual cost of the game is quite a bit higher if you want the full experience - you have to factor the cost of your Xbox Live Gold or PSN memberships for online multiplayer if you don't have those already. That's on top of what you need to spend on DLCs too.