Star Wars Battlefront isn't a game designed for the Call of Duty or Destiny crowds. It isn't even a game for fans of Battlefield, the military shooter that made DICE the perfect team to bring this beloved series back. This is for Star Wars fans young and old: those who enjoyed the original trilogy as youngsters and their children who can't wait for the new film.
It's not often that a big-budget shooter is released that attempts to appeal to a broad, casual audience, but to do so with the Star Wars licence makes perfect sense. The original trilogy told a simple story with universal appeal – and Battlefront captures that perfectly. There has been no better representation of the classic films in this medium.
In terms of visual and sound design, Star Wars Battlefront is flawless. The four planets, that dictate the design of 13 maps, are all stunning. Hoth's crisp, white tundra, Sullust's ragged, volcanic wasteland, Tatooine's golden brown dunes and the forest moon of Endor are wonderfully recreated.
DICE were able to use real world props and costumes to recreate the iconography of the series, but there's more to the audio-visual design than a simple regurgitation of familiar sights and sounds. The AT-ST walkers are animated with an almost-stop-motion quality and players killed by grenades ragdoll like stuntmen on wires. Little touches like these litter and enrich the game. Likewise a wide variety of licensed tracks from John Williams' soundtracks are smartly used to heighten drama and fun. There's a flourish at all the right moments, with the arrival of playable heroes and villains on the map met with a fanfare alerting players to their powerful presence.
Where Battlefront disappoints slightly is in its lack of substantial depth. For some critics this is in terms of both the game's mechanics and its variety of modes and maps, but personally I found the stripped back shooting refreshing. Its decidedly old-school feel is the clearest indication that this is a game for people not used to more intricate and tactical shooters. Furthermore, the ability to play as iconic characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, or in an X-Wing or TIE Fighter, is left entirely to chance. These are random pick-ups meant for all players, veteran or rookie, not rewards for killstreaks as one might expect from the genre.
Battlefront offers some variety in its modes – nine in total – but only a handful are truly great. Walker Assault is the showpiece, focusing on massive AT-AT walkers, Fighter Squadron meanwhile is purely aerial combat (with vehicles that are surprisingly fun and intuitive to control) and Heroes vs Villains is a melee between the game's iconic characters.
The game is at its best in the special moments, when suddenly you'll see Luke and Vader engaging in a frantic duel, an X-Wing and TIE Fighter scream overhead just metres off the ground or an A-Wing careen into an AT-ST walker. That's when all complaints melt away and Battlefront becomes the Star Wars games of our dreams.
But there is a problem with depth. Four planets (soon to five after a free update) offer three maps each, which accommodate nine game modes of differing sizes. This means there are just four maps for some of the best modes, and that's a paltry figure. Mixing up what you play will offer variety of course, but inevitably players will focus on the modes they like most – and that's when the brevity of what's on offer starts to show.
A better progression system could have helped foster a craving to play more. This system involves unlocking new blasters, special weapons and abilities that come in the form of cards that are added to a hand of three - comprised of two weapons and a third ability. Some blasters are better than others and there isn't much on offer that changes the experience of playing, but this is borne out of and fits the game's casual approach.
This isn't a game for the kind of lengthy sessions critics are accustomed to – it's for an hour here and there, and for that it is perfect. But at the same time the game is so good that you'll want to be playing it well beyond you've exhausted what it has to offer. Reaching that point is frustrating, but I know for a fact I'll be venturing to DICE's galaxy far far away for a long time to come.
Star Wars Battlefront is a work of remarkable craftsmanship from developers DICE, and it being a more casual shooter is exactly what the game needed to be to find its place in the crowded online shooter market. There should be more on offer, particularly when it comes to single player modes, but in short bursts Battlefront is a force to be reckoned with.