Star Wars: Battlefront II – Xbox
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date (NA): October 31, 2005
ESRB Rating: Teen
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
Reviewed by: Variand
A theme is a powerful thing for multimedia. An otherwise unremarkable game can be flung into the spotlight and hearts of many by just changing the theme. For example, if you were to try to put a western featuring 9 people smuggling things across the barren West, it likely would not do all that well. Take that same show, and put it in space and… well it didn’t do so well either, but it definitely earned a rabid and loyal fan base of Browncoats. So what happens when LucasArts and Pandemic attempt to apply the Star Wars theme on the shooters of the time? Star Wars Battlefront Series is born.
*DISCLAIMER*: For those not familiar with me, I’m a MASSIVE Star Wars nerd; I met my fiancé at a Star Wars convention. I’ll do my best to make this as objective as possible, but it’s not possible to completely remove my subjective fanboy opinions completely.
A Long Time Ago…
Well, maybe not that long ago, only about 11 years, the realm of the Console shooter was exploding. Everyone was putting their idea for a theme on the shooter. You could find any theme you wanted from the more modern and “realistic” Battlefield 2 to the then historical Call of Duty 2 to the dark gritty fantastical Quake 4 to even a historical science fiction Timesplitters. Feeling more willing to continue allowing others to run with the Star Wars titles with the noteworthy successes of games like Star Wars Galaxies (by SOE) and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (by Bioware), Pandemic Studios was given the go ahead to develop a shooter to capitalize on the action in the major battles and skirmishes of the Star Wars universe. Star Wars Battlefront targets shooter fans and Star Wars fans alike with its user-friendly design and balanced, chaotic, gameplay. But there was only thing missing. There was nothing more than just fighting battle after battle with only a couple of movie snippets thrown in to give the sensation of a campaign.
There was really no story in the first Battlefront; the campaign mode was essentially just a string of missions in order as they take place in Star Wars Chronology. You are never briefed on why you are there, why you play as robots shooting Gungans, or anything else. Pandemic and LucasArts assumed that most players would have seen the movies and know what the battles are and why they were taking place, and as such did not waste time on briefings or story to place you there. They dropped you right into the action. This was great, but we wanted more.
Enter Battlefront II, and with it a whole new narrative that weaves its way through the rise of the Empire. Campaign mode now follows one of the elite fighting forces in the imperial army, the 501st Legion, which would later be known as Vader’s Fist (a nod to the charity costuming group). Starting off from the first deployment on Geonosis and following the fighting men of the 501st all the way through their last victory in the Star Wars movies.
This is where it gets a little weird. Their last victory is essentially the battle of Hoth, where they forced the retreat of the rebels and captured Echo Base. So the story of Battlefront II parallels from the end of Episode II: Attack of the Clones and ends at the beginning of Episode V: Empire Strikes Back. The start is logical as there were no clones before Ep.2, but the ending felt a little truncated. Still the story, while not overly enthralling, did much to help string all the levels together. If you’re one of those gamers that puts story and narrative amongst one of the top reason for playing a game, you’ll find Battlefront II much more enticing to play than Battlefront.
All that action – NOW IN SPACE!
Besides having an actual story to tell with its campaign, another big feature included in Battlefront II is the inclusion of space battles. A relatively new take on shooters to include both a space/flight combat with its ground combat, and to go one step further, the two were merged seamlessly. You start in the hanger or control hub of your cruiser and enter your ships to engage in the battle itself. Or, if you’re simply rubbish at dogfighting, you can take the infiltration approach and land a mobile spawn point in the enemy hanger allowing you to drop troops directly on their ship.
This is one of my favorite features of the space battles as it allows several different and valid strategies to be played and some of them don’t even require getting into the cockpit of a fighter. You can take a full support class to repair fighters/bombers, ammo/healing droids, or even the larger components of the cruiser itself, such as life support, shields, and auto-turrets. Or you can wait for a daring pilot to land the mobile spawn point, a transport ship, in the enemy cruiser’s hanger and spawn directly into the enemy ship. From here you can wreck all sorts of havok by killing enemy pilots before they can reach their ships or concentrating on crippling the cruisers systems while the enemy attempts to repair them. This new feature was a fun novelty that helped break up the repetitive action of the shooter: Spawn, Kill, die, respawn, kill, die, etc.
The only down side to this was that the Space combat seemed a bit half-baked. There were only 4 classes of ships: fast, medium, bomber, and transport, and only 2 kinds of player classes: pilot and marine. Besides the 4 small fighter crafts and 2 player classes, almost everything else is the same. The interiors of the control hubs look the exact same and are laid out in the same manner. The action is fairly repetitive as well, intense, but repetitive. It is likely that if you’re not a big space combat fan you’ll get bored fairly quickly. Pandemic seems to have recognized this and allowed you to skip all space battles except for those in the Galactic Conquest, which has been revamped to include space battles and play more like a board game with strategic overworld maneuvering.
The one complaint I do have about this game is that it feels much more like an expansion for the first Battlefront with new packaging. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots more game modes for multiplayer, new and revamped features, new levels, and everything you’d expect from a new game, but not much was really truly changed or updated from the previous game. All the old maps, save for maybe a couple of the problematic ones from Battlefront are in Battlefront II, though not necessarily as part of the campaign or galactic conquest game modes. The graphics are only slightly improved with just new environments and characters. I could go on, but suffice it to say that Battlefront II is just additions laid on top of Battlefront with all the jagged edges sanded down to look smooth. This is why it feels more like an expansion than a full release.
I do not mean to take away anything from Pandemic’s hard work, as the additions are massive and a lot of work has gone into them. Simply scripting out the campaign itself must have been a monumental amount of work. It might be more apt to call Battlefront the Version 0.6 Alpha phase release and Battlefront II the full 1.0 release. Back in 2005 however, this didn’t exist.
The time of the shooter is not necessarily over, but it’s definitely in the later stages of its middle-aged years. Even so, star wars gamers have been calling for their fix of a Star Wars shooter for a while. There are a couple of issues with this, however, namely both developer Pandemic Studios and publisher LucasArts are both closed now. We also don’t see nearly as many contenders for the shooter fan’s attention since Modern Warfare and Battlefield has essentially taken over the market. It takes some real might to enter the field of shooters now, though there are a few contenders. Destiny is a good example; take a Modern Warfare and theme it with Halo, and there you go, you’ve got Destiny.
Enter the new era of the Disney-owned Star Wars. Disney has often worked with EA in the past for many of its titles and it’s no surprise that they are handing over the reins to the Star Wars Games to them as well. Now using the Modern Warfare/Battlefield and Activision/EA competition, it’s not hard to see the writing on the wall. Activision made Destiny by working with Bungie (original creators of Halo) and merged it with their more profitable shooter franchise, Call of Duty/Modern Warfare. EA now has the same option with their Battlefield franchise and DICE.
That’s right, back to themes. What happens when you put a Star Wars theme on Battlefield? I guess we’ll see in November won’t we?
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