Be honest: You wanted to partake in the excellent land walker battle scene on Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back the second you saw it, didn't you? Well, that isn't much of a problem nowadays, considering the pains so many game developers have taken to recreate it. Being one of science fictions more iconic scenes, developers have taken to placing Hoth into quite a few of their games.
Star Wars Battlefront presents one of the better interpretations. Where many games place you into a designated role for the Hoth sequence, in Battlefront you're allowed to roam the play field doing whatever strikes your fancy. If playing the goody goody Rebel Alliance doesn't appeal to you, you even have the option of playing as the Galactic Empire, which gives you access to the AT-ATs and the AT-STs. As the Alliance, you can use the turrets, ride on taun-tauns, and fly the land speeders. If you think these vehicles are too difficult to control, you can also just run around on the battlefield blasting everyone in sight.
This sums up the real appeal of Star Wars Battlefront. Star Wars is a license which, like The Simpsons, is known best for producing such powerful video game trash that it tends to have an effect on the way gamers view the series that spawned it. The Star Wars universe has been adapted countless times into the popular video game du jour of the moment, and it's only the occasional diamond in the rough that pops up from a sad mess of games which includes crap like Masters of Teras Kasi, Bounty Hunter, and Flight of the Falcon. It's one license which seems to be at its best when it ignores the pretenses of the series which spawned it and opts to only include certain parts of the mythology, recognizable only to die-hard fans of the expanded universe.
Battlefront includes a lot of places from both the original and prequel trilogies. It has the requisite weapons and vehicles from them both, and occasional cameos from characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, who lend their helping hands sometimes. Battlefront is well within the canon of the movies, but not quite of them. Instead of commanding the most important characters like Luke Skywalker or Count Dooku, you're taking control of the everyday soldiers who do the important ground fighting. You're the Rebel vanguards, the Empire scouts, the Republican soldiers, or even the Separatist battle droids. The object of the game is to fight in the battles - some directly from the movies, some not - and not necessarily lead your army to victory, but play a role in dishing out as much damage to the other side as possible in what will hopefully be victories.
All four factions have four different character types who are similar: Soldiers, snipers, pilots, and heavy weapons. Each faction also gets a particular form of character exclusive to that faction. The Rebel Alliance gets wookie smugglers, the Imperials get dark troopers, the Republicans can use jet troopers, and the Separatists get the prequel trilogy's droidekas - those droids which are basically three-legged gattling guns which can form shields around themselves, and curl up in a ball to roll around. Most of the sides are pretty evenly matched, but the specialized exclusives sound better in theory than in practice. The dark troopers and jet troopers have similar abilities (they both use jet packs); the wookie smugglers have no real ability other than taking an extra bit of punishment, which given the kind of fire you'll be under most of the time is just useless; and the droidekas don't aim or turn around while firing as fast as they need to.
None of the specialized exclusives are used to the most of their advantages by the computer either, except the droidekas. This gives the computer an almost unfair advantage whenever it uses the Separatists. Since the computer can easily find its way around the battlefield and has no trouble with the quirks of a controller, the droidekas become a real terror with it in charge. They don't stop firing and they don't have to lower their shields, and they don't appear to run out of ammunition. The only way to knock off a droideka is to hide behind a corner, occasionally peeking out to see if it lowered its shield, and then pop out and blast away, consequences be damned, until it reactivates its shield.
As for the other classes, all of them come armed with basic blaster pistols as secondary weapons. The common foot soldiers use blaster rifles as primary weapons, which makes them the only effective soldiers for most of the situations you'll likely find yourself in. I like using the snipers a lot too, if there's a good place to hang out, root down, and fire away at the unsuspecting heads of the countless enemy soldiers running by. The pilots are used mostly to repair vehicles they climb into; anyone can actually pilot any vehicle, which limits the usefulness of the pilots. The heavy artillery troops are useless in virtually all situations, since their heavy arms don't deal the damage to vehicles they're supposed to.
The vehicles are a little weird. Some offer the option of being the regular pilot or a co-pilot who fires away with the big weapons, but co-piloting means you're not in control of the vehicle. Every vehicle can take seemingly unlimited punishment if you're on the outside, firing away at it. On the inside, the vehicles - even the AT-ATs - feel a lot less stable, and they tend to go down with the weapons they're so resilient to when you're plugging away with them with those very same weapons!
There are particular objects given to you at the beginning of every battle, but screw them! Every battle has only one object, which is to capture as many of the enemy's command posts as possible. There is strategic importance to the command posts, because those are where your opponents spawn from, so capturing them means less of your enemies to deal with. There are strategically important command points - the spire on Geonosis being one such example - but mostly, you're thrust into a sink-or-swim world where your object is to blow everyone not wearing your colors full of holes. If you hit one of your own guys by accident, no biggie - you earn a "Traitor" title at the end of the battle but you're otherwise not punished in any significant fashion.
Good thing you're not punished, too, because having large armies of artificial intelligence in the same place at the same time often means the artificiality will be less than intelligent. Your men will frequently jump out in front of you while you're shooting at something, get in the sightlines of targets, and generally swarm all around you when you climb into a vehicle. It doesn't matter how passive you are, there are going to be times when you blow the head right off one of your allies because he got in the way once too often.
Battlefront's graphics are flickery and buggy, and there are pop up problems. There is one area on Rhen Var where a freaking AT-AT will pop up out in nowhere when you're right in front of it! Some of the scenery looks nice; Cloud City, Yavin, and Theed all look fantastic. But it looks like graphic creativity in the level designs were sacrificed in the name of better gameplay, so there isn't a whole lot to look at. This is okay though, because it means there aren't a lot of slowdown problems. Also, the framerate moves a little slow at times, and there are some soldiers who will appear stiff after getting blown up.
The sounds are typical Star Wars. All of your favorite themes are here, and the sounds you grew up hearing are also intact. Only the lightsabre sounds didn't make it into the game.
The gameplay is good, clean. It works. There are times when the computer can't read what you're trying to aim at, though, and they can be a real pain when it means the difference between zapping a good guy or a bad guy. Jumping is a little low. It's nice to have, but there aren't a lot of instances in which jumping will do anything except jump for joy at a tough kill. There are times when jumping is dangerous because you'll risk flying off a platform with nothing to cushion your fall. Some of the weapons could also use a better firing rate, but that's it. Vehicles all handle differently, and you'll have the most trouble if you take to something that flies because you risk flying off the battlefield, and the controls take such work to get used to.
It's not a technical masterpiece, but Star Wars Battlefront is fun enough and works like it's supposed to.
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