Reviewed: November 10, 2005
Released: November 1, 2005
Last year’s debut of the Star Wars Battlefront series successfully combined the gameplay of the wildly popular skirmish-styled Battlefield games on the PC, with the fan-favorite Star Wars universe, to create the highest grossing Star Wars game, ever.
But while gamers were frothing over simply having a game like this at their disposal, there was a general understanding that it was ultimately a broken piece of software. Compared to like-minded titles in the industry, the original Battlefront was riddled with poor server support, severe graphical slowdown, and little or no support for the offline single player. Fans were willing to put up with the shortcomings for the chance to play in the Star Wars universe, but they all longed for more.
Lucas Arts and Pandemic heard the call and they have answered with Star Wars Battlefront II, which not only addresses many of the first title’s issues, but also adds enough new content to let gamers know that the series is truly evolving for the better. It still isn’t perfect, but it is pretty darn good.
I’m generally not a big fan of these big skirmish-styled games, because they tend to quickly regress from an order and structure into massive chaos and confusion with little or no warning. Battlefront II isn’t much different – with massive armies sporting wide-variety of appearances and fighting styles, all battling it out to hold checkpoint, the chaos ensues almost immediately.
What this means is that you begin working on reflex rather than calculated thought. Reticle turns red? Shoot. Reticle turns blue? Don’t shoot. And that becomes the game – wildly swinging the camera about and playing the old “pray and spray” game anytime the reticle turns red.
But while Battlefront II might not have strayed far from that formula, I really didn’t mind so much, and that was probably due to the inclusion of the Rise of the Empire story mode which follows the rocky path of the 501st Legion through their early days on the “good” side through to their darker arrangement as Darth Vader’s Stormtroopers from the original movie. In itself, the Rise of the Empire story mode is not much more than a loosely strung laundry list of missions to accomplish within a given skirmish, but still it adds some plan, some focus other than to say “get as many points as possible”.
A nice addition to the game is the ability for “hero” characters to suddenly become available during battle. These heroes are the fan favorite badasses from the movies – and only become available when certain goals are achieved or certain points are achieved during a level. Hero characters range from Mace Windu to Yoda to Boba Fett to Luke Skywalker and everyone in between – even Mr. Vader himself. These heroes have character-specific traits and weaponry, which make them quite desirable to take control of. The Fett’s have overpowered guns and jump jets, whereas the Jedi yield lightsabers and have special force powers and jumping moves which make them virtually unstoppable as long as they keep on hacking away.
But the biggest addition to Battlefront II would have to be the amazing space combat, which lets gamers (online and off) climb into the cockpits of X-Wings, Y-Wings, TIE-fighters and more, and sends the skirmish into deep space for a raucous good time. The ships all handle quite well, and the overall size and scale of the battles will leave your heart pounding with excitement. The structure of the space missions are all very similar to what you would find in the ground-based campaigns, but the new perspective is almost like Lucas Arts and Pandemic giving fans a whole extra game as a bonus, and really does a lot to appeal to a wider variety of gamers.
The combat generally flows at the pace of the gamer, and will only stop the game if all of your troops get killed. I was a bit bummed in some levels where I was at the final objective, only to have the game ended because somewhere else in the level my last troop had been felled – my character was still alive, but the game ended anyway. I thought that was a bit lame, as I would have at least appreciated the chance to go “lone wolf” on the competition – at least for the last mission, but it wasn’t in the cards.
Again, Battlefront II is not perfect – the gameplay does get to being a bit too much running around from check point to check point trying to complete often confusing objectives and goals amidst a maelstrom of chaos and gunfire. But the style, the presentation and the sheer amount of gameplay modes more than makes up for any shortcomings – and at least having some goal is better than doing the “same old same old” over and over again.
I do wish there was a bit more feedback in the controller – I tried the game on two different PS2 models and two different controllers, and both features such weak rumble response or any other sense of connection to the character, that they left you feeling a bit detached from the action at times, even in the first person view.
If there is one thing that Lucas Arts fully understands, it is the importance of the overall visual presentation on the game – and Battlefront II’s visual presentation is striking for a game of this scale, especially on the PS2.
This visual splendor doesn’t come without a price, though – the PS2 has to grind pretty heavily just to keep up with all of the action, and you will often see some glitchy visual anomalies when it just can’t keep up the pace. Most of this comes in the form of simple slowdown and character warping like we often find in online PS2 games, but every now and then you might notice a bit of the weirder stuff popping up like missing effects or characters clipped onto the scenery. These defects were pretty much the status quo in last year’s release, so for Battlefront II to have these things only popping up occasionally, it is a marked improvement.
Glitches or not, Battlefront II is one beautiful work of art. There is some stuff here that will truly blow you away. I mean the internal space station levels are all fine and dandy, but once you get into an outdoor level and see the expanse of organic foliage, textures and sand-storm particle effects, you will have to remind yourself that you are looking at a PS2 game.
Actually, Battlefront II shares a lot of the visual styling that made Burnout Revenge such a beautiful game – the same softened edges and sepia-tinged filtering give the game a very bold impression while effectively disguising jaggies and some of the other graphical shortcomings of the PS2. There is a fair amount of fogging to hide the massive and inevitable pop-in in some of the larger outdoor levels, but overall, the environments are quite impressive.
The controlled characters all sport some amazing visual details – beautifully shaded physiques and clothing that ripple and roll in the wind, even pigtails and ponytails that move realistically as the Jedi slice and dice the opposition. The opposition was of a noticeably lower resolution, but still sported very nice animations and movement.
The only real visual issue – apart from the previously mentioned slowdown and glitches – is that in the heat of the battle it is often difficult to see many of the characters, as they tend to blend too easily into the backgrounds. As a consequence matches often regress into a mess of manic twitch shooting that results in too many friendly-fire deaths.
This is Lucas Arts, people. Would you expect anything less than the very same top-shelf sound effects straight from the movie? Well, that’s exactly what you get from Battlefront II.
From the engaging strains of the John Williams musical score to the sound of lightsabers slicing the air, the sound package is movie theater quality stuff. The voiceovers – although fairly light – are very well acted and produced, and the sounds during the space battles will take you back to your childhood – assuming, of course, that you are in your mid thirties and remember Star Wars’ original run on the big screen.
I would also like to make mention that the voice chat in the game carries some of the best sound quality I have ever experienced in online gaming on the PS2. I know it sounds silly, but the overall tonality was so clear and rich it was almost my teammates were in the room with me. Again, this is on the same PS2 and same headset I always use online, and it was very noticeable right off the bat, and seldom were there any of the digitized bleeps! and zzzists! you often hear in other games. With 24 players, this is quite a feat.
By far, Battlefront II has the biggest overall scope and scale of any game I have played on the PS2 – and it does a great job keeping the gamer involved throughout. That being said – when a gamer is given the option to fight on the ground or in the sky against 24 other likeminded gamers, or even just a couple dozen AI bots in the story mode, all of the while visiting familiar landscapes and mounting all the favorite vehicles from the Star Wars universe – well, it’s a definite winner for both gamers and movie fans.
The value here is limitless, and if it weren’t for the sometimes minor-sometimes major technical glitches carried over from the last game, it would be getting top honors. For a game with this many onscreen players to even run at all on the PS2 – well, we are willing to let some of the odd performance issues and visual glitches and fogging slip under the radar.
Star Wars Battlefront II is a very engaging – and often overwhelming – game that further quenches the Star Wars fan’s thirst for skirmish-styled combat. By fixing some of the prior title’s technical wrongs, and by including space-based combat and an attempt at an actual storyline, Pandemic and Lucas Arts have finally produced a game that has a little bit of something for every Star Was fan and non-fan alike.
Is it the end-all-be-all game of 2005? Naah. But, it is the best-playing skirmish game yet to hit the PS2, and the story mode finally gives the single-player gamers a reason to fight. A win-win situation if you ask me.