Exhilarating combat, authentic presentation, and a wealth of absorbing modes make for one of the best games in the Star Wars saga.
It seems like the Star Wars hype train is ramping up once again. The supposedly final mainline entry in the series, The Rise of Skywalker, is desperately trying to win us over with fan service and bombast; EA miraculously did not rip off gamers with the release of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order; and Baby Yoda has practically taken over The Mandalorian in the eyes of many streaming show viewers. For better or worse, it doesn’t look like the galaxy far, far away will be forgotten anytime soon. That being said, I think that now is as good a time as any for reminiscing, for contemplating just how long this franchise has lasted and how many adventures are still held dear in the hearts of audiences. The Star Wars license has infiltrated countless product markets, from clothing to candy. However, perhaps none has fostered more creativity and variety than the video game industry. Considering the vastness of George Lucas’s universe, it should come as no surprise that games of numerous different genres have spawned from the space opera. Among the most beloved are the original Battlefront games. Before the microtransactions, loot boxes, and copy-paste blandness of EA’s recent reboots, developer Pandemic Studios sought to place players right in the middle of some of the greatest battles in Star Wars history, and no title exemplified this vision more than 2005’s Star Wars: Battlefront II.
Why is this game so beloved? To put it simply, it executed its gameplay extremely well and gave players a lot of bang for their buck. Primarily functioning as a third-person shooter (with the option to switch to a first-person perspective), Battlefront II has you play as various types of troops as you fight against opposing armies for the conquest of numerous planets. Regardless of the perspective you choose, the controls are tight, responsive, and user-friendly. The targeting display works for shooting enemies while remaining small enough to not intrusively encompass the entire screen. The only element that may put players off is the lack of a cover system. Sure, you can crouch and shoot from behind a low barricade, but you can’t actually hug the wall or fire from behind a structure. If you want to shoot the enemy, then you’re often left with little choice but to go out in the open, and the AI is not dumb enough to let you do that with impunity. Thankfully, you’re generally given enough health to get a few shots off as long as you don’t linger.
Plus, you’re often flanked by your allies, either on foot or in a vehicle. More often than not, the CPU players will get the job done in this regard, providing strength in numbers and drawing enemy fire. As with any game, however, it is more fun when playing with other people. While the online multiplayer obviously isn’t what it once was, the title still offers split-screen co-op for local groups. This sense of being part of a team makes the act of charging at the opposing army an exhilarating rush, albeit a barbaric one.
It can be about as hectic as the space battles, which were added here after being mysteriously omitted from the first game. You’d think that space combat would be one of the essentials in a game about Star Wars battles, but better late than never. Much like the planetary fights, these skirmishes boast different classes, this time taking the form of various ships that you can pilot. Spawning inside your faction’s massive Star Destroyer, you can commandeer one of several specialized vessels in your hanger. If you want to engage in some old-fashioned dogfights, then your standard Starfighter, like an X-Wing, will do just fine. For attacking the enemy flagship directly, then you might take a bomber. If you’re really ambitious, however, you could take a transport and fly a handful of troops into your opponent’s hanger and take them out from the inside. All of these ships are easy to control, but they also feel significantly different in their weight, maneuverability, and weaponry. In short, they come across as a natural extension of the troop class system from the ground battles.
It’s just a shame that they don’t quite have the same lasting appeal. Don’t get me wrong. Space combat is entertaining and successfully simulates the chaotic action of the films, but they suffer from an inescapable sense of déjà vu. They all essentially boil down to the same basic scenario on the same starry backdrop. The intentionally simplistic gameplay, though appropriate for accessibility, only makes these segments more monotonous when tackled back-to-back. On the other hand, the ground battles remain fresh because of the planets’ varying aesthetics, hazards, and interactivity. You aren’t bothered by the game’s simple foundation because you have all of this other variety built on top of it to bolster the experience.
Going into battle, you can select one of four factions: the clone troops of the Republic, the battle droids of the Separatists, the Stormtroopers of the Empire, or the fighters of the Rebel Alliance. While the base soldier for all factions is fairly consistent—equipped with a standard assault rifle, a pistol, and a few thermal detonators—more unique classes unlock as you rack up kills and capture command posts. It’s here where the differences between the aforementioned factions really shine. Not only are the troop classes distinctive from each other in their abilities and equipment, but some of the more powerful ones are exclusive to certain armies. For instance, playing as the Separatists eventually allows you to play as the droideka, or “destroyer” droid. As we saw in the films, this unit can curl into a ball to speedily roll across the battlefield or put up a shield when it needs to stand and fight. In contrast, the top-tier unit for the Empire is the dark trooper, a specialized Stormtrooper with a jet pack and a gun that can electrocute several enemies at once. These do wonders for maintaining novelty, as they suit various playstyles and mean that you never know which type of fighter you’ll encounter next.
Rewards also come in the form of heroes: Jedi or otherwise iconic characters from the movies. As you would expect, these units are a lot tougher than your standard soldiers, wielding a wealth of weapons and abilities that you can use to dominate the battlefield. In spite of this, they don’t feel overpowered to the point of breaking the game. With some well-aimed shots or a grenade, you could conceivably take them out. However, the developers didn’t think this was enough for balancing. In addition, they put a tight time limit on the heroes’ health bars, a time limit that you can only delay by killing enemies. This seems like a step too far, and it becomes more of a problem when you’re forced to spawn far away from the action. Granted, Pandemic later fixed this with The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, which essentially took their Battlefront formula and applied it to Middle-earth. Sadly, this doesn’t change the fact that it saps some fun out of the experience here.
It also means that you won’t spend much time duking it out with other heroes. Admittedly, this is a shooter first and foremost, so I don’t expect it to excel in close combat as much as a hack-and-slash game. That being said, these lightsaber battles lack any finesse or skill. With an iffy block button and the aforementioned shortage of health, most duels come down to whoever can hit the other guy first. You can juggle your opponent and drain all of his/her life in one fell swoop. It’s nice to have the hero units as an option, but they are shockingly unpolished when compared to everything else.
Thankfully, this does little to break the sense of immersion you get whenever you jump into a match. Locales that were only glimpsed in the films are incorporated here as sprawling environments where you can fight to your heart’s content. Not only are these areas impressive in size without being unmanageably huge, but the developers also manage to pack in enough architectural authenticity, visual callbacks, and bits of hidden fan service that you really feel like you’ve been dropped into the Star Wars galaxy. In addition to wowing you with their presentation, the multitude of maps also have distinctive features that may either help or hinder you. For example, the Imperial faction can use the AT-AT walkers on Hoth. Conversely, playing as the Republic on Geonosis means fighting the insectoid natives in conjunction with the droid army. Little touches like these keep you on your toes and ensure that no map feels quite like another. When this is all bolstered by the familiar sound effects and the sweeping tracks of John Williams’s music, it becomes abundantly clear that this game was made for fans by fans.
However, solid gameplay will only get you so far if the developers don’t do something interesting with it. Pandemic realized this and stuffed their sequel with hours of engaging content. Something that’s definitely worth mentioning is the unexpectedly involving story mode. This usually comes secondary in the shooter genre; it’s sometimes not even included. Here, though, we have an engrossing few hours of military pathos layered on top of the rock-solid gameplay. Stepping into the shoes of a nameless clone trooper, you’re taken through several key conflicts of the Star Wars saga, stretching from the end battle of Attack of the Clones to the invasion of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. Witnessing events both in and out of the films in the style of a documentary, you see the noble Republic gradually mold into the tyrannical Empire. What’s more is that you are integral to this transformation. As you complete each mission, you feel like you’ve taken one important step closer to becoming the most feared force (no pun intended) in the galaxy.
Even in the face of that, the script doesn’t try to justify the morally dubious actions of the clones or go for a clichéd redemption arc where you defect to the rebels. It just tells it like it is. You’re shown how these guys had to overcome hellish environments, untold amounts of death and destruction, and shallow rewards because that is what they were made to do. Regardless of any personal grievances, they weren’t created to question orders, but to follow them. It’s a refreshingly downbeat and mature approach to Star Wars that’s given further weight by Temuera Morrison, reprising his prequel role as the clones and serving as the narrator. Throughout the campaign, he convincingly portrays the weathered gravitas, somber intensity, soulful regret, and grim humor that you’d expect from a disillusioned war vet. He makes you feel for these seemingly faceless clones and their plight on a personal level not seen since 2008’s The Clone Wars TV series, and it results in a story that’s equal parts thrilling and compelling.
Once you finish with the narrative campaign, you can delve into the various other modes on offer. Particularly interesting is Galactic Conquest, where you select a faction and wage a war for control of all the planets. Through careful allocation of resources, bonuses, and your fleet, you slowly work to wipe out your opponent and conquer the whole galaxy. It’s not as deep as more specialized IPs, such as Civilization or Total War, but it’s nevertheless an enjoyable timesink that effectively simulates its namesake, offering players a sense of ever-expanding power in the setting that they love.
Of course, you also have your standard Capture the Flag mode, as well as the ability to play standard conquest matches on any of the maps. These function well enough and are good for a little diversion, but there’s not much that distinguishes them from similar modes in other shooters. More unique diversions come in the form of Hero Assault and Hunt mode. The former is a Deathmatch in the iconic Mos Eisley spaceport involving only hero characters. On top of being ridiculously entertaining, this mode allows you to experiment with many of the films’ recognizable warriors and come up with some truly farcical showdowns. Ever wanted Han Solo to go up against General Grievous? How about Darth Maul smacking Luke Skywalker around? Sure, it’s dumb, but it’s dumb fun, and the same goes for Hunt mode. Available on certain planets, this mode allows you to pit a faction of soldiers against the indigenous life. You can rip rebels apart on Hoth as the yeti-like wampas or exterminate the Ewoks on Endor. I don’t know what kind of sadist you’d have to be to do that, but the option is there for those so inclined.
That’s really the best thing that can be said about Battlefront II: it has something for everyone. Moreover, none of its features feel lazy or come off as throwaway inclusions. Instead, they are all competently constructed to give numerous types of players what they want in a Star Wars shooter. If you play games for the story, then you have an intriguing tale about the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire from the eyes of the guys on the front lines. If you want to try your hand at being a strategist, then you can methodically wage a war across the galaxy. If you just want to shoot some stuff, then this game has you covered. All of these desires and more are fulfilled in Star Wars: Battlefront II. Featuring intuitive gameplay, outstanding presentation, and a slew of time-killing activities, this is easily one of the most exhilarating and worthwhile titles to ever come out of George Lucas’s storied franchise.
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