The main reason anyone plays a Star Wars game for is that fantasy. The one where, if you’re not actually Leia, Luke or Han you’re at least a character of equal standing. You’re the one careening slightly crappy ships through narrow space station trenches, or ducking blaster fire - shooting from the hip - as slow, heavy blast doors grind shut around you.
Yeah, that fantasy.
The first few hours of Star Wars Battlefront 2’s solo campaign does, so far, deliver that. Mostly. The attention to detail is exquisite. The blasters pop and spark against the walls exactly like, say, a slightly damp 1970s special effect explosive squib going off. At every turn the whole ‘holy crap it’s just like the movie-ness’ of it all is fantastic. The first time the tutorial told me to escape pursuers by blasting a door control panel to then lock it behind me, I might have squealed a little bit because that’s exactly what they do in the film. I’m doing the film!
It looks incredible. Both in terms of shear graphical flash and attention to detail
And it looks incredible. Both in terms of shear graphical flash and attention to detail. Empire ship floors gleam in just the right way, as mouse droids (or MSE-6-series repair droids, if you like) skoot nervously past. I found myself scouring the immaculate locations and even the armour and uniforms of various characters, for every detail. Even the weave of the fabric has an allure when you realise you can see it. And I swear to God some of the actors have been cast/modelled purely because they have that slightly corse, ‘used to work on a farm in Surrey before trying acting’ charm you see so often in 70s British film talent. I mean, look at this guy:
That’s Del Meeko, one of the Empire’s top soldiers. He looks like he should be telling Gregory Peck his son’s the Antichrist, then going to a village pub in a Triumph Herald.
It’s an absolute fantasy land bullseye for any Star Wars fan but with one slight issue: the whole being the bad guy thing - the main character, Iden Versio, is essentially Stormtrooper special ops. The levels I played deals with her shooting her way out of a Rebel base, fighting Rebels on Endor, and shooting Rebel ships in space from a TIE fighter. Basically, if there’s a clear line of sight to a Rebel you’ll be shooting them ‘til the bits stop moving. Despite all that perfect fan service this kept pulling me out of the moment. It’s one thing to swap sides in multiplayer, but in single player it’s weirdly… not right. Murdering wave after wave of the good guys feels like you’re playing Wolfenstein as the Nazis.
It probably won’t be an issue for too long though, as Iden will clearly, at some point, see the light (side) and join the good fight. One sneak peek we were given of a later moment is blatantly setting up her ‘are we the baddies?’ moment.
Weird as it may feel, the game does a good job of showing the other side with some depth and character - loyal, hard working Imperial soldiers who are just people. People who view the Rebels as destructive, dangerous terrorists who keep blowing up their friends. Although there is a fair bit of mental moustaches twirling in the actors attempts to convey their overall evilness. No one actually goes ‘Mwah-ha-ha’ out loud but you can tell they’re channeling that a little. The initial big bad, Admiral Versio (Iden’s dad) exudes so much evil you can practically see him leaving a trail of it behind him, like some sort of malevolent slug. His deep drawling voice, cracking syllables and rolling over vowels like gravel, make him so deliciously villainous it’s hard to resist the urge to run up and hug him while shouting ‘you are just so EVIL!’
The movies have always leaned towards melodramatic and campy performances and it’s something this does beautifully. But when it needs to be more serious it can, with Janina Gavankar’s performance as Iden full of subtle nuance - I’ve never seen a game cram quite so much ‘fuck you’ into an actor’s slight tightening of the eyes. Kylo Ren might make Stormtroopers aboutface by trashing a room with his lightsaber, but Iden could make Vader apologise for interrupting with a glare. I like her.
The one area where Battlefront does feel a little soft at this point is the actual gameplay. It’s perfectly adequate, but clearly made from its multiplayer components. The AI for example is functional but rarely engaging. Enemies will run for cover when you open fire and… well that’s about it. I never really felt like I was interacting with anything that had a brain smart enough to care, more triggering a series of responses. It’s definitely a higher level than basic multiplayer bot shooter brains, but it feels like that’s where it’s coming from.
The focus is definitely on the glorious spectacle than a challenging clash of w(h)ills - something it absolutely nails in the space battles which play out exactly like the films. Lining up your trajectory with an enemy ship so that it slowly curves into your line of fire is an incredible feeling. I lost count of how many times I growled ‘I have you now’ as I unleashed a barrage up a fighter’s engine port. At moments like that the depth of detail and smooth frame rates really shine - all that space debris, blaster fire and ships cartwheeling across the screen without a glitch.
It is at least a proper single player campaign, rather than multiplayer objectives strung together with a mild plot. There’s a story here, with clear purpose and goals; level design is good and well crafted both for pace and atmosphere, but, along with the AI, there are subtle reminders you’re playing what was a multiplayer game first. The enemy classes behave as they would online - officers deploying turrets, for example - while you dip into supply crates scattered around to swap out your Star Card abilities (tuning Iden’s powers and gear), exactly like you would online.
But this is more about entertainment than scrambling for cover in a desperate bid to survive. If you went to a Star Wars attraction at Disney you wouldn’t expect the Stormtroopers to actually whack you with rifle butts, just make the ‘tszk’ noise before talking and pose for pictures. This is basically the gaming equivalent of that, and from what I’ve played so far possible the most Star Warsy Star Wars game since Jedi Outcast.