My October shift begins at midnight and ends at eight in the morning. By the time I'm on the road, hundreds of millions of people have stared blankly at traffic moving at a crawl. My commute is no shorter due to this; I still drive for an hour to reach home and sleep under the chopped sunlight peeking through my window shades. Today, I opt instead to turn on the PS4 and play the now-downloaded Star Wars Battlefront beta.
I take hold of the controller, feeling my grip tighten around its usual contours. This is my waking world: a realm of dreamlike vistas and character arcs and pretend history. I leave the dream world eight hour shift and slip into a persona I'm more comfortable owning.
Like most multiplayer games this generation, I'm first presented with a Terms & Conditions before I can be greeted by the main menu. Battlefront's menus are clean and fit the Imperial aesthetic, contrasting the grunge look of the rebel bases from Episodes Four to Six. After another pop-up prompting me for my EA credentials (I have an EA account?) and a far-too-long password change, I'm on the main menu.
Immediately, two large icons are presented to me - Multiplayer (the meat of the game) and Missions (single-player Horde mode). Quickly, I have a look at the Settings menu. No fully bindable keys. How sad. Although I'm not surprised with a console game. Having no interest in sitting around with only bots, I dive into Multiplayer. Only two of the seven game modes are available for the beta ("Drop Zone" and the mandatory Hoth-mission "Walker Assault"). Our programmer Aaron already told me to avoid Walker Assault as a rookie, so I dive right into the former. Matchmaking is a half-second load and I'm paired with a match in that time. Amazing.
This goddamn game is gorgeous. DICE has put together the most immersive Star Wars environments with their Frostbite engine. Every aspect of the landscape is photorealistic, with the sands and rocks of Tatooine almost bringing you to a galaxy far, far away in the middle of your living room (or bedroom). The character models, however, aren't as detailed, but I understand the limitations of current tech, so I shrug and move on.
I only have the choice of a single gun and I deploy. In my first head-to-head battle, the stormtrooper drops me in a burst of laser fire. All the authentic Star Wars "pew pew" sounds are here and they are a delight. Another point to the team at DICE.
People have been wondering if DICE has just skinned Battlefield with this Disney property. That isn't the case. Whereas in Battlefield the characters feel heavy, Battlefront feels floaty in the best way possible: the characters are a part of a fantasy universe that isn't too concerned with the decreased movement eighty pounds of military hardware causes. This is a game, through and through. Of course, Battlefield's standard "full-scale warfare" and cannon-fodder respawns (seriously, I die pretty fast from being flanked) are present, however Battlefront removes the unnecessary countdown timer that traditionally ticks away, preventing an early return to the fight.
Although, I may be more glad for that feature because of how frequently I died during my battle to defend Rebel pods.
One major feature of the game is the ability between first-person and third-person, however it is mapped to the D-pad Down button on the PS4 controller, and you have to hold it down to switch at that. The necessary transition of smoothly blast away enemies from the hip and getting that last, distant guy with a neat aim down the iron sight is not present here. Just to be sure I didn't jump the gun, I checked the Settings menu again, but no DICE.
Cue the snare and cymbal crash. I hope that enough people complain that this is adjusted or buttons become re-bindable in the full release. Shoulder swapping for third-person is also mapped to this button (you hit it once instead of holding it down), and the punishes players who normally check corners while moving forward. I ended up having to try to keep the knuckle of my thumb on the control stick while reaching for the button. Results were poor and resulted in a Rebel carcass for me to gaze at.
Overall, I think Battlefront is far better than I expected. DICE has recreated some amazing visuals straight from the films and retained the sounds ingrained within our psyche since childhood (if you were into this sort of thing). I wish I could see more, but it is a beta. It's understandable that a multiplayer-focused shooter would lock away its juiciest secrets, and they got me hooked for more. There is a small level progression for multiplayer unlocks and new gear, but I know it is capped to a single-digit number. I'm sure by the end of the week I'll know exactly what that is.
- Johnny Toxin