Star Wars Battlefront could have been my dream PC game. A first-person shooter set across episodes I-VI, where you can join any side, play as a multitude of different soldier classes and fly a multitude of vehicles in massive online battles. Want to recreate the scene from Empire, where Dack and Luke attack an AT-AT walker in a snowspeeder? Sorted. How about the end of Jedi where the Imperials attack the forest moon of Endor with AT-ST walkers and Speeder bikes, allowing you to execute furry Ewoks at will? Naturally. Can you imagine how good a game like this could be?
All Too Easy
Unfortunately (cue the sound of a baleful Wookiee roar) Battlefront is a bag of pearls in sick - it's utterly fantastic and woefully poor in equal measure. One minute you're marvelling at how cool riding a Tauntaun is, the next you're blinking in disbelief at an enemy Stormtrooper's thick-as-pigshit AI. Yet, despite the frayed edges, there's still plenty for Star Wars fans to enjoy - even those not satiated after the recent release of the original trilogy on DVD.
Battlefront is playable in single player using bots, with three varied modes: the self-explanatory Instant Action, Galactic Conquest (which has you battling for each of the ten planets such as Hoth and Kamino in turn) and a story-based Historical Campaign. However, we're here in Online Zone because the main thrust of the game is multiplayer, whether on LAN or over the Net, with more than 32 players able to join in at any time, complete with voice headset support.
The basic strategy behind Battlefront is to control the battlefield by taking over command posts, indicated by red and green markers on the map. Simply stand next to them and wait until they turn the colour of your team. This denies your opponents a spawn point, as well as decreasing their overall team points indicated by the bars at the top of the screen. Anyone who's played Battlefield 1942 will instantly be at home.
Usually, levels feature two factions - Rebel Alliance or Galactic Empire from classic Star Wars, and Clone Army or Separatists from the 'new' Star Wars - but occasionally a third non-playable faction will join in the action, such as the Ewoks on Endor or the Tusken Raiders on Tatooine.
Each of the factions has five classes of soldier to choose from, each possessing different skills and weapon sets. Highlights include the rolling fast-firing Droideka robots, the Wookiee smuggler (complete with bowcaster rifle) and my favourites, the Jet Trooper and Dark Trooper, who both possess a rather handy jetpack for leaping over buildings and dropping right into a battle from above. Nice.
Where It's AT-AT
Combat is literally hit-and-miss. The basic blasters and rifles
just don't feel meaty enough, although the turrets, rocket launchers and thermal detonators do pack a punch, blasting ragdoll bodies high into the air or through windows. Most importantly though, the 30-plus vehicles in Battlefront, including X-Wings and TIE Fighters, are enormous fun, allowing up to six players in certain craft such as the Republic Gunship.
Climbing aboard the AT-AT and blasting the shield generator on Hoth can be an almost religious experience, as can stomping through the Endor forest aboard an AT-ST, crushing Ewoks underfoot with every stride. Handling, in most cases, is excellent, and the velocity of vehicles such as the speeder bike, that can zip deftly in and out trees, is thrilling stuff.
Bots are available in both single- and multiplayer games to make up the numbers, but the AI is, like the game - very good and very bad. At one point on the cloud city of Bespin, a rebel comrade saw I was low on health and tossed me a Bacta tank - very useful. However, our Prezzer managed to confuse the Dark Lord of The Sith (Darth Vader) simply by climbing some stairs. Not the stuff of Star Wars legend.