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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Star Wars: Battlefront II.

Star Wars: Battlefront II.

I actually can't remember what prompted me to get this game. It was so long ago now. I've always been a fan of Star Wars, even when I was too young to understand what was going on and was just watching the films for the pretty effects and lightsaber fights, and I have bought no shortage of games based on the series: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast was one of the earliest games I ever played, and Jedi Academy and Knights of the Old Republic remain old favourites.

But I can't remember what prompted me to buy Battlefront II upon its release. Certainly, it wasn't an overwhelming interest in either its gameplay - which is, for the most part, standard shooter fare - or its plot - which isn't really a plot so much as it is a hastily contrived reason to dump you onto various iconic planets from the series.

Battlefront II, the sequel to, er, Battlefront, puts you in the shoes of a succession of soldiers working for four different sides. Playing in iconic battles from the film series, you can pick any of five different units to play as, each with unique abilities - and when you die, you can simply respawn, either with the same unit or a different one, with a game over or victory only coming when either all of one side's command points are captured, or they run out of reinforcements. Additions to this entry in the series include 'hero units' - Jedi, Sith, and other prominent characters from the series, who you can only use for a limited amount of time - and space battles, where you can board starfighters and battle in three dimensions.

There's a flimsy narrative campaign too, in which you play as a stormtrooper - presumably a stormtrooper with the magical ability to transfer his consciousness between military personnel on his death, or else hello ludonarrative dissonance something awful - reminiscing about his service in two different wars.

That stormtrooper had a family before you bodyjacked him and drove him to die
in a frozen wasteland like a mouse with toxoplasma gondii, you monster.

For all that I can't recall what made me buy this game, it is one I very much enjoyed. Not so much the land battle gameplay - while perfectly adequate, and with some gorgeous settings and a wide range of different troop types (my personal favourites being the droidekas, fast moving robots that can erect a shield when standing), it only really became fun when you were playing as one of the heroes, who are without exception whirling maelstroms of death. The game isn't stingy with the time it gives you to play as them, and the timer is extended each time you kill an enemy, which barring unhappy accident will be constantly. 

At points, the land-based gameplay can become a bit of a mad dash, with both sides taking command points almost at an equal rate, causing a strange equilibrium where it basically comes down to who can seize the advantage for just a few minutes, as the fewer command posts one side has, the more reinforcements they burn through when respawning. That's not a bad thing, to be honest: I'd rather mad, frenetic dashes to gameplay that bores me.


But no, where the gameplay really shone for me was in the space battles. It's a weird thing to say, really, because three-dimensional movement in games is so rarely done well, and it's not as if Battlefront II's gameplay in this regard is groundbreaking - but it's very fine tuned and, once you get the hang of it, feels very smooth. It's a lot of fun, too: You can zoom about the battlefield blasting people with homing missiles in an A-Wing, which never gets boring, and just as fun as jumping into a bomber and doing bombing runs over an enemy ship. Other ships, like the personnel carrier, meant to cart marines into the docking bay of another ship so that they can start sabotaging it from the inside, are best left for multiplayer, as the NPC soldiers are practically useless during space battles.

The narrative campaign is okay to play through once, and then never again - it can't offer you anything that the Instant Action or Galactic Conquest modes can't, unless you like people narrating at you. But, you know, that's not a problem. Not every game has to be story-driven, after all.

Especially when it has spaceships.

It's certainly not game-of-the-year material or anything, but I also can't say it was ever dull, and it's a game I have consistently kept in my library and wouldn't consider selling. It's a very solid entry in a series that has, alas, almost died since, with a sequel (confusing just called Star Wars: Battlefront) only very tentatively scheduled for later this year.

If you want to play it, it can be found on Steam, and I do recommend the PC version over the absurdly clunky PS2 version.

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