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‘Star Wars Battlefront’: Fans expected a Wookiee but got only an Ewok

"Star Wars Battlefront" developers took care to re-create the characters, gear and vehicles in great detail. The movies’ heroes and villains look and move like their big-screen counterparts. Lumbering AT-AT walkers and nimble Tie fighters behave as you would expect them to. And basic gameplay is nearly perfect.

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By BRIAN BOWERS | Stars and Stripes | Published: November 25, 2015

“Star Wars Battlefront” follows a well-worn path for the venerable franchise.

If you remember the trio of movies made infamous by Jar Jar Binks, you know the story. News of a new installment is greeted with cheers, but reality fails to live up to expectations when the product hits the screen. It looks great and even delivers some fun and thrills, but it feels a bit shallow when compared to the original.

The shooter developed by DICE for Electronic Arts follows a well-loved pair of “Battlefront” games from a decade ago. Many gamers remember spending hours seated with a friend and battling hordes of Imperial stormtroopers in split-screen co-op. It’s no surprise that news of a new edition drew some of the biggest cheers when it was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) two years ago.

The new “Battlefront” hits stores only a few weeks before the release of the seventh installment of the film series, “The Force Awakens.” Currently, the game features the characters and settings of the three original films — Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and the rest. However, EA promises to add characters, gear and locations from the new flick in upcoming downloadable content. On the surface, it all sounds very exciting.

And it truly is exciting when you first jump into the adventures set in some of the most stunning battlefields ever created for a video game. The towering trees and lush undergrowth of the forest moon of Endor are absolutely beautiful. If you look closely, you can catch sight of the Teddy-bear-like Ewoks watching the action. And if you look beyond the treetops, you can see the dreaded Death Star looming ominously overhead. The stark, rocky Tatooine and the icy ridges of Hoth also are wonderfully depicted.

Developers also took care to re-create the characters, gear and vehicles in great detail. The movies’ heroes and villains look and move like their big-screen counterparts. Lumbering AT-AT walkers and nimble Tie fighters behave as you would expect them to.

Basic gameplay is nearly perfect. The battlefields are well designed, and each of the game modes is entertaining. The controls are incredibly smooth and responsive, just as you’d expect from a game developed by DICE, which is responsible for the “Battlefield” series of military shooters.

On the surface, “Stars Wars Battlefront” seems to be a phenomenal game. However, a deeper look reveals that its substance is as skimpy as Princess Leia’s metal bikini in “Return of the Jedi.”

The game revolves around online competition. If you’re looking for anything else, look somewhere else. There’s no single-player campaign — but that isn’t a surprise since neither of the original “Battlefront” games had one. However, the single-player and co-op missions are still very limited. And even the online mode isn’t quite as compelling as it should be, especially when compared to DICE’s previous work in the “Battlefield” series.

Aside from training missions, there are two single-player options. In the first, you fight until you have eliminated 100 enemies. You can play this game online or split-screen against another player. In the second, you fight to survive wave after wave of progressively more difficult foes. You also can play this game in split-screen or online co-op.

Sadly, the survival game is the only format that currently permits split-screen co-op. This is a major letdown because many fans expected the big battles to be available in split-screen, as they were in the original games. Second, the survival game isn’t nearly as replayable as the zombie survival mode in Activision’s recent “Call of Duty: Black Ops III.” The big difference — aside from blasting stormtroopers instead of zombies — is that “Battlefront’s” missions end after 15 rounds. Zombie missions continue as long as you’re able to survive, so there’s always the incentive to improve your performance. In “Battlefront,” once you’ve survived, there’s not a lot of incentive to return.

The multiplayer modes also fall a bit short in offering incentive to keep coming back for more. Successful multiplayer shooters keep players coming back because the competition is fun and there’s a sense of progression. The problem with “Battlefront” is that progressing to new levels doesn’t pay off as much as it should. Many of the best weapons and special abilities are unlocked at low levels. And the items you can unlock to change your appearance sometimes seem a bit odd. You’ll know what I mean when you see a helmetless female stormtrooper sporting a blond ponytail.

However, when it comes to creating competition that’s fun, DICE has risen to the challenge.

“Supremacy” is very similar to the old-school “Battlefront” missions. Two teams, each with 20 players, fight over strategic points in order to control the map. “Walker Assault” also features 20-player teams but gives them different objectives. Imperial troops must clear the way for giant AT-AT walkers to assault a rebel base. Rebel forces must establish uplinks that allow aircraft to knock out the walkers.

These two game modes are the best of the bunch. Both are spectacular to watch, with multicolored beams zipping in all directions, aircraft zooming overhead and walkers stomping around the landscape. They also permit players to assume the roles of the movies’ major heroes and villains. The rebels have Luke, Leia and Han Solo, while the Imperial forces have Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and Boba Fett. Each of these has special abilities that can have a major impact on the battlefield. Darth Vader can use the Force to choke a foe and Boba Fett can streak into the sky and unleash a wrist rocket. It’s almost always satisfying to walk in these characters’ shoes.

The other multiplayer games are fun but are really just diversions compared to the large-scale battles. They include a team death match and several forms of capture the flag. Budding X-wing pilots can engage in aerial dogfighting. And two unique games focus on the major “Star Wars” heroes and villains. In “Hero Hunt,” seven players hunt an eighth participant who takes on the role and powers of one of the heroes. When the hero is eliminated, the person who delivered the coup de grace respawns as the next hero and the action starts over again. In “Heroes vs. Villains,” a team led by three heroes battles a team led by three villains.

Electronic Arts will provide a free download of additional content incorporating characters, maps and gear featured in the upcoming “Star Wars” movie. The publisher is also pushing a season pass for an additional $50, promising four more installments of downloadable content in the future. It would be ideal if these updates tweaked the progression system, revamped the survival mode and added more split-screen options. Just adding the possibility of split-screen play to “Supremacy” — even if it were offline — would effectively re-create the original “Battlefront” experience and make a lot of players happy.

Bottom line: B- “Stars Wars Battlefront” can be very entertaining, but the fun doesn’t last as long as it should.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Rated: T for teens

Electronic Arts provided a review copy of the game.

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