Let’s get this out of the way first: Battlefront is leading our E3 2015 feature coverage because of the 25-odd games I actually managed to get hands-on with over the course of the expo, it’s the one I enjoyed the most. Not that a frantic 15 minutes of multiplayer mayhem can tell you a hell of a lot about a game or in particular its longevity, but there you go: Battlefront wins my “most fun 15 minutes of E3” award.
That’s just as well too, as I queued for an hour to play the bloody thing – an absolute eternity when you’re covering an entire E3 by yourself and have back-to-back appointments from open ‘til close. The mode I played was Walker Assault on one of the game’s Hoth maps – think ice, snow, and lumbering AT-ATs like at the start of The Empire Strikes Back.
At 40 players, Walker Assault is the game’s most populous mode, and Hoth proved to be a suitably sprawling environment to wage what was largely trench warfare against those pesky Rebels. Our objective was to escort three AT-ATs through the snow to a Rebel base, where presumably there was more waiting that just tea and crumpets.
We had to protect the AT-ATs as they thundered along, and this primarily involved taking over and holding uplink stations along the route so the Rebels couldn’t call in Y-wings for bombing runs. Deactivate a station, and the skirmish slowly migrates to the next. Fail to, and brace thyself for the shriek of spacecraft and buckling metal.
When the Rebels succeeded in activating an uplink and strafing the metal giants, our AT-ATs not only took damage but also became temporarily susceptible to fire from any weapon, from puny blasters to rockets and beyond. The classic tow cable takedown from Empire is also possible during these brief periods of vulnerability, but was obviously a tricky thing to pull off as no-one on the Rebel side got even remotely close to looking like lassoing anything.
You can imagine these maneuvers being used to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, though, the pilot in question lowering his controller slowly, powering off his telly, and retiring from video games completely for he hath surely pulled off the coolest feat possible within the disparate boundaries of the medium.
As an Imperial Snowtrooper, I had several weapon options, but a sniper rifle-style blaster proved best for Hoth’s mostly open terrain. I also had the choice of two item loadouts (‘hands’), and went the grenade launcher/jetpack combo over a bubble shield/thermal detonator.
That meant that even Rebel forces crouching in the shallow trenches criss-crossing the map weren’t safe as I boosted into the air and peppered them with plasma from afar. Perhaps in a nod to the game’s source material, aiming felt slightly floaty regardless of my proximity to the ground, and I found that volleys in the general direction of enemies were a better bet than slow, considered aiming. It really doesn't feel much like Battlefield at all.
Regular weapons in Battlefront don’t run out of ammo, but instead overheat (and recover quickly if you press a button to actively cool them). Meanwhile, special weapons are on a timer and some also have a limited number of uses per life on top of that.
Although health regenerates if you avoid damage and few if any weapons will kill in a single shot, staying away from damage is paramount. There’s barely any cover on the majority of Hoth, so this isn’t easy. It does enhance the feeling that this is two armies just throwing themselves at each other, though, which in turn lends the game even more of a World War I warfare vibe.
Vehicles and powerups are handled in an odd manner: both are pickups strewn randomly around the battlefield or acquired for completing an objective. Some simply augment your weapons for a brief period, while others put you in control of things like an AT-ST, the weaponry of an AT-AT, or spacecraft. I didn’t manage to find any vehicle pickups in my short time, and neither Vader nor Skywalker made an appearance that I saw, so I’m guessing those perks are particularly rare.
One thing Battlefront definitely nails is the aesthetic of the Star Wars universe. Obviously it’s a great looking game, but the sound is also spot-on, with TIE Fighters screaming about overhead, blasters pew-pewing everywhere, and concussive explosions shredding the armour of troops and AT-STs alike. I’m also pretty sure I heard a Wilhelm scream at one point. It’s chaotic, and all backed by that instantly recognisable score.
It's fantastically moreish, but I do wonder how long its hooks will stay in: there doesn't appear to be a ton of loadout customisation, and any progression systems were either hidden or completely passed me by as I gazed slack-jawed at an approaching X-wing. I'm also not completely sold on the vehicle-as-pickup system, but perhaps I'm just dark I never found one.
There is hope the mode will have legs though: Walker Assault will be available on all the Battlefront planets including Endor, the forests of which promise to make it a much more intimate affair. It will certainly be interesting to see how it translates to a smaller setting. Whatever the case, I loved my 15 minutes on Hoth. Questions do remain, but now more than ever, I'm looking forward to seeking out their answers.