Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Star Wars: Battlefront

As videogames go, this has 70% written all over it. It doesn't do anything new, the weapons are all blasters with no real character (just different firing rates and blast patterns), the one vehicle I had chance to try (the Rebel Snowspeeder) was practically uncontrollable, and the graphics engine isn't nearly as pretty or as smooth as Unreal Tournament 2004's. I had to turn everything down to minimum to get a frame rate out of it - BUT - I fought The Battle Of Hoth last night. As the Rebels. We lost, predictably, despite me personally taking down two AT-ATs with rockets and the defensive turrets. It's much more fun than Joint Operations - battles are tighter and faster, and the ability to take any Command Post on the map means that you have more tactical flexibility. The ability to see blaster fire also makes it a whole lot less likely that you're going to be taken out from halfway across the map without ever knowing what has hit you, which removes a big source of frustration from most other online shooters.

It's still early days, so no-one really seems to be co-ordinating their teamwork yet, but it's still easy enough to make a difference as just the one man on a 20 player server. I only had the time to try three maps (on two different servers because the first one, where I played on Tatooine, was like a slideshow), and the maps are okay without being special. Hoth is as featureless as you expect, turning it into a little bit of a turkey shoot for the guys in the Imperial vehicles, but even as a Rebel I was still second top of my server with 29 frags (just two behind the top player), plus I got the Deadeye award two games running for being the most accurate player. On the other map (a waterfront/pier map which I think is meant to be on Naboo) I came out on top with 41 frags and the least deaths with 16 (two of which were accidental from a team-mate; watch that crossfire, boys!). Obviously, your experience of the game is coloured by how well you're doing compared to everyone else, so coming out top is pretty satisfying.

Anyone who's clipped my head off in a Manta on UT2004 will know that I'm only an average FPS player, so I get the feeling that Battlefront is My First Online Shooter for a lot of people, because it's not often I hit the top of a server scoreboard. A lot of people are just standing still whilst firing - so they're either having frame rate problems or are new to the genre, because they're easy pickings for people with a bit of UT experience like me. People aren't really exploiting the thermal detonators very well yet either, using them on open ground, instead of using them to choke up Command Posts in buildings. I gave a couple of people camping in a Command Post hut on the Waterfront map a very nasty surprise by sneaking up in the blind spot of their turret, and chucking a couple of thermal detonators into the hut...

The standard Trooper class appears to be the best rounded - I don't like the blast cannon carried by the Dark Trooper (or the equivalent Bowcaster for the Wookiee) - it's the blaster equivalent of a shotgun, uses lots of ammo in one go and has a wide blast spread, meaning it's only really useful at point blank range, unlike the standard blast rifle, which is great at anything up to medium range. The Missile trooper class is essential for the Rebels, particularly against AT-ATs and AT-STs, though you need a group of half a dozen people with them co-ordinating to take vehicles out quickly - AT-ATs are incredibly tough. The sniper class is a bit rubbish; not enough ammo in a clip and the fire rate is actually a little too fast.

The game is undoubtedly a lot of fun. Its appeal is limited by the emphasis on recreating Star Wars battles, but I think even a Star Wars hater could get a measure of satisfaction out of it. It's not big (only 16 maps - though there will probably be expansion packs coming out), it's not clever (I've not tried the Single Player yet, but reports of the AI say that it's dumber than a bag of hammers), but there's some joy to be had running around as a Stormtrooper blasting Rebel Scum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn't see that many Clone Wars servers knocking about - though I will give one a try in the near future. I can't see it gobbling away too many hours away from my Sims 2 obsession, but it's good enough to have a quick blast on if you don't want to settle down for the night on something.

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