Video Game: Star Wars Battlefront

Given the limited number of available PlayStation 4 titles of interest, it seems inevitable we’d end up with a copy of Star Wars Battlefront. In the wake of Star Wars: The Force Awakens fever, how could we resist?

I was excited about the look of the early trailers, but my enthusiasm was dampened by the—totally valid, as it turns out—negative reviews it received. Star Wars Battlefront lacks the two aspects of video games I crave most: narrative and character. The former problem is considerably more pronounced: Battlefront’s single-player, offline mode is woefully slim, basically a series of training exercises. But it’s the inability to create your very own Star Wars universe character that I found even more disappointing. You can level as a player, unlocking new weapons and guises that enable you to randomly change gear and appearance, but there’s never a sense of embracing an identity, which tends to be what truly invests me in a game.

Based on these paper-thin story elements, it’s obvious the developers were counting on dazzling visual effects, compelling atmosphere, brilliant John Williams music, and the players’ investment in a legendary franchise to sell this one. It’s hard to blame them; from a production standpoint, it is truly impressive. Battlefront looks, sounds, and feels like Star Wars: an interactive, intensely violent, grunt’s-eye view of Star Wars, at any rate. The problem is the only way to experience it is through ruthless, player-versus-player battlegrounding.

This is a style of gaming that’s never appealed to me, alas. I soldiered through several online sessions only to find myself blasted over and over again by better-skilled, better-geared players and then having to run a mile or so back into action. It didn’t get its hooks in, at first, with the exception of Fighter Squadron mode, where I found death a little less inevitable and more impersonal.

For some reason, though, I kept coming back for more. Ironically, as soon as I embraced my inner stormtrooper, I stopped dying so much and missing my target. The game that hooked me was Walker Assault, where the tactical and strategic objectives lend an element of drama and sense to a game that’s otherwise all flash, dazzle, and frustration. It’s even possible to do well in this one even if you’re not particularly good, provided you focus on the objectives. Mindlessly laboring to destroy a couple of AT-ATs, or escort them to victory, has turned out to be an odd kind of therapeutic fun.

Star Wars Battlefront is a rightly maligned game, and I’m not sure how long it will hold my interest. But it does have its addictive qualities and it’s certainly beautifully produced. Depending on your gaming style, this title will be hit or miss.

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