Fight on the front lines of Star Wars’ biggest battles.
PC Release: November 1, 2005
By Ian Coppock
Right off the bat, anyone who came here somehow expecting a review of this November’s Battlefront II is going to be sorely disappointed. Not even Art as Games can acquire titles that early. No, this is a review of the old Battlefront II, or what some old-school and expanded universe fans call the real Battlefront II. As the last Battlefront game to be released under the banner of LucasArts before the series’ decade-long hibernation, Battlefront II deserves a quick look back. Before Electronic Arts got its claws on the Battlefront license, what was LucasArts’ take on galaxy-wide shooting?
Originally released in the winter of ’05, Battlefront II is a shooter set in the prequel and classic Star Wars eras. Players can duke it out in galaxy-wide wars for supremacy as the Republic or Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS), or as the Rebel Alliance or Galactic Empire. The action takes place on over a dozen iconic Star Wars worlds, whether it’s boots on the ground or in the cockpit of a starfighter. In most modes, whoever kills all the enemy combatants first wins the match.
Unlike EA’s 2015 Battlefront reboot, Battlefront II is a class-based shooter that can be played in first-person. Players can pick from one of several specialized classes that each sport different weapons and strategies. Stormtroopers make for great general assault units, while scout troopers come with sniper rifles. Generally, each faction has assault, sniper, explosive, and support classes, as well as a few specialized units that can usually only be used after the player racks up enough points. Battlefront II also features space battles with three starfighter classes and a few types of capital ships.
Gameplay in Battlefront II is pretty simple. On the ground, players simply shoot enemies to death with their class’s firearm and can also use grenades. Crouching behind objects is, believe it or not, a great way to avoid getting killed, as is making liberal use of health and ammo packs. Most maps also feature turrets and vehicles that players can hop into. Depending on the map, players might be able to access AT-AT walkers, Homing Spider Droids, or any number of tanks and speeders. Like EA’s Battlefront, players who rack up enough points can temporarily play as a hero character, such as Darth Vader, General Grievous, Luke Skywalker, or Yoda.
In space, players score points by destroying enemy starfighters and damaging the opposing capital ship, and whoever achieves that score first wins. Hopping into a starfighter to wreak havoc from above is all well and good, but players less suited to flying can also land on the enemy ship and sabotage critical systems. That latter one is a great way to rack up points quickly, but Battlefront II‘s flying controls are fairly simple to pick up. Just don’t barrel roll into a Star Destroyer.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that Battlefront II‘s multiplayer is pretty dead. It’s still technically online thanks to GameRanger, but don’t go in expecting a vibrant community with an endless server list. More introverted shooter fans will be glad to know that Battlefront II supports computer matches, but it only takes one match to know a computer’s habits. If for nothing else, playing against the computer can be entertaining because of its spurious decision making, like using its resources to buy extra medical supplies instead of a capital ship.
Fortunately, Battlefront II‘s Galactic Conquest mode is much livelier than its multiplayer. Comparable to a turn-based Empire at War, Galactic Conquest gives players about a dozen worlds to conquer. Each victory brings in money that players can use to unlock new soldier classes, build new fleets, and acquire perks like extra meds and ammo. Even if the mode’s AI and sequence of space-land battles becomes a bit predictable, Galactic Conquest is a fun mode to try. It’s like chess but with Star Wars instead of chess.
When EA’s Battlefront launched, the game got a lot of heat for lacking a single-player campaign. This absence was made all the more conspicuous by the single-player campaign present in Battlefront II, a story that chronicles the elite 501st clone legion as the Republic transitions into the Empire. To be fair to EA, this story mode is not the tear-jerking war drama that ardent old-school fans claim it is, but it’s still a substantial helping of colorful battles across iconic Star Wars set pieces. Even if the exposition is restricted solely to an old clone’s narration, it’s fun to wage the climactic battles that drove events in the Star Wars films.
Each mission also forces conditions upon the player that aren’t present in multiplayer modes. Some missions might give players only a small handful of troops for a greater challenge, others might have arbitrary restrictions on which vehicles can be used. Still others might feature cross-era confrontations, like the missions where the Empire has to destroy a holdout of Separatist war droids. The core gameplay of running and gunning goes little changed in the story mode, but it does tinker with a few things here and there to provide novelty unseen in the multiplayer mode. It also toys with the idea of what happened to the clones after Order 66, though this narrative is no longer considered canon.
Battlefront II‘s gameplay has aged pretty well, certainly more than its visual or sound design. Though Battlefront II‘s visuals were considered cutting-edge back in the day, that day has long since passed, and the game’s visual design is left looking a little shabby. Muddy textures and awkward character animations are classic LucasArts fare, but the muffled sounds of everything from blasters to lightsabers is a bit more worrisome. None of this detracts from the gameplay’s entertainment value… in fact, one might consider dated visuals a plus, if for nothing more than to laugh at a rectangular pile of snow.
A game this old runs on pretty much any machine these days, but Battlefront II is still known to occasionally crash or fill its cutscenes with visual glitches. The game’s options menu is quite impressive and allows for fixing almost any performance issue, but players thinking about picking this up might want to wear a visor in case the cutscenes go schizophrenic. But the keyword in that sentence was occasionally; by and large, Battlefront II runs just fine and its 2005-era processing requirements constitute barely a whisper of effort on modern machines.
Battlefront II‘s legacy can still be felt in subsequent Star Wars games. Even EA’s Battlefront, despite some fundamental design differences, draws clear inspiration from this classic title. EA may have decided to forgo the class-based combat, but capturing objectives in Battlefront is an obvious echo of gameplay in Battlefront II. The new Battlefront II (the one coming out in November) seems to have embraced its predecessor’s design a bit more by including a story campaign and combat set in multiple eras.
Even if players look past or lack Star Wars fandom, Battlefront II is still worth considering because of its fluid class-based combat. In this age of play-your-way platitudes and endless character customization, class-based shooters have become somewhat endangered. Despite its massive popularity, Team Fortress 2 is really the last megabastion of such gameplay left in the contemporary PC scene. Players who yearn for that era will find it in spades with Battlefront II.
Battlefront II has aged, but only visually. Like a fine Corellian brandy, the label on the bottle might seem faded, but the beverage within is succulent and well-balanced. Players picking this game up for the multiplayer will want to head over to GameRanger to find a match, while everyone else is still in for a delectable mix of turn-based strategy, instant shooting, and a fireside story about clone troopers in the era of the Empire. It’ll be interesting to see how else, if at all, this November’s Battlefront II stacks up to the original. In the meantime, this venerable game is worth a shot.
You can buy Star Wars: Battlefront II here.
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