Monday, 30 November 2015

Star Wars Battlefront Retrospective [Gaming]

 There is quite a lot, for me, to be thankful for about Star Wars Battlefront. I've said it plenty of times, but first playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 is what got me into Star Wars in the first place. Without having that first experience of playing with a friend back in the 2006 Christmas break, I probably wouldn't be as big a fan as I am now. Playing Battlefront 2 is what got me to track down the original trilogy of films [little twelve year old me probably getting sidetracked by the LEGO isle in Toys R Us no doubt] and watched them. Probably not too much of a stretch to say I've watched them at least once every year, adding the prequels to that once I got them a year later.
But of course, it all comes back to Battlefront, which became the go-to multiplayer game of choice between me and my friend on our Friday visits. Battlefront 2 has probably had more hours poured into it than any other game I own. Over the course of time, I eventually owned and played every Battlefront game released, but still always came back to Battlefront 2.



It would make sense to start with Battlefront 2 on this - since it is the first I played - but I'm going in release order to make things simple. With the original Star Wars Battlefront, I didn't actually start playing it until after Elite Squadron released. I could tell it was something special though. Both eras of Star Wars together in one game, with the idea of living out battle fantasies as a regular trooper. Something I'd already been doing in Battlefront 2, but the first had very few restrictions. Spaceships were accessible on the map itself, making for quite a few fun battles [and a few one-sided ones as well]. The maps themselves were diverse enough that you could tell which was which, and though there was only one mode playable, it was still good fun as it rarely felt as though the same thing happened twice [except on Bespin: Platforms, which is always going to end up in a serious firefight for the middle]. Vehicles were always present, and each class had a set up that differed from others. It was the perfect start for what would come the following year in 2005. And since the original was released before Revenge of the Sith, Kashyyyk being on the roster was such a tease.

Battlefront 2 was the perfect follow up to the original. It expanded on pretty much everything. But the second being my first, I wouldn't have known that. I was just sucked in to a new world with lasers, robots, aliens, and spaceship fights. Not knowing any names of anything made it all the more better. This was something I would be learning from scratch. And I did. I learned about flying and fighting and the heroes and the planets and all the vehicles I was using. And some of the names I was using back then were pretty close but not right [such as the memorable cash-yuck I kept using as Kashyyyk's name]. The planets and locations grew in number, heroes were playable, and an expanded campaign and Galactic Conquest were added. I'd spend hours with Galactic Conquest when I wanted a challenge of some sort, buying classes of soldier, moving around the galaxy, conquering space, and finally dominating the last planet needed to take over the galaxy. I even played the campaign more than once, marveling at the story of the unnamed clone trooper as he recounts battles of Geonosis, Coruscant, Hoth, and even those in between such as the takeover of Kamino and Mustafar, which mixed the two eras together to give clones v clones and Empire v CIS. But as well as that, we had Heroes vs Villains. Team of good guys versus team of bad guys in a deathmatch styled mode. It was crazy, over the top, and worth it. It can drag on, but so long as it was playing sparingly, it was always a good laugh. There was also the space battles, allowing us to live out space battle fantasies at long last [at least within the Battlefront series]. It was chaos, and very easily won by landing inside the enemy cruiser and blowing out the critical systems from the inside, but the controls were fluid and so was the gameplay itself, and it was something neither handheld Battlefront game could fully master.

Which leads us onto said handheld Battlefront's. Released in 2007, Renegade Squadron was the first of the handheld games, and gave us planets not yet seen before, customisation of character and weapons, and overhauled the Galactic Conquest game mode. Being only on the PSP meant the controls were clunky, and the gameplay suffered from it. With the space maps is where it tried its hardest though. At least on two of them. See, these two maps added something in the middle. A neutral base. This could be captured by control point, and once it was owned by your team served as an extra base to quickly get starfighters out into the battle. Another thing that made space battles better - the inclusion of hero starfighters. These were powerful, just like the heroes themselves were, with upgraded weaponry and extra health. And so while Renegade Squadron wasn't the best, it at least expanded the Battlefront name in some way.
Elite Squadron tried its hardest to be the best, as yet again it added expansion. Or should that be added the concept of expansion saw in the cancelled Battlefront 3 to the best of its ability. Yet again on the PSP [there's not really any need to talk about the DS version since it doesn't really have anything to do with Battlefront at all] it featured a select number of planets that linked directly to space. Elite Squadron was the first Battlefront to do the concept of land to space battles, where all arenas affected the outcome. Controlling the ion cannon command point would end the enemy cruisers shields quicker, allowing you access to work your way to the reactor and blow it up. The cruisers themselves would be firing down on the planet below, laying waste to vehicles. Spaceships were again playable on the ground, allowing those to have an advantage. The campaign introduced several new characters and featured a plot that loosely linked to the films, and going beyond the films for its final conclusion. Customisation returned, the controls were slightly better, and Galactic Conquest introduced different map sizes for the first time. Because of what it was though, it needed roughly symmetrical level design, which meant the maps themselves did suffer slightly for it. There is also the fact that Heroes vs Villains was now split between eras, meaning Darth Maul couldn't be slicing through Luke Skywalker.

With the tenth anniversary of Battlefront 2's release having been the end of last month, we have a new Battlefront, made by DICE and EA - creators of the Battlefield series. It's a reboot, not an expansion. We've come full circle. In this day and age, expansions are digitally released for the current game then included in the base game for the follow-up. I just hope that this new series of Battlefront can expand like the original series did, and go even further than what the originals did. And while this new Battlefront is out, it still won't stop me from returning to my roots. Returning to Battlefront 2, and the reason I am a fan of Star Wars.

If you haven't already, read my Star Wars Battlefront EA review, and look out for my videos on both Star Wars Battlefront 2 and this new one. Battlefront 2 currently has a dedicated three part miniseries looking at the different parts of Instant Action on my Youtube. First part can be found here.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Star Wars Battlefront EA Review [Gaming]

This is our first home console Battlefront for ten years, and just like the fact we're also getting a first proper Star Wars film for ten years, fans have been hyped and ready to get their hands on it at last. From alpha and the beta, I'd already put in well over twenty hours, with the EA Access trial boosting that up another ten hours. With the full game now released, I still want to play more. Despite the modes being a mixed bag, the gameplay itself is fun. Despite a few minor niggles, the game itself is enjoyable. So let's get to it.



The first thing you notice is how well detailed the planets are. Star Wars fans will instantly recognise Hoth, Tatooine, and Endor, and will instantly recognise Sullust within a few games. Each map is also diverse enough from the others in terms of visuals that it never feels like you see the same colour palette twice in a row. The larger maps of the planets are all different enough, from the rocky crags of Tatooine, the forest and walkways of Endor, the lava flows of Sullust, and the blend of inside comfort and outside harshness of Hoth. The smaller maps are mostly contained to indoor arenas, but even indoors you can tell the planets apart. Foliage will be right up to the windows on Endor, the whiteness of snow layers on Hoth, the Imperial militarism of Sullust, the sand blasted architecture of Tatooine. A few small maps are outdoor ones. Sulfur Fields, Jawa Refuge, Swamp Crash Site, and Dune Sea Exchange, with Ice Caves being equally outside and inside. All the maps have little details you can find, such as the Wampa door on Hoth or the Sarlacc pit on Tatooine.
Aside from the visuals on a grand scale, there are also the visuals on a deeper level. Everything looks Star Wars. The rough and worn-in weapons and vehicles. The Aurebesh writing on surfaces and screens. Even the lasers themselves, and the impact off different materials looks Star Wars. Of course, the looks don't mean anything if it doesn't sound right. Thankfully the game does that right as well. TIE Fighters screaming through the air. Chaotic blaster fire from numerous places. The ee-unk of the AT-AT as it walks. The memorable score from the films. The comms instructions and soldier commands. It all feels right. The only place it doesn't is the heroes and villains, and the voices they have. They sound close to the original voices, but there is enough difference to them that it sounds off. The same can be said of DICE's original score that sometimes intersperses the film score.



Of course, a game can look good and sound great, but unless it has great gameplay it isn't going to hold interest for long. Depending on how you feel a game should be, this will vary. The game has a more arcade feel to it in terms of gameplay. One main weapon, one charge card, and two star cards. There are also item pickups scattered across the maps. The weapons have set categories, so the stats between weapons of the same category don't vary too much. The charge cards are abilities of sorts, such as giving the weapon a damage increase or reducing its cooldown time. The star cards are where the grenades, secondary weapons, and jumpack are located, and you are allowed two of these. Once you unlock the second hand, you'll be able to have two star cards and charge card as your main hand, and a set in reserve that you can swap to on the respawn screen. The charge cards are powered by charges, and each individual charge card comes with 25 charges once bought. Extra charges can either be bought with credits earned, or found on the maps with one equipped. Once you reach level fifteen, the trait cards become available. These cards are separate from the hand, and stay active at all times. These cards act as perks. You will always stay at level 1, which gives a small boost in the chosen trait. Getting a killstreak will level up the trait, which increases the boosts active. Get killed yourself and you'll get knocked down a level. All of this combines to give decent options for customising a loadout without overwhelming anyone.
In terms of actually playing, it is fun. You'll be a soldier with your loadout, looking to attack or defend the objectives, searching out item pickups to give you an advantage, and hopefully get a vehicle, whether ground or air. Speeder bikes on Endor are actually on the map to get on to, and not within a pickup. And it's the speeder bikes which feel the most awkward to control. Rather than soldier and AT-ST's, where pushing forward makes you go forward, it instead applies throttle like in air vehicles. Yes, this allows you to control speed, but it doesn't need it when the analogue sticks can control such momentum anyway. Of course, PC players only have buttons, but so long as the speed wasn't set too high, it wouldn't matter so much. Other than that, everything else controls fine. But getting in an air vehicle will sometimes become annoying when you almost instantly get shot down. Just like with spawning. There are no visible spawn points for you to pick and choose from, so you just randomly plonked on the map. If it so happens you spawn right in the middle of a heated battle, good luck surviving more than a few seconds.



Battles happen fast and fluid, and the number of tactics available varies between modes. In all, there are nine, with a tenth coming with the free Battle of Jakku DLC [which itself will add two  maps to the game]. The main mode that has been advertised constantly in this game's promotion is Walker Assault. In this mode, the Rebellion has the job of activating uplinks to call in Y-Wing bombers. The longer these uplinks are held, the longer you'll be able to blast apart the AT-AT the Empire has the job of protecting through three assaults. The AT-AT can only be harmed during the Y-Wing bombing runs, so it is vital the rebels hold those uplinks as long as they can. I've spent most of my time in the full game here, and it certainly is a lot of fun. In one game, the rebel team was so strong we managed to beat out the Empire at the first bombing run. In another, it was the Empire's time to shine as the AT-AT were hardly damaged throughout the full three bombing runs.
Supremacy has five control points on the map which both teams will be contesting over. As a control point is captured, time is added to the timer, so games can go on for quite a while if the tide is always turning. The more of the team in the control zone, the faster it will be captured, but the opposing team within the same control zone can cancel that out. Once the opposing force has been removed from the zone, the defenders need to reclaim the percent back to 100%. Again, this is a very fun mode, with the tide either constantly turning or headed in one direction from the off. It will always need the team to be focused on keeping the field clear to win.
Fighter Squadron takes place fully in the air, with kills being the key here. Every so often, a transport for either side will take off, with the opposing side getting a kills boost if they manage to take it out. The Millennium Falcon and Slave 1 are available from the hero tokens, and while slower than normal ships, pack a punch in terms of weapons, and being hero vehicles means they also have a lot more health than regular vehicles. The fun here seems limited, as while it is fun to fly, the lack of a full flight control set [the ability to yaw being the obvious] means it gets slightly hectic trying to dodge missiles and there is no auto-level for when you somehow end up flying inverted.
Droid Run has you claiming three droids, and trying to hold them for your team. Cargo is a capture-the-flag type mode, where attacking and defending these flags is the means to success. Drop Zone has two teams fighting to claim control of dropped escape pods, with the first to five winning. Blast is a normal team deathmatch mode, with the team who reaches a set number of kills winning. These four modes have been put together as these are the smaller modes, where the objectives are more focused on a singular thing. Being smaller modes also means enjoyment is limited even more than Fighter Squadron. If you enjoy competitive play, these are the modes for you.
Then we get to the Hero modes. Heroes vs Villains pits the three heroes versus the three villains against each other in an effort to wipe the others out. You'll have the help of three regular solider teammates, and if you are killed as a hero, you'll be able to spawn as a soldier and continue the fight. Who gets to be the hero characters is randomly selected over the five rounds, which means that everyone should get to play as a hero at least once. Hero Hunt has one player as a hero with the rest trying to take them down. The person who takes the hero down - read: gets the takedown points - then becomes the hero of either Rebellion or Empire. Now these modes suffer from being focused on the heroes, but Hunt suffers more. Where in Heroes vs Villains there's an equal chance that either side can win, Hero Hunt makes it so the only winner is the person who can both claim and use the hero for longest, meaning there will be one to three standout players with everyone else left with nothing except a possible lucky break.



Fortunately, the single player modes can help with that. You've got the tutorial, with five set missions each dealing with mechanic of the game, whether that be speeder bikes, snowspeeders, or heroes. You'll only play them to gain the stars and possibly never look back at them though. That's fine though, as these missions aren't meant to be the main attraction. Battles and Hero Battles pit two teams against each other in the quest for 100 points. In Hero Battles, the hero will let loose 20 points, so be careful of that when attacking. You can compete against the enemy AI either alone or with AI backup. Survival pits you against fifteen waves of ever increasing enemy numbers [of strength, that is] with no backup at all except a few pods that will sometimes be dropped for you to claim with some item pickups inside. Both Battles and Survival can be played with a friend on local splitscreen [console versions only], friends online, or a random other. This can definitely even the odds up on harder difficulties, of which there are normal, hard, and master. Each difficulty nets you a star, with two bonus challenges per map. One of these is to collect the five hidden collectibles on the map within one game. The other is a task of making master difficulty a bit more challenging by not getting killed much, as the tasks include winning by not losing a life [Survival] or with the enemy team with less than a certain amount of points [Battles]. Collecting all the stars will take some time, but unless you find either mode replayable on the level of the multiplayer modes, there is little to hold your interest. Not to do the comparison so many seem to do, but the lack of an Instant Action - where all the multiplayer options were available to play solo - or a true single player experience means this is mostly a multiplayer game. That's not a bad thing, as more focus is put to the one area, but catering equally to both players could have been better.




So was this the game fans have been waiting ten years for? Depends how you spin it, but this is a worthy reboot of what could the most successful Star Wars video game series. Some won't like it for that however. Even now, despite the time sink I have put into this since release, there is something that makes me wish for an evolution of the formula that grew rather than a reboot of the original. Hopefully a sequel will grow this rebooted series as much as the original series grew from one to two.
Is the game worthy of a purchase, though? This is first and foremost a multiplayer experience, so if you want a strong focus on solo play, this isn't for you. For everyone else, I seriously would recommend it. This is the first Star Wars game in a long time that really feels it has been crafted with a lot of love. There is enough here to keep you entertained, and with free updates confirmed, it should grown even without the season pass [access to the four DLC packs when they release, giving access to even more modes, maps, and heroes for roughly the price of the game itself]. Only thing I would say is that if you are unsure about a purchase, hold off for a sale.

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Thunder Strikes Back [Cyber Digital Services]

Another monthly update, and it's possibly even smaller than last month. Again, the theme is Star Wars, as the new Battlefront finally releases. I'll be getting a review up for it as soon as, and possibly even getting a few video highlight reels up. Of course, not before another from Pandemic's Battlefront 2.
Just like with Pandemic's Battlefront 1, I'll be doing a special highlight reel video for the second one that shows off the game for it's tenth anniversary [which will be closer to it's date this time]. Again it will be split between two parts, and possibly even a third considering the amount of modes added to the second. It's possible that a special Battlefront retrospective will be added as a blog post here for that as well.
In terms of other content, I'm keeping things close at hand. Nothing new to report on CDS Media, except that I am seriously in need of a boost in terms of keeping updating it. The one thing I am not going to do though, is quit it.
In the mean time, I'll continue gaming and continue animating. That's all for now.