Editorial | 9/17/2010 at 2:48 PM

Battlefield Report - A Long, Long Time Ago

Any decent stalker would know that I'm a huge fan of the Star Wars Battlefront series. Well, maybe not the recent PSP titles quite as much...but the original two titles that Pandemic cranked out for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox were genre definers for me, even at that late stage in the consoles' lives. What I wouldn't give for another proper Battlefront... The rumors that keep floating around are killing me!

And despite being two of the most successful Star Wars games ever, LucasArts keeps throwing crumbs our way in the form of PSP-only morsels. They're fun, but they don't last long in the ring with PSP hackers and a lack of ongoing technical support.

So why do I - and other hopeless Battlefront fans - keep punishing myself with rumors and half-hearted portable versions? Like the movies that predecessed them, the original Star Wars Battlefront I and II were a mish-mash of what made other games so much fun.

The Feature: Control Points

The Function: LucasArts was actually sued by EA for so blatantly copying the play style - and title - from the Battlefield series. Control Points were lifted straight from Battlefield 1942, as was the Conquest mode (called Galactic Conquest).

The Future: Conquest-style modes have made it into countless multiplayer games, althought they're sometimes called "multiple flag" or some other moniker of distinction. The Call of Duty series has adopted this mode, as have the Halo games. Due to its multiple objective format, it's not going away anytime soon.


The Feature: Vehicles

The Function: Another cannibalization from EA's Battlefield 1942, being able to use vehicles seamlessly on the same map as footsoldiers was almost unheard of in multiplayer before the Battlefield series, Halo: Combat Evolved, and Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising came on the scene. Star Wars Battlefront was the first Star Wars game to feature this funcitonality, and it worked really well.

The Future: Certain franchises don't seem to welcome the inclusion of multiplayer vehicles as well as others. Army of Two featured a vehicle segment but ultimately scrapped multiplayer vehicles for both the first game and the sequel. The SOCOM series dabbled with vehicles for two titles, and reverted back to the basics when the fanbase had a fit. Call of Duty: World at War also allowed players to drive tanks on select online maps...but once again the fans resisted. Despite these specific examples, though, there seems to be a genuine desire for vehicles to remain in shooter games, even if they become genre-specific (i.e. Grand Theft Auto IV).

Yeah...good luck with that.

The Feature: First- or Third-Person View

The Function: Did you know that both original Battlefronts allowed you to switch from FPS to TPS and vice versa? Yes, this includes in-vehicle views, too. The change is made via the pause menu, but here's the kicker: both games also have fully customizable controls - so you can map a button to switch views without pausing. On top of that, both views had a zoom function (scoped view for FPS, and zoomed over-the-shoulder for TPS) for precision aiming. Apparently Pandemic couldn't decide which type of shooter they wanted to create, so they included something for everyone!

The Future: Apart from games that include this function that really only serves a purpose in certain contexts - like the Metal Gear Solid games - I only know of one shooter that can switch views freely, and that's Tribes Aerial Assault. It's an incredibly player-friendly option that I'd like to see more often, and not just as a cop-out for splitscreen (looking at you, GRAW 2).

The Feature: Dedicated Servers...on PlayStation 2

The Function: Only one console game supported a standalone PC-dedicated server before Battlefront, and that's the aforementioned Tribes: Aerial Assault. (Coincidentally, Tribes was also the first online shooter game for the PlayStation 2.) In both cases it worked really well, and thanks to the foresight of each subsequent developer we can still today fire up a server from home, custom stat tracking and all. Try doing that on Chromehounds, Mercenaries 2, or All Points Bulletin...

The Future: The good news is that dedicated servers for consoles seem to have evolved into a console-hosts-console situation, with no PC involvement. Whether this is to deter cheaters or is simply a limit in development time or technology, it's a step forward from the days before Star Wars Battlefront II...and a step backward in the days since.


The Feature: Player Classes

The Function: You know...the class system has really been abused since it's infusion from RPG-style games into the FPS mod Team Fortress. Star Wars Battlefront was an early adopter of player classes, but went a step further for Battlefront II and locked the more powerful classes at the beginning of each match. Players who performed well were allowed to then respawn as their choice class, often some type of officer or - in the case of the Rebel Alliance - a Wookiee. 

The Future: Class systems are for balance and will likely be around for a long time. My official opinion is that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare improved on it by allowed players to customize a class, which Battlefield: Bad Company 2 also mimicked. Halo: Reach disagrees.

That's all I have for now, but to be honest I could spend all weekend dissecting the Battlefront games. They're a staple of my early adulthood and left their mark on this semi-casual gamer. Thanks for helping me celebrate this personal favorite of mine.

If you haven't ever tried either game, Star Wars Battlefront II is available on Steam for a limited time for $5.00 US (75% off). I highly recommend it for a fun bit of casual throwback gaming.