If you counted yourself among the nine million players of DICE’s Battlefront Beta last month, you’re probably more than familiar with the original series of games from two gaming generations past. The idea behind these Replay pieces is to let readers know what it is we writers love and why time hasn’t tarnished them. Lucasarts’ Star Wars: Battlefront Series is the pinnacle of this. Released alongside now-classics like the Knights of the Old Republic series and the woefully underrated Star Wars: Republic Commando, Star Wars: Battlefront has stood strong for over ten years now and despite its later releases being relegated to the PSP, it has proven capable of standing the test of time and remaining dear to fans of Star Wars.
Debuting back in 2004 on the PS2, Xbox and PC, Star Wars: Battlefront was part of a gaming release onslaught by Lucasarts. Since the release of The Phantom Menace the studio began with Star Wars: Starfighter and continued right up to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II in 2010. Gamers were caught in a slew of releases but Battlefront blasted through the serialisation of Star Wars games and rose to the top and stayed there. Battlefront gave players the chance to finally take a blaster into the epic conflicts like the Battle of Hoth and the Battle of Geonosis. We were familiar with snowspeeders and x-wings from the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Battlefront brought a faster and better feel to it. And there was something amazing about standing underneath the gargantuan AT-AT on the snowy wastes. Battlefront championed the phrase “Live the battles”, to be a part of the films and it excelled (being able to slaughter Gungans and Ewoks by the dozens didn’t hurt either).
Where the original Battlefront brought players into the story of the two trilogies as soldiers on both sides, Battlefront II wove a dark and captivating narrative into the main campaign. Released several months after Revenge of the Sith closed the saga as we then knew it, Battlefront II offered us players a new and chilling perspective on the events of Episode III and beyond into the Galactic Civil War. Being on the front lines as the Clone troopers of the Old Republic evolve (or devolve) into Imperial Stormtroopers. Strangely enough players could skip the opening cut-scenes where a member of The 501st recounted the events of their battles and reflected on the execution of the Jedi and the creation of the empire. Battlefront II is almost endlessly fun and mechanically sound to this day and holds its own in regards to level layout and variety, but the sombre reflection of a now retired clone trooper that bookended each mission casts a shadow over the events of some missions. Sure you can jump into the mission on Kamino and eradicate the very cloning facilities where you were conceived without much thought and blast your way to victory, but those short quiet moments before and after give me pause every time I revisit the story. Where the first Battlefront let you live the story of the films, its successor made the story yours and you became a part of it.
What set the first two Battlefront games apart from other shooters (and still does) is its option to switch views. It’s the tiniest thing mechanically but it changes the way I play drastically. Battlefront adheres to the structure of shooters, making it effortless to pick back up and dive into. Both games offer noticeably different experiences, with the second obviously building upon everything established in the original, but without making it obsolete. Bigger and better maps, more vehicles and the much loved space battles. It’s still a coin toss when it comes to which I’ll play, depending on whether I want to get back to the skies of Bespin or the fires of Mustafar. Each still delivers as well as it did on day 1 (Which is brilliantly if you didn’t know) If ever there was a drawback to the series, it would be the space battles. Familiarity breeds contempt and after three or four space battles in a row, I’ve got some contempt. Good fighter mechanics and fun dog fights don’t distract all that much from a repetitive formula of blasting hard-points and where the AI follows the same patterns continuously. While not a painful experience, they’re not hard to get bored of and fast.
The series ended for all intents and purposes back in 2009. Rumours and whispered permeated online at the time and words like “Battlefront III” and “Battlefront Online” were common but with no follow up. Closing it out was the PSP and Nintendo DS release of Elite Squadron. While it didn’t match up to its console counterparts, it proved ambitious and delivered exciting expansions both to the gameplay and the plot. Where games like the Force Unleashed II puzzled players over whether a force user could be cloned, Elite Squadron jumped right in and set the player up as X2, a clone of a jedi master who becomes a tool of the empire along with his ‘brother’ X1 in eliminating the jedi as part of Order 66. This doesn’t last as X2 cuts ties with the Empire and enlists with the Rebellion, setting him against X1, battling through famous conflicts from Revenge of the Sith and past Return of the Jedi. It’s a classic Yin and Yang tale. Elite Squadron introduced the much wanted option to take off from ground assaults and take part in a space battle above. Jumping from turrets to tanks and then Starfighters. Being the PSP, it wasn’t seamless and there were loading screens. The controls were quite clunky and awkward, an annoying drawback from a game with a striking story mode that eclipsed the previous titles.
Looking back on it, no one will disagree that the Battlefront series was one worth reviving. The console games give players an experience that may still stand against DICE’s upcoming release, and while they wound down in terms of scope on the PSP, they never did in terms of ambition and good will. The later releases might be harder to source but a copy of Battlefront is easy to find and will make dusting off your PS2 or Xbox more than worth it. Series like Jedi Knight and Knights of the Old Republic will always stand as the quintessential Jedi experiences in Star Wars gaming, but Battlefront was and is to this day the first and best stop for being on the front lines.