Star Wars Battlefront is still seven months away, but now we finally have some idea of how it plays.
Developer DICE unveiled its vision of the sci-fi multiplayer shooter (releasing Nov. 17 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC) at this weekend’s Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Anaheim, Calif. The presentation took place inside the Battlefront booth on the expo floor. On the outside, it looked like a big dome, but the inside was a recreation of the Rebel Alliance’s briefing room from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
It was there that the developers showed PS4 gameplay footage of a 40-player mode called Walker Assault. Afterward, they briefly spoke about their development process and the different things you can do in the game.
Some of Battlefront’s features come from the old games while others sound like fresh additions to the formula. Here’s a rundown of what I saw.
Battlefront uses nifty technology
As part of the partnership with Lucasfilm, the developers had access to the Star Wars archives and they took photos of the original props. They used a technique called photogrammetry, where they took huge photographs of an object from all angles and imported them into a computer. Software turned those images into a photorealistic 3D model.
A short video clip compared the props to the models — an X-Wing fighter, a stormtrooper helmet, Han Solo’s gun, a lightsaber — and the results were impressive. The models looked just as dirty and worn as the actual objects. If it weren’t for their shiny surfaces (the artificial lighting made them look a little flat, breaking the illusion), it’d be hard to tell the difference.
DICE also used physically-based rendering (PBR) technology. It helped the developers create realistic landscapes from the thousands of photos they took while visiting the film’s original shooting locations.
“It allows our surfaces to be physically rendered,” said producer Craig Mcleod in an interview with GamesBeat. “What that means is they react in an incredibly realistic way based on light, so it’ll bounce light depending on how that changes. So it’s not just one setting, but it actually feels like it’s truly in the environment.”
Going back to where it all began
Past Battlefront games mashed together worlds, battles, and characters from all six films. But DICE is keeping it simple for the reboot: It’s just covering the original trilogy.
“One of the biggest challenges you have with Star Wars is that it’s so big and vast,” said Mcleod. “Where do you start? We picked the original trilogy era because it’s not only dear to our hearts, but you can see it’s dear to a lot of the fans. I think the reaction from The Force Awakens trailer, when Han Solo says, ‘Chewie, we’re home,’ I think that’s exactly how people feel.”
However, DICE is somewhat expanding the original trilogy’s timeline. In December, it’ll release a free add-on called the Battle of Jakku (the desert planet from the The Force Awakens teasers).
Exploring a new battleground
Unlike the other three confirmed planets — Tatooine, Hoth, and Endor — Sullust may not sound familiar to Star Wars movie fans.
“I think an incredible example of making our mark [on Battlefront] and reinforcing that partnership with [Lucasfilm] is when you see the planet of Sullust,” said Mcleod. “It was mentioned in the films, but it hasn’t been seen. We worked closely with them to create that visual environment. Being able to add to that universe in such a way was truly a dream come true.”
Sullust is home to the Sullustans (remember Nien Nunb?), and during Episodes IV through VI, the Empire used the planet to build factories and other machinery. DICE didn’t show any footage or screenshots of Sullust during its presentation.
Creating your own play style
You don’t have to stick with the first-person view forever. Halfway through the demo, the camera switched from first-person to a behind-the-back third-person view. It may seem like a minor feature, but it’s a nice nod to the old games. And since this version is running on consoles more powerful than the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox, you get to admire the extra details on your character.
Battlefront also allows you to choose what gear, weapons, and abilities you want to bring into the next match.
Call in airstrikes
During the demo, an AT-AT attacked the Rebel soldiers. The player the camera was following tried to kill it with a rocket launcher, but that didn’t work (a teammate yelled “That walker armor is too thick!”). So the guy ran up to a computer terminal and held down the square button on the PS4 controller. Moments later, a squadron of Y-Wing fighters flew by, dropping bombs on the AT-AT. Its legs buckled as it hit the ground, and several brightly colored explosions signaled its demise.
You can find what DICE called “powers” during battle, and these can grant different bonuses. You might get a massive shield, bigger explosives, or even vehicles like the AT-AT and the X-Wing. The ultimate prize, however, is getting to play as an iconic hero or villain.
The demo ended with Rebel soldiers running into a bunker. But when one of them rounded a corner, they dropped their weapon and floated in mid-air. On the other side was Darth Vader using his infamous force choke ability — he was just waiting for someone to fall into his trap. As Vader, you can use his force powers and fight off enemies with his lightsaber.
DICE described these moments as “player-driven boss battles.” In the new Battlefront trailer, you can also see the bounty hunter Boba Fett shooting his foes from the air.
Back in high school, my friend and I used to play the heck out of Pandemic’s Battlefront games. We spent countless hours in split-screen multiplayer against A.I. bots. That’s why I was glad to hear that the new Battlefront will have a local split-screen option within the Battlefront Missions mode (you can also play by yourself or hook up with a buddy online). Missions will put you in “highly replayable” scenarios inspired by events from the movies.
Friends with benefits
Battlefront’s partner system encourages you to play with the same group of friends. If you make one of your friends a partner, you’ll always see each other during a match, you can spawn on each other’s location, and you can share any of the gear you unlock (especially useful for helping out someone who’s just brand new or at a lower level than you).
The PC version might be the best one to get
The PC version of Battlefront will support Dolby Atmos 3D sound technology, something you might’ve already experienced in theaters.
“On PC, we’ll be the first game ever to release with Dolby Atmos, which essentially creates a 360-degree audio bubble around you, furthering that immersion you’ll have with our game,” said Mcleod.
DICE played a gameplay clip in stereo, surround sound, and Dolby Atmos. The latter sounded amazing, like when the AT-AT’s heavy legs pounded the ground or when the Y-Wings roared overhead. When I asked Mcleod if you need extra hardware or speakers to take advantage of this feature, he said he couldn’t get into much detail about it.