This week, ZP reviews Star Wars Battlefront II.
Remember back in the arcade heyday when video games were nice, innocent things that just wanted to ruthlessly drain the pocket money from children with no more reward promised than the chance to put a three-letter swear word on the high-score table? How things have changed! Star Wars Battlefront II took one too many trips to the cookie jar, and now they've spoiled it for all the other kids. EA, if you were hurting for money that bad, there were less obvious, more dignified ways you could have gotten it, such as, for example, going into a Disney board meeting wearing a Chewbacca mask and eagerly sucking them all off while their friends throw bloodstained money.
But believe it or not, I don't want to dwell on the prevailing loot box controversy because it's been covered to death elsewhere and I'm not a multiplayer guy; I was more pissed off about EA selling Battlefront I at full price with no single-player campaign and then sticking one in their second, equally full-priced game and expecting forgiveness. But then, this is an increasingly-popular strategy, isn't it? If you've done something shitty, follow it up with an even shittier thing and the first shitty thing will be swiftly forgotten and normalized. Take EA's advice: if you get caught cheating with your wife's sister, double down and fuck her guinea pig, as well.
I want to focus entirely on the story campaign, because I think that there's got to be at least one or two creatives buried somewhere in the boil-ridden flab-folds of EA and Disney's rival underbellies, who tried to take at least some pride in their work and are now seeing how the controversy has overshadowed everything else and weighing up the pros and cons of castrating themselves with the company lightsaber. There is precedent for EA games with "battle" in the title having a single-player largely unrelated to and unrepresentative of the multiplayer - thinking of you, Battlefield: Hardline!... for the first time in years - so let's look at the campaign mode in a vacuum, which should be appropriate for a space game.
We kick off playing as Iden Versio, a commando and true believer for the evil Empire with a name that sounds like a low-market electronics company from Eastern Europe. She flies around the galaxy doing commando shit with her two squad members: Del Meeko, a slightly nerdy bloke with the word "meek" in his name, and Hask, a sneering Imperial blue-eyed boy with the word "ass" in his name. So here are the things we immediately know for absolute certainty will happen: the Empire's going to get its shit pushed in, Versio's going to switch sides, kill Hask in a boss fight at some point, and some ghoulish recreation of Carrie Fisher's corpse will probably call her a "cool dude" and give her a fist bump.
Although, the change of heart took a bit longer than I expected. First, there's a mission in the forests of Endor while the Death Star's getting a good, hard fisting up the reactor port towards the end of Return of the Jedi; here, the game presents the purest definition of a missed opportunity, fighting as a stormtrooper on Endor and not getting a chance to shoot any fucking Ewoks. Versio only conveniently realizes the Empire is bad a mission or two later, when they decide to shit all over her home planet for basically no reason except that it's the evil space-empire equivalent of coming home drunk and punching your spouse 'cos the boss laid you off and blew up your reactor port. Versio then defects to the Rebels, and after having been smirking with open contempt not ten minutes ago at these nonsensical Rebellion values like hope and puppies and not carving up your own civilians like rotisserie chicken, suddenly, her personality swivels on a dime and she's ready to wave pompoms for the puppy brigade without a moment's introspection.
It's her sidekick Del who has the believable character arc, 'cos he's very obviously hiding him a few puppy pictures in his stormtrooper helmet, has a chance meeting with Luke Skywalker early on, and spends the rest of the game quoting him like a fanboy emo kid who just bought his first Robert Smith album. You see, in the chapters where you aren't playing Versio, you get to play as classic Star Wars characters, presumably to whet your appetite for using Heroes in the multiplayer; but if it works, then the joke's on you, because after you're done jumping about as Luke Skywalker trying out his new Jesus sandals, that's the last you'll fucking see of him until you've expended enough energy in the little hamster wheel of multiplayer to power the Eastern Seaboard. Oh, but I wasn't going to talk about that... Most of the classic characters are voiced by impersonators, with the rather glaring exception of Lando Calrissian; you can tell they got the original actor in for him because he sounds about 1,000 years old and delivers lines like he's turning a meat grinder full of staples.
As for the gameplay, it's pretty much what you'd expect: point the pew-pews at the nasty men, and one way or another, the nasty men will get out of the way. Although - and the sentence I'm about to say is presently scrabbling at the inside of my lungs like a rat in a cooking pot - maybe we could've done with some kind of cover mechanics; the enemy will take cover like it's going out of style, and all I can do is shuffle behind a fence, squinting down my iron sights, and cause serious damage to the edge of the box I thought I'd be able to shoot over.
Again, this is probably preparation for the multiplayer, where everyone will be charging around in the open like suburban parents on Black Friday, and with roughly the same fatality rate. But the multiplayer presumably doesn't have bog-standard stealth mechanics, and they stuck those in the single-player bold as brass, virtually useless as they are when the enemies all get alerted pretty quickly after you kill the first one or two, and Versio's interpretation of "crouching" is closer to what you do to pass through a doorway on a battleship.
Gameplay is, in short, an unexciting grab bag of standard elements broken up by the odd vehicle section, which is the opportunity to add some of that authentic Star Wars flavor; so of course, you pilot X-Wings and Y-Wings and possibly some other "wings" that aren't named after chromosomes in frankly insultingly easy flight combat missions. And then there's ground vehicles, but I wonder if the need for authenticity could take a back seat to gameplay once in a while, 'cos I really don't see how anyone could look at an AT-AT walker lumbering along like a rhino in high heels, shooting once per half-hour and getting dunked on by wimpy little Rebel ships that can actually turn around inside a week and think, "Wow! Piloting one of those must be fun! Could probably get my novel finished at last."
But fuck all this; we're talking about a story campaign here, and the essence of a story is its ending. I'd love to comment on Battlefront II's ending, but it doesn't seem to have one. You think it's going to have one, and then it just doesn't, but don't worry; a text caption assures us that the story continues in multiplayer. Well, fuck me for trying! There I was, giving the benefit of the doubt, only for the doubt to be farted on and thrown back in my face! I felt sorry for you, story campaign! I thought it was a shame you were forced to hang out with your ugly roommate who charges micropayments before they'll do the washing-up; I thought I could take you out by yourself and maybe we could all have a little fun and take our minds off your ugly roommate! Little did I realize he was setting up a fucking threesome! Seriously, fuck EA. "Way ahead of you, Yahtz!" Well, fuck them a notch less sensitively, then!
- You'll find his lack of faith disturbing: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Never thought I'd see the day when I'd be rooting for the government to start legislating video games
- Fuck EA and fuck EA's guinea pig