This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Star Wars: Battlefront.
So everyone's excited about the new Star Wars film, which is odd, because the only universal truths are that sunlight travels one astronomical unit to reach the Earth and that the last three Star Wars films were a load of diarrhea on a hot skillet that your mum didn't give you permission to use. Everyone seems to have their own answer for how to fix them: focus the story on a more traditional hero/villain narrative, give Jar Jar Binks the lethal injection, stretch George Lucas's writing wrist across two blocks of wood and keep jumping on them until you hear the snap. But I say what they should have done was bring the plot down to the perspective of the common man. Forget about master Jedis and queens who apply their makeup with a shotgun blast to the face, focus on a single soldier of the armies of either the rebellion or the Empire. A plucky everyman caught up in circumstances beyond his understanding who runs out into one of the titular "star wars" and is instantly blown to bits by an enemy turret. And then (and this is the clever part) the action shifts to a completely different soldier in the same unit, who runs out and is immediately shot by someone eight levels higher with a sniper rifle they haven't unlocked yet. Actually no, that's a terrible idea, don't do that. Hey, I said don't do that, Star Wars Battlefront! Damn, too late. why must I be cursed with such unquestionable charisma?
Anyway, Star Wars Battlefront is a multiplayer shooter set in (as you could guess from the title) the Blake's 7 universe. It will tell you that it has a single-player mode, and that is why it will go to Hell for lying. I wish it was a rule that when games say they have single-player, they have to specify they mean a campaign, as in something that they put actual effort into, or if they just set aside a little cupboard that we can sit in, spawn a couple of bots and pretend we're playing the multiplayer somewhere where we won't ruin it for all the grown-ups. But what a multiplayer mode it is: enter a server of up to forty players and stand struck dumb with awe at the epic scenery adapted from your favourite Star Wars locations for a couple of seconds, before someone sniper-rifles your goolies into the sixth dimension. I'll be frank, all these big server twenty-a-side shooters kinda play the same to me. You run out into a ball of chaos like one of those cartoon fights that take place obscured by a giant dust cloud, bully players that are newer than you, and then die after about one minute because a player you took for newer than you turned out to be less new than you.
The question is, "Is the Star Wars thing merely an aesthetic change to sucker in fanboys like a Darth Vader pillowcase, or does it actually impact gameplay"? Well, for one thing, the fact that everything shoots lasers carries the benefit that you can always see where the shots are coming from and can pretend that you're in some nightmarish apocalypse where the glowsticks finally turned on us. Also, you can pilot classic Star Wars vehicles such as the AT-ST walker (that stands for A Terrible Staggering Tosspot) which can ruin an individual soldier's shit well enough, but also makes you a bigger target than a lower back tattoo of Hillary Clinton's face.
And then there's piloting flying vehicles, or to give its proper name, spectator mode, the "I'm bored of actually being part of this conflict, let's take a break to look at the scenery for a few minutes" mode. You have minimal effect on the ongoing ground battle as you speed over it too fast shooting inaccurately at what could either be enemy soldiers or a row of baby ducks, so you just dogfight with the enemy pilots and hope you're providing the people doing the actual fighting with an exciting, morale-boosting sideshow followed by a fireworks display and a refreshing shower of jagged white-hot metal. There's a special mode where everyone's in flying vehicles, which, if anything, is the multiplayer experience boiled down to its most basic level: fly randomly around the swarm shooting the red dots and hoping no one pays attention to you It's like covering your arse with glow-in-the-dark paint and trying to navigate a public-school dormitory.
And the other thing that the Star Wars setting offers is heroes, major characters from the films with more health and special powers who you can occasionally become on the battlefield in order to secure an advantage. And when I say you, I mean everyone besides you, 'cause with twenty guys on a team, you have better odds of getting picked to be the next Milkybar kid. For that reason, I rather enjoyed playing the Hero Hunt gameplay mode where one hero goes up against everyone else, and if you kill them you get to be hero next. That's a system that actually rewards individual merit of which Ayn Rand would be proud, and also has the tantalising air of an exciting gang-rape scenario. Trouble is, it cycles through the hero characters with each change, and I'd somehow always end up having to be Princess Leia; it was just like how it used to go down in the school playground. Luke Skywalker and his deadbeat dad (spoiler alert) get to swing their glowsticks around like intergenerational ravers, Han Solo runs around like he's just noticed that his gun has turned into a giant hairy spider, and what does Leia get? She can put up a shield. Oh have mercy, Your Grace! But I suppose if they'd have given her a power based what she did in the films, then they'd have had to have come up with something themed around constantly being captured and getting her jugs out.
I suppose I like the Hero Hunt mode because it's the one mode that seems to be doing something a bit different. Every other mode boils down to two teams lining up and trying to be the first to complete an objective, and the specific objective your team has doesn't matter for shit. In public multiplayer you are a but a single pint of water in a wave crashing madly against rocks. That is all that it can ever be when you have forty players all pursuing individual glory. There's no coordination, you can't even talk to each other beyond emitting Wilhelm screams as your bodies go flying. There's barely any point in even letting us know which team won, since the only thing deserving of points for the victory is Brownian motion, which has no need of weapon upgrades. Which is not saying it can't be fun, but it's the empty, hedonistic fun of popcorn chicken: little parcels of high-octane action devoid of all context.
'Why not play with friends?' I hear you ask.
'Good idea, Ranulph, try organising forty mates into a single game and let me know how it went once you get released from being sectioned under the Mental Health Act!'
Star Wars Battlecunt certainly puts the emphasis back on the "wars" part, but do you know what this kind of game is? It's an asshole recruitment drive. You start playing as a fresh-faced Level 1 and get murdered by assholes. Obviously, you don't give a half-ounce of creamy baby excrement about helping your team win; your only real motivation is to avenge yourself upon the assholes. But by the time you've got the better guns that the assholes used on you, they've moved on to firing dark-matter jizz rockets out of their Level 40 diamantine vaginas, and so you can only avenge yourself on their lower-level teammates, ensuring that the bleak cycle will begin anew. Congratulations, you're part of the asshole system, now are you just going to plop out of it like a good little turd or hang around and give it bowel cancer?
- We don't need his scum: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I got so bored of the Empire calling everything 'scum', they should mix it up once in a while and call the enemy 'rebel assholes' or something
- Darth Vader was my elocution teacher