By Rory Appleton
The Fresno Bee
It’s a strange thing — watching a massive robot step on your childhood hero.
The many, many untimely demises of Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars Battlefront” are just a few of the hilariously jarring moments I experienced during the forthcoming blockbuster’s open beta test recently. I wasn’t alone; more than 9 million other gamers felt the call of The Force and tested the game a month before its official release date.
Playing and watching others play the game was an overwhelming experience. The three game modes on two different maps were just a small sliver of what the final version will offer, but everything was so pretty and so huge that it flooded my senses. Twenty real-life players battling 20 of their counterparts with robots, spaceships and the Skywalker family on the iconic snow planet Hoth was honestly too much for me; I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what my objective was. I ran around destroying things and following command prompts asking me to turn on computers or protect AT-AT Imperial Walkers.
The gaming media’s overwhelmingly positive coverage of the beta was even more odd. “Star Wars Battlefront,” like many betas before it, is currently riddled with bugs. And these aren’t ants — these are gnarly, poison-spewing creatures with pinchers and fangs and wiggly legs. My game broke several times. And yet, the coverage made light of these — often compiling short video clips of them into stories with titles like “10 Hilariously Broken ‘Star Wars Battlefront’ Scenes.” If this was say, a “Destiny” beta, the very same authors would be rioting in the streets and calling for the first-born children of Activision executives.
The jump packs are unruly. The guns have infinite range. Developer DICE has admitted that one of the two multiplayer game modes is unbalanced.
And yet, very few journalists or fans are outraged.
Why? Because we all drank the Kool-Aid. We shook off our clothes and danced naked around the roaring fire that is “Star Wars.”
The reason why coverage was nonobjective and fanboyish is because this is no ordinary moon; it’s “Star Wars.” The franchise is so meteoric, pun intended, that to speak ill of it is to not be human. We are so jacked for the new movie that anything even remotely “Star Wars” will trigger a minor cardiac event.
And that’s fine. I am enjoying the enthusiasm and optimism. It’s not something we see too often in gaming. A lot of megafans and journalists tend to dwell on the negative and default to cynicism.
I hope this becomes a trend. We, myself included, should start giving the benefit of the doubt to developers during testing phases. I’ve always looked at alpha and beta tests as a gift to us from developers; they don’t have to do it, and it takes a lot of extra work to put them together. Unless a game is unplayable, we shouldn’t allow beta tests to rouse suspicion.
I drew one conclusion from the “Star Wars Battlefront” beta: This game has a mountain of content. I wandered around the three playable areas for about 10 hours, and I feel like I was only just starting to get the hang of it. There look to be about a dozen other options for players, so I would estimate the game could hit 40 or 50 hours without breaking a sweat. That’s important this day and age; people feel cheated by AAA titles that top out at under 50 hours.
My only concern is this: The “Battlefront” series is boring. I’ve never been able to get into them.
The “Rogue Squadron” series is a little better, as its singular focus typically yields an engaging space combat experience. The “Jedi Knight” series is remarkably better and should be resurrected immediately. The multiplayer combat in “Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy” is better than other “Star Wars” title. It may be my favorite multiplayer mode ever, as it allowed players to ditch the blasters and use only lightsabers or The Force to tear one another limb from limb.
And, of course, there’s “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.” I am really hoping the upcoming success of the “Battlefront” reboot will finally force EA into green-lighting a third “Knights” title. I love “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” the online multiplayer step-child of the franchise, but it’s time for a proper sequel.
Although the franchise isn’t my favorite, I am primed and ready to dive into “Star Wars Battlefront.” I suspect many of the 9 million beta testers only signed up because they are stricken with “Star Wars” fever. I know I did.
Maybe “Star Wars Battlefront” will be the prescription.