What it's like to die frequently in Star Wars: Battlefront

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Jun 17, 2015, 4:33 PM EDT

The Force wasn’t with me when I played a Star Wars: Battlefront demo at E3 for two reasons: 1) I was a mere rebel fighter, with not one midichlorian to my name, and 2) I sucked at the game. Star Wars: Battlefront requires focus, and in the booth just outside of E3, focus was hard to find. Still, when it comes to sneaking up on stormtroopers and their higher-powered brethren, it was easy to feel like I was in a galaxy far, far away.

There’s a reason for that, according to Patrick Bach, general manager of Dice. “[Star Wars: Battlefront is] a shooter, but it’s a shooter catered [to] and focused on the Star Wars audience. Immersion is the key to this product.” Dice created a sense of authenticity by using assets from the original trilogy. But when the details weren’t as finely realized as Dice had wanted, the company created its own unique design elements — which Lucasfilm approved. “It can’t get more Star Wars than that," says Bach.

The game also fleshes out Sullust, a planet mentioned in passing in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. The developers chose Iceland as a photo reference for Sullust’s harsh environment.

When I started Star Wars: Battlefront in split-screen co-op mode with a partner, I chose one of four available guns, with which I had to beat off waves of Imperial forces on Tattooine. The objective: survive six waves (you’ll have to endure 16 in the final version). Sadly, my co-op partner and I — who shared a pool of six lives between the two of us — could only stave off five. 

I was also dealt a “hand” - that is, a randomized group of tools and weapons. Among other goodies, I received an extremely useful weapon that tossed a handful of grenades and a jetpack that only worked in short bursts until it didn’t work at all.

Had my co-op partner, an amiable man from Costa Rica, and I survived longer (at least I wasn't the only one who sucked), we would have found pick-ups, or items scattered around the map ... one of which powered up the jetpack, which, you know, really would have been useful. Another pick-up included an extra life.

Bach said the random pick-ups means that the better player doesn’t necessarily get the better gear. It also means that exploration is rewarded, and exploration is one of Star Wars’ “core values ... we infuse that into the design of the game.”

Exploration was necessary, particularly when, um, running away from the enemy. The waves ratchet up in difficulty the further you’re in the game, so stormtroopers give way to shocktroopers (who are more heavily armored than stormtroopers; I suggest you go for the head shot). Then come the AT-STs, which shrug off most weapons like it ain’t no thang, but soon collapse under the pressure of an ion cannon.

If you actually survive the first six waves, you get words of encouragement from Admiral Akbar and a small cutscene. If you don’t, like me, you’ll just die like Rebel scum.  

The version of Star Wars: Battlefront that I played is obviously an alpha build. I tried to claim a pod full of goodies by pressing the square button, but the option didn’t appear. The square button appeared later when there was nothing to interact with. And sadly, although I was able to determine the location my co-op partner and my enemies on the game’s radar map, I was unable to tell if they were above me or below me. 

That minor annoyance was wiped from my mind when I saw a stormtrooper come at a player by shooting him from above, hovering on a jetpack. I was expecting the player to die. Instead, he activated a personal shield and ran for cover. The maneuver surprised me, and I love those kinds of surprises. 

“At its core, [Star Wars: Battlefront] is a shooter,” Bach said. Game modes that take advantage of this include Battles, Hero Battles and Trials. With enemies that include Walkers, you can kill it even if it doesn’t bleed

It was easy to see how Star Wars: Battlefront is an adrenaline-filled experience, one that, with a little practice, would make you feel like you can take on the Empire yourself.