When bloody war and mass slaughter come to mind, people usually don’t think of Star Wars. That’s an irony if you think about it – the word “Wars” is right there in the title. However, I have recently started using the video game Star Wars: Battlefront as my newest stress reliever, and my kill counts have been something to behold.
Battlefront is one of the more unusual entries into the Star Wars video game canon because you don’t get to play as any characters of significance. You’re not Han Solo, Darth Vader, or Qui-gon Jin. You don’t even get to take up arms as the rank and file. You’re the dude in the trenches who runs into the thick of battle to do the actual fighting. You die, you respawn, you run around shooting everyone and everything in sight until you die again.
This isn’t the prototype video game level, where you walk from one end to the other, taking out everything in sight. In Battlefront, you’re placed in an enclosed area, placed into the body of a Rebel, Stormtrooper, Clone Soldier, or Confederate Droid, and from there you basically kill everything in sight. You’re not the strategist or morale commander in Battlefront; your mission is to partake in fighting for your side using any means necessary. Hopefully your side will win. Sometimes it won’t. None of the big space dogfights from the movies made it into Battlefront, which is a strike against it. (Although its sequel, Star Wars: Battlefront II has them. Sadly, though, they were done in the most half-assed way imaginable – as was virtually every other feature of it.)
There’s no particular point. You have to capture the occasional command post to stay in the battle, because those are the points your troops spawn from. Sometimes the game plays lip service to an objective; on Endor, you have to protect or destroy the bunker, depending on who your playing as; on Geonosis, you have that same object with the Union Ships; on Hoth, it’s the Shield Generator. Yet, for all the objectives, I don’t know of a single gamer who would be fooled. Battlefront is a button-masher, straight up. It even has the option of a first-person viewpoint, which is something I usually appreciate, though not in this case.
With the abundance of scavenger hunts in video games, a game like Star Wars: Battlefront seems more important than ever. Although you’ll probably want to avoid shooting your own teammates, Battlefront is generally a throwback to the old days of games being games. Battlefront has music from the Star Wars movies, but it finds its strengths through alteration of the movies’ settings and what might be the expanded universe. What pushes it over the top, at least in my opinion, is the way the glitches and set rules the game uses allow me to freely run about, experiment, and do everything in my power to undermine and tear down the structure of the game without it noticing.
There are consequences to leaving the battlefield that I try to avoid. There are a million different in-universe vehicles to be commandeered, all of which handle differently. There are different weapons, character classes, and ways to go about dealing with bad guys. The combination of hilarious glitches, overlooked breaks, and freewheeling nature of the game itself provide a fertile ground for imaginative gamers to run rampant and wild, provided they’re not afraid to take a few hits and losses. From seeing if I can sneak around an enemy spawn point all stealth-like in an effort to capture it without being seen to getting a sense of the heights of cloud city by accidentally falling from one of the platform ledges (not a good idea, it turns out), Battlefront may be the most 16-bit video game I’ve ever played that was a genuine next-gen console game and not just a next-gen console game done with a 16-bit engine and 2D graphics.
The broken programming and glitches in this case don’t deter the experience. As I’m at least trying to convey in my book, an occasional glitch and a sometime-broken program can be part of the fun. One of the major differences between the real 16-bit games Rob and I constantly experimented with as kids and the pseudo-16-bit games and emulators of today is those glitches. Today, technology is advanced and game testing is so standard that a new game in the 16-bit style is mechanically perfect.
That’s what makes Star Wars: Battlefront such a unique case. It’s a game that is 16-bit in spirit, including through a lot of the execution, and yet next-gen. Games used to get made like that all the time. Like many other gamers my age, I still love and revere the 16-bit generation as the infallible Silver Era of video games. Although games are always evolving and getting better, sometimes it’s hard to remember what made the old days special. It took a next-gen game coded on a license notorious for producing some of the worst video games of all time to remind me of it.