Within 30 seconds of playing Star Wars Battlefront’s survival mode at E3, I was yearning for a mouse. Here I was, finally playing DICE’s Battlefront after a couple years of waiting, and it just felt... floaty. Imprecise. I played Battlefront 2 on the Xbox, a decade ago, and at the time playing with a controller didn’t bother me. But now, trying Battlefront on a PS4 for the first time, I couldn’t help feeling a tinge of disappointment in controls that felt weightless, detached from the physicality of my character.
Survival mode is one of Battlefront’s single-player/co-op modes meant to supplement the larger multiplayer versus modes, and is as straightforward a “Horde” mode as you can get. Series fans will be happy to know that AI enemies are back, though in the six wave survival matches I played, they show up in smaller groups of half a dozen or so at a time, not the map-filling droves that once covered older Battlefront multiplayer maps. My co-op partner and I had to survive in a Tatooine canyon while waves of Stormtroopers came to kill us.
Each wave or two introduced some new enemies, like more heavily armed and armored troopers, sniper troops, jumpjet stormtroopers, and AT-STs. According to DICE, matches in the final survival mode will last for 15 rounds, which is good—even my first time playing the game, and being a poor shot with the controller, my co-op partner and I had no trouble blasting through six waves in 10 minutes.
Battlefront producer Craig Mcleod told me that Survival is one of three one-or-two player modes; the others are Trials, which are more scripted, story-based missions that teach you some basic gameplay mechanics, and Battles, which pit you against the AI (or a friend's AI team) in larger-scale encounters. I don’t know how big the AI battles will be, but it’ll be interesting to see how those compare against classic single-player Battlefront. Trials are the missions that will replicate iconic moments from the Star Wars films.
Mcleod also told me that DICE is building maps specifically for Survival mode—they’re not recycled from other modes or slices of the larger multiplayer maps. That sounds great, but the Tatooine canyon I fought in seemed surprisingly ill-suited to the mode. It was very large for such a limited mode: long enough to take a couple minutes to walk across, with significant verticality that was fun to get around using Battlefront’s great jetpack (which gives you one short rocketboost into the air, not prolonged flying). But from what I played, there’s almost no strategy to Battlefront’s Survival, and thus little reason to explore the map. There are no interactive elements around to encourage movement, except for escape pods that drop every few waves and dispense power-ups after you defend them for a short time. Still, those would work just fine on a map half as large.
The size of the Hoth map in Battlefront’s Walker Assault mode, on the other hand, feels appropriately sprawling. After playing Survival, I got into a 40-player match of the real Battlefront, putting stormtrooper boots onto the snowy ground to escort an AT-AT towards the besieged rebel base. It felt like Battlefront.
Aiming, at least with a controller, feels imprecise—but the game also feels like it doesn’t need precise aiming. Weapons work on a short cooldown system, with no ammunition, and overheat for a few seconds if you fire for too long. Different weapons have different stats affecting damage, fire rate, cooldown rate, and overheating, so a blaster pistol can fire faster and longer than a rifle, for example. There’s also an “active reload” feature if you press a button shortly after overheating a gun.
Damage adds up quickly, and I was surprised how many kills I got by haphazardly aiming at distance Rebel troops, all controlled by other players, and holding down the trigger. As DICE has assured fans, there’s no aim down sights, but you can zoom in somewhat by pulling the left trigger. But those kills didn't feel like a result of skillful aiming or smart use of the weapon I'd chosen. Likewise, several times when I died, it just felt like someone had hosed lasers in my direction and I hadn't had time to get away. Those kinds of moments can happen in all shooters, but range kills, in general, didn't feel particularly satisfying.
My favorite features of Battlefront are the personal shield and jumpjet, two gadgets that can be equipped in different load outs. The personal shield protects you from incoming fire, and I used one several times to save my life when Rebels got the drop on me. Battlefront features a regenerating health system, and all you have to do to return to full health is avoid damage for a few seconds, a la Halo or Call of Duty. You can't fire while the personal shield is activated, but you can throw out thermal detonators. And the jumpjet's fast propulsion of movement just feels great to use—it's every bit as cool as it was in the first Battlefront trailer.
The Imperial’s objective in Walker Assault is to push forward to four sequential control nodes and take them offline, letting the AT-AT cross the map and destroy its target. The Rebels can occasionally disable the AT-AT with an ion cannon, making it vulnerable to damage. The biggest difference from classic Battlefront is how support vehicles are spawned. Instead of simply sitting on the map, they’re activated by powerups scattered across the map, which only appear to the side they belong to. Some power-ups allow the Imperials to spawn in a TIE Fighter or AT-ST, while others provide smaller upgrades like a rocket launcher or personal shield.
Flying the TIE fighter unfortunately felt about as floaty and imprecise as the shooting controls, but I’m hopeful that that, too, will be better on PC with a flight stick or a mouse for aiming. But between the fighter controls and the simplicity of Battlefront’s gun combat, I came away sheepishly feeling like I’ve been hoping for the wrong thing out of Battlefront these last two years. ‘Please don’t be Battlefield with a Star Wars skin,’ I said to myself over and over again. Well, Battlefront is definitely not Battlefield in a Star Wars skin. It lacks the impact and precision of Battlefield’s guns and the weight of its movement.
Maybe a little more Battlefield in Battlefront would’ve been a good thing. It mostly feels like the same old Battlefront, and I did enjoy my time running around on Hoth—especially when a dramatic piece of Star Wars music kicked in. But as I said back when I first saw the game, Battlefront’s charm was in its goofiness and the way it pulled in expanded universe material. Without that silliness, the simplicity of the new Star Wars Battlefront ends up feeling a bit shallow.