Modern first-person shooters come in one of two flavors. There are the e-sport-style multiplayer experiences, where you spend dozens of hours honing your skills, competing against other players online. Then there are the story-driven campaigns, where you fight your way through gaming’s equivalent of a blockbuster movie. Some franchises, like Call of Duty and Halo, offer both of these in a single package; others, like the multiplayer-only Titanfall, focus on just one. At first glance, Star Wars: Battlefront, which launches today, falls into the former camp. It’s focused on epic-sized space battles, where Rebels fight against Imperial forces (both sides made up of real players), across iconic landscapes like Hoth and Tatooine.
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But there’s another, smaller facet of the experience that lets you pair up with a single buddy and team up to fight off bad guys. You can play in the same room on the same television, a former obligatory feature that’s been gradually removed from big budget games. If you play it a certain way, Battlefront feels a lot like the Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye.
Outside of the multiplayer portion of the game, Battlefront offers a series of what it calls "missions." These include relatively simple tutorials — you can learn how to wield Darth Vader’s lightsaber or pilot an X-Wing — that are fun for one or two playthroughs. Battlefront’s incredible attention to detail makes even a training mission about riding a speeder bike across Endor feel like living a moment from the movies. The game also has "battles," essentially multiplayer firefights where the human competition has been replaced by computer-controlled bots, and "survival," where you fight off increasingly challenging waves of artificially intelligent Imperial forces, trying to last until the end. Battlefront is definitely not a single-player game, and if you try to play solo, you’ll be bored.
A great couch game for almost everybody
But each of these modes comes with the option to play with a friend, either online or via split-screen co-op. Played with a buddy, Battlefront turns into that increasingly rare beast: a great couch game for almost everybody. Unlike most modern FPS games, Battlefront is remarkably accessible. The controls are easy to slip into, and you don’t have to worry about creating a crazy loadout for your character. In fact, you’re limited to one weapon and two cards, which offer abilities ranging from explosive devices to a jet pack. It may seem dumbed down to Call of Duty veterans, but the simplicity makes the split-screen mode so accessible. You can sit down next to virtually anyone and enjoy a few rounds without a lot of friction. The Star Wars setting only makes it more approachable; the promise of those familiar blaster bolts was enough to lure many of my friends.
The survival mode in particular is great for the couch. Here you play as a Rebel soldier, tasked with surviving 15 waves of Imperial forces. The challenge increases with each wave. You begin by fighting a few stormtroopers, but eventually you battle towering AT-STs and incoming TIE fighters. The challenge ramps feverishly but not without providing some necessary support; as you play pods containing useful items, like shields or powerful explosives, drop from the sky. If you secure them, you get the goodies inside. It’s hard to imagine returning to this mode alone. In some moments, it feels as if you must do two things at once. One person can focus on securing a drop pod while the other provides cover; someone can man the turrets to take down TIE fighters, while the other picks off encroaching stormtroopers.
There’s enough strategy to keep things interesting, but not so much that it feels overwhelmingly complicated. And there’s something really satisfying about being in the same room as your partner, barking orders in person. In the later rounds it’s easy to get swarmed by enemy troops coming from every direction, so it’s great to have someone pointing out incoming fire you might otherwise miss. You can play the mode in four different locations — Hoth, Endor, Sullust, and Tatooine — and each feels distinct, and requires a slightly different strategy.
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The co-op in Battlefront is really a lovely addition to the overall experience. Much of Battlefront is about the meta-game, ranking up in multiplayer to unlock new cards, weapons, and looks for your character. This is the aspect that EA hopes will keep players coming back in the coming weeks and months. Nothing you do in co-op has an influence on this; you can earn a bit of in-game currency, but your rank won’t change no matter how great you are at surviving the rigors of Hoth. Instead, this aspect of the game — and the split-screen play in particular — feels like a return to a simpler time, one where controllers had three prongs and the internet and game consoles didn’t mix.