Back in early December, word got out that LucasArts was working on a Battlefield 1942-alike multiplayer action game set in the Star Wars universe for PS2, Xbox and PC. Such a game has been long overdue. Despite the best efforts of developers like Factor 5 and Totally Games on the space combat front and Pandemic Studios on the ground, the series has only ever flirted with complete military pandemonium, and the prospect of stripping down to rags and fighting the ultimate battle for freedom, or donning one of those shiny white helmets and fighting for the glory of the Empire, is forever creeping into our thoughts.
Praise be to the Beard of Lucas then, because Star Wars: Battlefront sounds like it could be just the game. Officially unveiled today, it's a multiplayer third-person shooter - perhaps a little surprisingly - under development at Pandemic Studios for PS2, Xbox and PC, and aims to throw players into epic battles from both the classic and prequel eras of the Star Wars universe, dragging them through fifteen environments and across ten planets (including the familiar climes of ice world Hoth, primordial melting pot Geonosis, moon base Yavin, sandy Hutt home Tatooine and the shapely scenery of Naboo). It's due out in time for Christmas, too.
Players will be able to take on the role of one of 20 soldier types from four factions - from the classic era the Rebel Alliance and Imperial Army, and from the prequel setting the Clone and Droid Armies. Each faction and soldier will be equipped with character-specific abilities, and can make use of ground-based turrets and, in keeping with the homage to BF1942, fifteen vehicles on the ground and in the air, including the AT-ST walker seen in some of the early screenshots, X-Wing, snow speeders and speeder bikes.
Finally we know that apart from the basic game modes (and while we can only assume at this stage, our money is on a BF1942 capture-and-hold style set up for various reasons), players will also get to know Conquest mode, which adds a strategic element in that the victors of each battle and conquerors of each planet are rewarded with special bonus abilities that can be deployed in future encounters. There's no word on what to expect, but we'd like to see: Ion Cannons, Gungan-style shielding, and, well, Yoda. Actually there's no word on any Jedi involvement at this stage, and it may well be that Pandemic is putting together a game entirely free of our laser sworded heroes. We'll be keeping a watchful eye on www.starwarsbattlefront.com in the hope of finding out for sure one way or another. (Although until they fix the forwarding on that, you'll need to head here for the Battlefront product page.) Who needs Jedi anyway? Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
Obviously there are some important questions left unanswered by all that - most notably technical issues. If this is a multiplayer only game (and although there's mention of a single-player mode, that details failed to make it into the product announcement is pretty telling), then support for online modes is a must. Fortunately Pandemic has some experience taking consoles online after it delivered an Xbox Live-enabled version of Star Wars: The Clone Wars early last year, and in this case it is promising 16 player support on both PS2 Online and Xbox Live (with 32 players supported by either console via LAN) and 32 players over the net for PC gamers (and 64 over a LAN). The game will also support all relevant voice communication compatible headsets for PS2, Xbox and, handily, the PC.
Another technical question mark is left next to target platform. For an ostensibly multiplayer-only game, the PS2's presence on the fact sheet raises an eyebrow or two. Pandemic's efforts last year to deliver sprawling land and space battles to rival all previous efforts in Clone Wars were thwarted when slowdown, texturing and design came under closer scrutiny in its GameCube release. In a sense, what we're dealing with here is quite the opposite, as the early screenshots look remarkably average compared to a lot of Star Wars fare. They all seem to be set on what looks like the forest moon of Endor (although we see no Ewoks - a secret faction maybe), but the foliage has been delivered with all the variety and imagination of a Cadbury's Selection under your Christmas tree.
They do at least offer some hints (the presence of what looks like a Rebel Alliance control point gives credit to the BF1942 comparisons, for example), but apart from a couple of promising shots of an AT-ST kicking up dust as a Stormtrooper scampers away between its legs, and some reflective water, it all looks extremely PS2 - identikit models dressed up in Star Wars rags, relentlessly jagged and vibrant vegetation (which suffers compared to Factor 5's Endor in its rightly-maligned Rebel Strike), cheap Paint Shop Pro gradient effect laser fire, and palm fronds that could poke an eye out. We'll have to wait to see some more environments, and for confirmation of what the Xbox and PC versions will look like, but it looks at this stage like Pandemic is developing for PS2 and porting to the other platforms. Quelle surprise.
The Clone War
Whatever the situation, Star Wars Battlefront is a game that leaps right to the top of our [Tom's -Ed] Most Wanted list for two key reasons - it's Battlefield 1942, and it's Star Wars. That's not much more than we knew this time last month, but it's enough for us. If it comes even halfway close to delivering on that particular promise, it should throw up enough adventure and excitement to send Yoda into a coma.