The Battlefront name really does it no favours. Pandemic's 2004 original and its quick-fire sequel, delivered just 12 months later, might be over a decade old, but memories of their chaotic, epic battles still burn brightly. Coming to EA and developer DICE's reboot straight off the back of the all-encompassing space skirmishes of Battlefront 2, it can all feel like something of a backwards step.
The reputation of DICE doesn't help either. Having built its name through Battlefield, a series renowned for a more physical and more detailed brand of chaos, there's an expectation of depth this Battlefront never comes remotely close to meeting.
This isn't a straight Battlefront sequel, as some people were hoping for, and nor is it simply Battlefield with blaster rifles hastily tossed in, as some people feared. What DICE has crafted here is closer in its heritage to a long line of showy arcade outings, games like Sega's 1999 Star Wars Trilogy Arcade that would wow you with buzzing lightsabers and roaring TIE fighters before quickly sending you on your way.
For the first dozen hours of EA's Battlefront, it's an approach that works wonders. Light and frothy like its cinematic inspiration, this is all about spectacle and gentle heroism. And what a spectacle it can be: laying on a merry dance in the Millennium Falcon as you pirouette through swarms of the Empire's ships in Fighter Squadron, seeing the fresh snow on Hoth sparkle in the sun as AT-ATs slowly stomp their way through in Walker Assault, or hearing the beautiful orchestra of blaster rifle fire echo around the halls of an Imperial Base in a game of Blast on Sullust. DICE's artists haven't just captured the look and feel of the series; they've managed to capture the wide-eyed innocence that's at the heart of it all.
There's the same naive charm at the core of Battlefront, too. Gunplay is stripped down to a brutal degree, until you're left with a shooter that feels like it came from that more innocent time before the miserable Star Wars prequels. That's not a bad thing at all: after the escalating demands on players' time and dexterity made by modern shooters, how refreshing it is to play something that's got more in common with GoldenEye than Call of Duty. Indeed, Star Wars Battlefront can be brutal in its simplicity.
Players are given only a single weapon slot, and while each one has ADS it feels like mere lip service to modern shooters when the aim assist does so much of the hard work for you. There's not much by way of variety in the arsenal either - weapon selection is limited, and it's hard to distinguish one blaster from another once you've got used to the softer, slower nature of battling other players with lasers.
It's a world removed from other first-person shooters, and tellingly Battlefront feels like it's being played as it should be when you're in third-person mode, admiring the exquisite model work on a Stormtrooper as their uniform's slowly sullied over the course of a match (and taking advantage of a slightly improved field of vision.)
It's there, in third-person, that the basic moveset granted players feels like less of an issue. We're so used to a new dynamism made fashionable by the likes of Titanfall and latter Call of Duty games that movement in Battlefront can feel stiff in comparison; the ability to mantle that's at the centre of DICE's more physical Battlefield games has even been stripped out, leaving something that feels limited in comparison to its peers.
Such minimalism is deliberate, of course. Battlefront's a calculated effort to appeal to the widest possible audience, an understandable approach when you're dealing with one of the biggest properties in entertainment and one that's plain obvious in this, the year of Star Wars. That it feels out of place was always inevitable: this wide-eyed, wilfully simplistic shooter sticks out just as much as George Lucas' introduction to Luke and Leia did when it released against a backdrop of grittier, more grounded sci-fi in the late 70s. EA and DICE are shooting for the same timeless appeal, making a game for 11-year-olds, and the 11-year old in all of us.
When that approach works, it works so very well. Some of my favourite moments in Battlefront so far have come through sharing a screen with a friend - the split screen that's available across Survival and Battle modes (though sadly, for some unfathomable reason, not on PC) is another welcome hangover from a different age - and chasing each other down across the perfectly realised dioramas, swinging lightsabers and firing half-remembered film quotes at each other. It's here that Battlefront has no pretensions beyond being an extravagant toy, the kind of which I'd be delighted to unwrap under the Christmas tree as a Star Wars-obsessed child.
Battlefront has other aspirations, though, and when it's played as a shooter some of the frictions start to show. In modes like Supremacy - a spin on Battlefield's staple Conquest mode - and Walker Assault, a 40-player rumble that's the perfect meeting point between Star Wars fan service and DICE's trademark all-out online warfare, there's a happy symbiosis. Elsewhere, though, the simplicity of Battlefront sits less easily with the appetites of a modern shooter audience, where the pared-down gunplay and systems are chewed up and spat out without providing much in the way of satisfaction.
All of which has made Star Wars Battlefront's recent outing on EA Access, where subscribers were able to sample 10 hours gratis, something of a risky gamble: in those 10 hours, many players will have had their fill of DICE's newly lightweight, oddly retrograde brand of shooting. Maybe I'm more easily won over by the whir and whizz of an R4 droid or the noisy thwump of a thermal imploder than most, because with well over a dozen hours under my belt at the moment, I'm not there just yet.
These impressions are based upon playing the game at an event in Stockholm. EA paid for travel and accommodation. Eurogamer's final review will be posted later this week, once we've had adequate experience of Star Wars Battlefront on fully stressed servers.
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