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Star Wars: Battlefront II Review | Astoundingly Controversial

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Battlefront II Review

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.

EA came under a lot of fire when it revealed how Star Wars: Battlefront II’s loot crates would work, and since the title’s November 17 release, the road has been nothing but rocks and backlash for this sequel. However, microtransaction controversy aside, Battlefront II is a polished title that inspires confidence in the graphical future of gaming. Unfortunately, the lack of content once again overshadows this game’s potential. The smooth gameplay, surreal visuals, character-driven narrative, and enveloping audio do little to remedy the swift propulsion towards monotony.

Battlefront II’s strongest selling point was the implementation of a single-player campaign, something the 2015 reboot lacked. The story surrounding Iden Versio and her compatriots explores the Galactic Civil War (Rebels versus Imperials) from the perspective of Imperial soldiers. The devastating loss of the Death Star in the opening moments of the game is a major defeat for the Empire, and Versio and her squad must cope with that destruction while continuing to show support for their government. However, the tale takes a more profound turn when Versio’s father’s actions shatter her steadfast loyalties. This betrayal strips Versio of the veil that prevented her from seeing the Empire’s lust for tyranny. Frustratingly, rather than explore Versio’s internal conflict, the story falls into hackneyed patterns of good versus evil.

Fraught with emotion, the fable is mostly mundane, delivering typical science-fiction tropes interspersed with exhilarating action. Regardless, the characters are diverse, believable incarnations of soldiers on the frontlines in an otherworldly setting. From Lando Calrissian’s lovable charisma to Princess Leia’s more direct benevolence, Battlefront II offers the iconic characters fans love while introducing them to new personalities. Reinforcing the characters’ endearing traits is professional voice acting that conveys authenticity as the actors capture the essence of their personas. Accurate cadences reflect the actors’ subjects well enough, showing players that some of their most beloved characters were done justice.

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Since the focus on an Imperial character was a primary focus of the discussions and marketing around the campaign, the story falling back into ordinary plot lines midway through is curious. The reason for the tale’s trajectory is understandable given the campaign’s events and the characters involved. Nonetheless, delving into more complex character development in which Versio struggles reconcile her father’s actions with her own conscience would have made for a much more palpable narrative, as not all endings are happy ones, even in Star Wars. Good does not always prevail, and exploring that reality would have made for a far more interesting adventure. Due to making players endure more prosaic storytelling, Battlefront II’s fable devolves from a relatively innovative endeavor to an unimaginative fantasy. Luckily, the crisp gameplay provides a reason to stick around beyond the campaign.

As in Battlefront II’s predecessor, players take control of their characters and utilize different abilities to overcome enemies. However, unlike 2015’s Battlefront, the abilities available to different characters are dependent on their class. For example, the Assault class can use thermal detonators (a basic, powerful grenade) and gamers can acquire different star cards to either replace their thermal detonators or improve the detonator’s star card to reduce its cooldown and increase its blast radius. Meanwhile, the Heavy class possesses a grenade that explodes on impact (“cleverly” named Impact Grenade). Moreover, heroes each have unique abilities between which players can switch: Darth Maul can cyclone through hordes of enemies with his double-bladed lightsaber, Luke Skywalker can take down a surrounding crowd with his Force Repulse ability, Princess Leia can throw down a shield to protect herself and allies, and Boba Fett can fly in and out of combat situations with his jetpack. The ability to cater each class, hero, and villain to the user’s playstyle is a useful mechanic, but unlocking every star card is a slow, grueling process due to the game’s loot crate system.

In 2015’s reboot, new star cards were unlocked primarily through earning credits and spending them on new equipment and abilities. In Battlefront II, credit gains are marginal at best, making the process of earning them grueling. However, the better players perform in multiplayer matches, the more credits they acquire. Additionally, credits can be obtained through completing milestones in the single-player arcade and campaign modes. Disappointingly, the rewards from these accomplishments can only be obtained once, limiting how much gamers can achieve in single-player modes to prevent them from farming offline battles. Along with credits, players can use crafting parts received from loot crates to unlock star cards, making the process of increasing the arsenal slightly quicker, but ultimately failing to make it expedient. Loot crates require credits to open, and crafting parts can only be requisitioned from those crates. Since credit gains are slow, even with stellar performances in multiplayer matches, gathering every star card is painful.

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The time-consuming grind for loot says little of Battlefront II’s actual gameplay, however. Engaging in combat is heart-pounding, with blaster fire and explosions rocking users as they vie for dominance. Weapons must cool down after extended use, which functions as reloading the weapon’s magazine. Furthermore, weapon handling feels slightly less clunky than in the previous title, as most blasters have less recoil, making target acquisition easier when shooting. Enhancing the combat experience are the ground vehicles and Starfighters players can pilot. During larger battles, such as the Galactic Assault and Starfighter Assault modes, players can rack up enough battle points (an in-game currency that reverts to zero at the beginning of each multiplayer match) during combat to commandeer a vehicle when they respawn. Starfighters are arguably the most popular vehicle, especially given Starfighter Assault is one of the game’s most popular modes. Flying through space with either a fighter, interceptor, or bomber is beyond exhilarating, and is quite possibly the most invaluable portion of Battlefront II. Indeed, this game mode could be its own standalone title, and many gamers would be content.

Starfighter Assault pits 24 players against each other (12-vs-12) in different combat scenarios. One team is tasked with offense, striving to complete a sequence of objectives (destroying enemy frigates, communications, shield arrays, etcetera) to attain victory. The defenders have one job: destroy the enemy. Transitioning between objectives is seamless, with battles being fast-paced and intense. Fighters are the hybrid ship class, with the ability to either engage enemy Starfighters or attack the objective; Interceptors are the classic dogfighter archetype, more efficient in obliterating enemy ships than attacking the objectives; and Bombers are high-health tanks that can dish out large amounts of damage to enemy defenses. Regardless of players’ preferences, piloting a Starfighter is riveting, and is easily the most gripping mode. Firing a ship’s lasers is gratifying, with each destroyed enemy its own reward as they explode into a hail of debris and are relegated to the past tense. Evading enemies adds to the mode’s intensity, as attacking opposing Starfighters can be an arduous task when the target’s allies give chase. Players must rely on quick reflexes and a steady hand to dish out some hurt and simultaneously stay alive. When combined with superb graphics, the fluid gameplay resembles craftsmanship true to DICE’s form.

Sharp visuals should not be a surprise to any gamer familiar with modern AAA titles. Battlefront II offers enhanced graphics that portray the Star Wars universe well, with facial expressions within the campaign displaying emotions believably and accurately. The different levels are highly detailed. Everything—from the stormy, night-time weather during one of the campaign missions and bright sands of Tatooine to monolithic starships and grand architecture—works together to create aesthetics that linger in players’ minds even after shutting off the game. Explosions are bright and destructive and lasers create sparks upon impact, plucking as much realism as possible out of a fantastical universe. Mixing with these visuals is in-depth audio that provides the adept finishing touches to the gameplay.

Messing up a game’s audio is a difficult task, and even EA and its subsidiaries manage to deliver quality sounds to accompany their games. As expected, Battlefront II’s audio is splendid. War sounds cause an understandable ruckus, explosions and blaster fire roaring and echoing all around gamers. Soldiers shouting and officers giving orders from off-screen invigorate users, augmenting an already-immersive undertaking. Still, the game’s positive features are gutted by one gloomy weakness: lack of content.

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EA DICE did not appear to learn from its 2015 release. One of the major criticisms of the original reboot, especially among solo gamers, was the utter lack of single-player content. Even the online community complained that multiplayer was far too repetitive, with the game modes quickly becoming stale. With Battlefront II, old problems persist, as the game attempts to remedy the original game’s pitfalls by adding a single-player campaign and some objective-based arcade modes, but once the campaign is beaten and the challenges in the arcade modes have been overcome, little is left for solo players. EA DICE tried to fix this issue in the first game by releasing a patch that added two of the most popular multiplayer modes (Walker Assault and Fighter Squadron) to offline Skirmish Battles, but the company appears to have missed the mark once again by not including the sequel’s most popular modes in the game’s offline content. Many single players would be ecstatic to receive Galactic Assault and Starfighter Assault in the form of offline content, whether through Instant Action (as in the original Battlefront series) or Skirmish Battles. EA essentially refusing to acknowledge these gamers’ desires is indicative of what many believe to be the company’s only concern: the bottom line.

Even the game’s multiplayer content is sparse, with a total of five different game modes available: Galactic Assault, Starfighter Assault, Heroes vs. Villains, Strike, and Blast. Galactic Assault is essentially a ground-based version of Starfighter Assault in which 40 players (20-vs-20) face off in largescale combat. One team assaults a series of targets while the other defends them. Heroes vs. Villains is a 4-vs-4 deathmatch between iconic Star Wars characters, Strike is a small-scale objective mode, and Blast is 10-vs-10 team deathmatch. 2015’s Battlefront had more game modes in its opening days, so why EA backtracked is inexplicable other than laziness coupled with greed. In any case, Battlefront II is a clear indication of how much EA cares about gamers’ feedback: minimally.

Regardless of astonishing graphics and audio, Battlefront II misses the mark in more ways than not. The gameplay is a mixed experience. Combat is fluid and immersive, but ultimately frustrating due to mind-numbing grinds that can see users playing on autopilot. The game’s narrative starts off strong, but turns into a typical fable in which good conquers evil, highlighting EA’s inability to completely follow through on its promises. Lastly, the utter lack of content makes the title degenerate into repetitive monotony, despite the popularity of two of its major multiplayer modes. Battlefront II has all the potential to be a great title, but EA’s greedy fingers and lackadaisical attitude taint it beyond recognition. Gone are the days of the original Star Wars: Battlefront franchise in which single-players and multiplayers could get endless enjoyment out of each game. The result is an unhappy fanbase that will eventually hurt EA’s bottom line due to lack of confidence in the company. Until that time, EA will continue to push out barely-passable nonsense that masquerades as a AAA title, such as Star Wars: Battlefront II.

PASS

Reviewed on Xbox One.

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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