In 2005; on October 31st in Europe; a glorious Halloween gift was given, while North Americans had the honour of getting their hands on it just one day later on November 1st. It was a game; unlike any other the Star Wars series has produced, even among a lineage of fantastic titles. Knights of the Old Republic is a storytelling achievement, The Force Unleashed an outrageously fun power-fantasy and even this game’s future namesake would be a stunning example of several things; albeit avarice and incompetence chief among them.
I am of course talking about Star Wars: Battlefront II (2005). The original; developed by Pandemic Studios, not EA. To this day, it remains one of the greatest sci-fi action games ever published. But what makes it so special? Why is its legacy one of enduring cultural popularity, when mega-action franchises; like Call of Duty, feel the need to pump out new games every single year to stay relevant?
In my opinion, there are four key elements that were critical to this game’s success:
- The IP
- A Compelling Story
- Fantastic Gameplay & Level Design
- Fan Wish Fulfilment
THE IP – Star Wars is a truly special franchise. It inspires passion and vitriol in almost unmatched measure; even in an era of hyper-passionate fandom, Star Wars conversations are infamously… energetic, shall we say. Regardless, an undeniable part of this game’s core-appeal was simply the name-brand power and the fact that it was premiering in the same year as what many believed would be the last Star Wars film. Oh boy, does that seem like a distant memory now. Even so, no game can leave a legacy on name-power alone.
A COMPELLING STORY – In the Internet age of viral memes, vines, Tik-Tok and endless parody, it can be easy to forget that stories and franchises which achieve this level of cultural ribbing; often, have a strong basis in quality that makes people connect with them on a basis of humour for comfort. Such is the story of Battlefront II: A compelling, multi-era narrative about a 501st Clone Trooper; later a Stormtrooper and part of ‘Vader’s Fist’, which has ended up being a viral target of meme culture. Nevertheless, I believe that; fundamentally, this is down to its memorable quality in using a little to say a lot. We never see the aforementioned trooper’s face, yet Dee Bradley Baker’s performance tells us everything we need to know and the dialogue remains impeccably creepy.
“The success of the mission on Mygeeto was something of a revelation for the men of the 501st. Suddenly, we realized that the Jedi could be fooled. And if they could be fooled, they could be killed”.
FANTASTIC GAMEPLAY & LEVEL DESIGN – Personal note: I have logged roughly over 10,000+ hours of gameplay into this, that’s over a year of my life and this is for one simple reason above all others: The exceptional gameplay. Combining the best FPS combat-mechanics of the time, with a brilliant table-top style ‘galactic conquest’ mode; which probably fuelled my later addiction to Civilisation V, as well as the iconic ‘Instant Action’; for both space and planet based battles, Battlefront II ignites that sense of childlike awe. The ability to play as multiple factions; with a variety of combat classes, is of course nothing new. Yet the simplicity of the combat dynamics; combined with the variety of maps and level-diversity, makes the game shockingly addictive.
Growing up, my friends and I could sink hours of time into sharpshooter duels on Kamino, tank battles on Polis Massa, free-for-alls in Naboo’s central square and tense ‘Last man standing’ confrontations on practically every planet in the game. I’m genuinely amazed that I didn’t break more of my remotes out of emotional rage when I lost, yet that itself highlights a key component: Unlike CoD; which often feels solely like a button-press race in competitive Multiplayer, it takes a few moments to take down your opponents: Be they AI or human. It’s a hugely underappreciated design choice that I think is key to the gameplay’s reputation: Battlefront II forces you to take a few moments each time to kill and/or gives you a handful of seconds to react when you’re attacked. Sure; it has its 1-shot mechanics, getting slashed by a hero/villain character outside of Mos Eisley Assault is a fast way to consider murder: However; for the most part, there is a constant push-and-pull that maintains a sense of tension and satisfaction when you win.
And of course, what would the game be without its iconic space battles? Almost every single one of my friends refuses to play them with me now, as I approach it like a military drill: Ruthlessly wiping out the frigates, bomb the internal systems, wipe out the sensor relay and communications array; BOOM. Guaranteed victory if you’re quick enough and it is an endlessly enjoyable formula. Allowing multiple paths to victory; not fixing players to any single kind of combat approach or style, the space-battles became a staple of the game for a very, very good reason. On a technical level, they show the same mastery of simple but diverse combat mechanics as the rest of the game but on a personal level, the reason they work: They are just so awesome.
LAAT gunships are the nightmares of banking clan comms ships, taking punishment like nobody’s business and unleashing heavy fire that; while limited by ammo restrictions, is extremely efficient. The movie-accurate Starfighters of Anakin and Obi-Wan are nimble little craft and a blast to dogfight in; though for my money, the best ship in the whole game is the CIS Strike Bomber. An agile, solidly quick bomber; with a payload equivalent to an LAAT Gunship, yet without any ammo restrictions. I love this ship so much that even when playing as the Republic; my go-to-choice, I always steal this ship as fast as possible from the enemy hangars. With engineers as talented on their side as to design this monstrously magnificent beauty, it is both a crying shame and completely unbelievable to me that the Confederacy of Independent Systems did not win the war; regardless of Palpatine’s manipulations.
FAN WISH FULFILMENT – Last but certainly not least, this may seem an obvious statement but games MUST know who they are targeted towards. For example, a game shouldn’t think that players want to grind for dozens of hours to unlock basic character skins they have at the start in other games. That would just be silly.
Battlefront II (2005) knows its audience and pays attention to the small but vital details. Jabba’s Palace has a Rancor enclosure you can fall into, the Death Star a working trash compactor and several maps have environmental enemies; such as the Geonosians. This is the kind of detail that separates the good from the great, yet Battlefront II separates itself from the great to the masterful by not only including details like this; showing it understands the fan-base, but also by building upon these desires to create something truly iconic. Enter Mos Eisley Assault Mode.
I don’t care what kind of Star Wars fan you are. You can like all the movies or only enjoy the Baby Yoda memes from the Mandalorian. Ahsoka Tano can be your favourite hero or Jar Jar Binks, the Emperor your favourite antagonist or Darth Jar Jar. Whatever the case, no opinion is wrong in fandom.
However, if you can play the Mos Eisley Assault mode without cracking a smile and feeling a sense of childhood wish fulfilment, then you deserve to be frozen in Carbonite. A heroes vs. villains’ map, where you can pit Obi-Wan against the Fett’s, Mace Windu against Darth Maul, Vader vs. Solo; some fathers-in-law really don’t treat the daughter’s boyfriend well at all: The possibilities are endless. Usually set to the backing of the Mos Eisley Cantina Band or Jedi Rocks; which I like here unashamedly, this level is everything a Star Wars game should be. Innovative, exceptionally fun and completely understanding of what fans want out of a Star Wars experience.
With this original masterpiece’s fifteenth anniversary fast approaching, Star Wars Battlefront II remains an enduring cultural icon of gaming and a phenomenal display of creative potential; being fully realized to the scale possible at the time.
Shame it’s never seen a good-sequel or namesake follow-up.
Marley Eleven Bury is a twenty-one year old Film & TV writer who loves takeaway and the superhero genre far too much. His claims to fame are having listened to the entire 26-hour+ Fire and Blood audiobook multiple times and being able to sing the Periodic Table song from memory.