Reliving my favorite movie battle in Star Wars: Battlefront
I’ve always wanted to go to Hoth. It turns out that a small room on the floor at Tokyo Game Show is the closest I’ll ever get.
I’m here to play Star Wars: Battlefront, EA’s multiplayer shooter that borrows all the best battles from the Star Wars movies, and adds in a few new scenarios, such as the battle of Jakku, which will set the scene for December’s The Force Awakens. Today, I’ll be fighting a video game variation of the start of The Empire Strikes Back that The Verge has played before — an attack on Hoth’s Rebel base.
The room is decorated like an ice cave from the Star Wars planet, its walls painted with undulating patterns of white and blue. I’m here with 30 other people, drafted in to fight as both Empire and Rebel forces. An animated man is explaining the controls for the game we’ll soon be playing in rapid-fire Japanese, while overhead, a hologram version of Admiral Ackbar is begging for our help. Once sorted into teams, we’re led out on stage, the TGS crowd able to watch our ensuing battle like an audience at a movie theater.
It's easy to imagine Battlefront as a Star Wars-ified version of EA's long-running Battlefield series. Both offer wide open arenas, force players to fight over capture points, and include a range of vehicles to drive and pilot. But a few minutes spent on Hoth dissuaded me of that notion. Battlefront is to Battlefield as Star Wars is to real war. It's the movie version of organized violence — the kind where stricken foes fly backwards with Wilhelm screams, where tottering walkers explode like fireworks-packed toys, and where the blood and guts of mass murder doesn't ever stain the snow and dust of unreal worlds.
Where Battlefield is preoccupied with the horror of modern warfare, Battlefront is cinematic and bombastic, engineered to make movie moments with regularity. It's not worried about precision, about letting players land headshots from kilometers away. Battlefront's weapons don't even have iron sights. Some of the blaster rifles on offer have scopes, but most are fired from the hip, making Battlefront feel loose and quick in its gunplay. In Battlefield 4, I always play like a sniper, lying prone in the dirt of a smashed city and training a smeared rifle scope on a doorway to punch a bullet through a human head. In Battlefront, I sprayed bolts of bright laser around with wild abandon, jetpacking across snow drifts and hurling thermal detonator grenades like explosive snowballs.
Battlefront is to Battlefield as Star Wars is to real war
On the edge of the battlefield I followed a furrow carved into the snow to a token. Such tokens are Battlefront's power-ups, giving players special characters, shields, weapons, or vehicles. This one teleports me from the ground, putting me in the pilot seat of a snowspeeder, one of the iconic wedge-shaped ships from The Empire Strikes Back's opening battle. As in the movie, there are AT-AT walkers closing in on my team's Rebel base, and my ship has a tow cable that could potentially be used to take the clanking quadrupedal creations down.
I can't use that cable at first — the AT-AT is too powerful. The rest of my team is working to secure the stage's ever-shifting capture points. When they're successful in holding them for long enough, they call down a squadron of Y-Wing bombers, craft capable of hitting the AT-ATs with ion cannon broadsides that make them vulnerable for limited periods. I swoop between the legs of the giant walkers, picking off individual troopers with strafing runs and popping smaller AT-ST walkers from the rear.
When the AT-ATs get close enough to the Rebel base, the Empire wins. They're pretty much on top of us, using the walkers' huge chin-mounted cannons to blast away at our power generator, when I get the signal that the Y-Wings are on the way. I manipulate the left stick on my PS4 controller, switching power from weapons to my thrusters, and scooting far away from the center of the fight. Pressing back on the D-Pad kicks my speeder into a sharp turn, and I'm facing back toward the battle, the closest walker covered in a crackling blue light in the center of my aiming reticule.
As I whizz closer I see the other AT-AT explode, hit with repeat rocket salvos from my teammates on the ground. It bursts like a movie prop, bathing the snow in golden light, before the blackened shell topples over. It's a good sign for our team. But there's still a walker left, and we have maybe a minute before it shreds our generator and loses us the game. A few seconds away from the AT-AT and I glance at the sheet detailing the game's controls. Firing the tow cable at the walker's legs is only half the battle — to successfully bring it down, I'll need to use the left stick to keep my ship level as it circles, applying careful controls to keep a speeder symbol inside a shrinking bar.
AT-ATs burst like movie props when they explode
A rocket slams into my speeder. It was fired from the ground — another special weapon token picked up by the enemy team — and it's knocked my craft's hit points from 100 to 7. One scrape and I'm going down, and, worse, my vision is obscured by a plume of black smoke coming from something just in front of the cockpit. I'm flying semi-blind. In a panic, I press the button prompt that appears on screen and launch my tow cable at the walker's legs. It lands, but I disconnect a moment later, unprepared for the mini-game that ensues. I'm spat out in the middle of the conflict, the gunfire below like a green and red laser show. I lean on the thrusters again and get away from the action.
Coming back round again, I'm aware this could be my last chance to bring the walker down. I fire my tow cable. Again, it disconnects, but I'm ready for it this time. I kick my speeder into a turn and fire again, circling the opposite way this time. Just above my ship, I see the AT-AT firing huge bolts of light at my team, a human player on the opposite side of the stage at the controls. I keep my speeder level through one full rotation, and the bar on my HUD shrinks. I have to do the same again, tapping the stick up and down to keep the symbol inside the smaller confines. One more rotation, and the area is smaller again. I push too hard on the stick and think my cable's going to detach before its time, but then I pull hard on the controller, somehow yanking my craft level again.
My view cuts from my cockpit to the walker I've just doomed. With my tow cable wrapped around its legs, it tries to walk forward, before slumping to its knees. The screen fades out as people swarm the stage, cheering and clapping for the Rebel victory. The good guys have won! I'm genuinely elated. I've fought in the best battle from my favorite movie. I defended a Rebel base. I took down an Imperial walker with a tow cable. That's three childhood fantasies, right there. It might not have the precision or the grittiness of Battlefield, but Battlefront does have the ability to easily make moments worthy of Star Wars movies — even when the teams were made up of 30 people who've never played the game before.
I climb down from the stage, and immediately text two friends to let them know that I changed the course of Star Wars history. I feel like I've finally been to Hoth, and I'm excited to go back when the game's beta begins in October.