Buried behind the Jedi, Sith, AT-AT walkers and blasters, there is a greater sense of spectacle waiting in Star Wars Battlefront 2
I’ll be perfectly honest, the idea for this piece came from the book Designing Games by Tynan Sylvester. Sylvester is one of my favorite developers; he worked on BioShock Infinite, admittedly my least favorite entry in the series, and then went on to found Ludeon Studios, the developers behind RimWorld. His book has little to do with the games he made though: instead, it has to do with the making of any and all games, what makes a game work, and to give you the CliffsNotes.
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering “well, what the hell does any of this have to do with Star Wars Battlefront 2?” So, let me get to it. There’s a small subsection in the book, part of a chapter titled Engines of Experience. This chapter focuses on how games manage to elicit an emotional response: the key to making a game, well, good. I know that statement may not sound right, it may be followed by cries of “good gameplay makes games good!”, but I’m going to ignore those and instead urge you to read Designing Games. One of these ways that games get you to feel something is through spectacle – a grand event or performance. The first example of spectacle that’s offered in Designing Games is the following: “A Star Destroyer crashes into the Death Star!”
I read this passage after I started playing Star Wars Battlefront 2. A friend of mine had actually gotten into the game a month or so back and gifted me a copy. I was quickly hooked on the fast-paced gameplay and overall style of the game. I mean, how couldn’t I: I’m a massive Star Wars fan. But there was something else about the game that hit me at a deeper level; a feeling that I haven’t really gotten much of since I played Battlefield 4 and the word “levolution” was burned into my head.
It’s obvious that Star Wars Battlefront 2 is a spectacle engine. That comes from the very base of the game: it’s a hyper-detailed depiction of the Star Wars universe at each of its titular moments. Players get to experience the numerous locales, characters, weapons and music that make Star Wars recognizable at the use of just one of your senses. When you hear that blaster fire, you know it’s Star Wars. When you hear the “vwooom” of a lightsaber, you know it’s Star Wars. Battlefront 2 brings immediate recognizability to the forefront. These moments that occur every second you’re playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 make up the spectacle of the game.
These moments, however, are very small. In that section about spectacle in Designing Games, Sylvester goes on to say “razzle-dazzle spectacle can bring a quick emotional rise. Unfortunately, the payoff is shallow and unsustainable.” That point is proven by my loss of any awe at the chorus of a hundred blasters firing. When I first started playing the game, I couldn’t get over how cool it was just to be surrounded by that cacophony of sci-fi gunfire. Now when I get into a match, it doesn’t do anything for me. That noise sinks into the background, like the rain on Kamino. Likewise, the sounds of lightsabers have lost their “cool factor” and now are just danger indicators. After hearing one I whip around in a full circle, trying to figure out if it’s a friend coming to support me in a firefight or if I’m about to be cut and cauterized in the same second.
One sensation never gets old though, as the one part of Star Wars Battlefront 2 that makes it a master in the use of spectacle are its Heroes. For those that haven’t played the game, players often get the opportunity to play as one of Star Wars‘ notable characters like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and so on. Let me recreate a scene for you that might put this all into perspective.
You start a game of Supremacy on Geonosis as a clone trooper. The dust and sand of the desert planet is whipping around while blaster fire sounds off around you. A voice comes in over the intercom; “Darth Maul has entered the playing field.” You’ve fought your way to point C, the top of a highly contested hill. Amidst the fighting, you spot him – the dual bladed lightsaber of Darth Maul. He’s rushing at you, prepared to chuck the thing and cleave your character in two. Then, like a miracle, Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to challenge the Sith. He is immediately hauled into the air, an invisible hand around his throat, and chucked some 30 feet away. Your character is slain, unceremoniously.
I don’t have many memories from my time playing Star Wars Battlefront 2; I’ve only played the game for a little over 20 hours, and things can get lost in the sea of blaster fire. But this one moment in particular, this self-contained story of hope and defeat, it’s stuck with me. This spectacular moment, one where I wasn’t even a main character, somehow affected me more than any other part of the game. That’s because this moment, and others like it that have happened to other players, don’t just use spectacle to make a player say “wow” and then move on. As Sylvester says, “spectacle works when it reinforces what’s already there.”
So, in the case of Star Wars Battlefront 2, what is already there? Like I said before, the game is a hyper-detailed depiction of the Star Wars universe, but that doesn’t quite cut it. Instead, it’s important to look at who you are in the game and what role you play. Sure, sometimes you’re the Hero, the main character in a multiplayer match, the one that can make a real difference. But most of the time, that’s not you. You’re a clone trooper or a droid, cogs in a galactic war machine. Your character most of the time is, as so many of the grunts in the movies are, unimportant. It’s this idea that is reinforced by the spectacle of Star Wars Battlefront 2. The idea that you are a very, very tiny, expendable thing, doing what they can to push their side forward, all while you watch the bigger, more important characters duke it out.
Of course, there are multiple other sources of spectacle in Star Wars Battlefront 2. Playing as a Hero is awe-inspiring and I still get giddy when I hear “Duel of the Fates” play when I spawn in as Darth Maul. That is until I’m brought down by another Hero at a higher level with better cards. So many of the spectacles in Battlefront 2 are temporary or just lose their sheen. But when you’re just another trooper, out there in the dirt and mud, fighting for whatever galactic empire you’re fighting for and you get to witness the battle unfolding around you, that’s when Battlefront 2 shines its brightest.