Battlefront II, or, Star Wars Holiday Special II: This Time It’s Pretty Much Malicious

battlefrontii

You would think it’d be hard to put everything cool about an entire video game into one not so cluttered image. You would think that.

Were developer EA’s game Star Wars: Battlefront II not a licensed Star Wars game the sum total of its offerings would be unacceptable to the casual gaming public. More acceptable than its predecessor, if we’re splitting hairs, but unacceptable nonetheless. It represents the worst in licensed games: a mediocre product using its license not as a crutch, but as a straight up couch, knowing full well that it doesn’t even need to stand up for some dumb fanboy like me to traipse over.

EA’s handling out Battlefront II isn’t just a lazy “screw you” to consumers and fans, it flies in the face of the entire spirit of the Star Wars sequel era.

Disney is a business and it knows the goose it has in the Star Wars franchise. The embarrassingly obnoxious terms it’s set for theaters to play The Last Jedi make that abundantly clear. But despite Disney’s cold, calculating business mindset, the hands that are actually crafting Star Wars in this new era are passionate ones. Whether in the two newest films, the Star Wars: Rebels television show or the various Marvel comic books, there is continually a sense that the people who are given the chance to directly interact with and build upon the Star Wars universe have a respect for that opportunity. That sense of respect, of appreciation, is sorely lacking from EA who has twice now used the Star Wars license to drag down what can reasonably be considered the bare minimum.

While EA’s second Battlefront is more than just four maps (fan outrage dragging that bare minimum upward kicking and screaming) it still limits the amount of maps available offline to the generous total of six. And why wouldn’t it? EA can’t get any of your money through it’s infamous micro transactions offline.

Needless limitations are the name of the game here.

During gameplay you’re limited to one weapon in your loadout. Why? And the selection of blasters, while movie accurate in site and sound, feel consistently unwieldy, each efficient only in specific circumstances. To tout my own credentials, I managed to platinum Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but I never managed to feel particularly lethal, or even vaguely dangerous with Battlefront’s flailing controls and decorative weaponry, no matter how much I tinkered with the controller sensitivity. And those frustrations are only amplified when playing as any of the game’s hero characters from the Star Wars films. Though the cumbersome gameplay certainly extends the life of what would otherwise be a movie-length campaign mode.

A single player campaign mode is the biggest addition to Battlefront II, and though it’s existence is a win for fans, EA still manages to get away with putting in as little material as possible. There are no jaw-dropping moments in this campaign, no sense of excitement. It is point and shoot to the extreme, particularly during any of the admittedly gorgeous dogfights which have players flying X-Wings and Tie Fighters around in circles blowing up wave after wave of opposition just long enough to realize how little they’re actually doing.

The campaign follows the story of Iden Verzio, played by Janina Gavankar, leader of Inferno Squadron, an imperial special ops team. Starting at the end of Return of the Jedi, the campaign exists in a period in the Star Wars mythos that, despite a few novels and a comic book miniseries, still feels a little vague, as if being left open for films or a TV show. Battlefront II’s story similarly only manages to penetrate the primary Star Wars narrative in the loosest ways. Sold as a look at the fall of the Empire from the perspective of the Empire, the story it sells isn’t the one it tells. Without divulging too much, Battlefront II’s plot throws it’s characters down the most convenient, most obvious narrative escape hatch pretty much as soon as possible.

But now that I’ve gotten that mid-sized aquarium full of hatorade out of the way…

Despite its disappointing brevity and predictable narrative, the focal point of the game’s campaign, Gavankar’s Iden Versio, is nevertheless compelling. Gavankar’s enthusiasm for the project shines through in her performance, making the game’s cutscenes substantially more enthralling than the game around them. It’s a shame her story isn’t given the same sort of nuance or thoughtfulness other expanded universe characters have received, but Versio feels like a character destined to be cosplayed in conventions for years to come and with any hope her story will be placed in more passionate hands in the future (her origins have already been detailed by author Christie Golden in the book Battlefront: Inferno Squad, currently sitting at a cool 3.8/5 on Goodreads).

Like Boba Fett’s debut in the Star Wars Holiday Special, Versio is a bright spot that manages to shine despite the nonsense going on around her. But also like the Star Wars Holiday Special, Battlefront II as a whole is a woefully counterintuitive misstep that entirely misses the spirit of the popular culture around it. Add to that the sense that the proceedings all too often feel like a granted wish wrapped in technicalities and loopholes by a swindling genie and you’ve got a frustrating game on your hands.

But what do I know? I bought the damn thing.

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A Little Less Dead and a Little More Space, or, There’s no “I” in “Dead Space 3 Should Have One Less Eyeball Than Dead Space 3 Has Eyeballs”

SPACE ATTACK!

SPACE ATTACK!

The Dead Space games have historically been badass as badass. You run around with the space equivalent of a power tool in the space equivalent of hell and cut the limbs off of the space equivalent of the reanimated corpses of the space equivalent of dead people.

In space.

They’re the space equivalent of terrifying, as well as the regular equivalent of terrifying, due in no small part to its undeniable influences, sci-fi horror flicks like Alien and The Thing. The environments in Dead Space and Dead Space 2 are dark and claustrophobic, they’re loud as hell and quiet as death at just the right moments, and they contort the human body in ways that are, like, way gross.  Like faces and arms and butts all over the place gross.

It’s a masterful and proven horror aesthetic that fleshes out a game world where in everything and everyone wants to kill the shit out of you until you’re dead like nobody’s business.

Then Dead Space 3 came out.

Oy vey.

Oy vey.

If Dead Space and Dead Space 2 were brilliant homages to Alien, then so is the first act of Dead Space 3. Protagonist Isaac Clarke hops from derelict ship to derelict ship playing peekaboo with all kinds of nasty monsters popping out of vents and closets and cabinets. It’s all very Alien, until around a third of the way through the game when Isaac lands on the ice planet Hoth planet Tau Volantis.

From there the homage to Alien expands (for better or worse per your tastes) more into Aliens, and even Prometheus, territory – a facet of Dead Space 3 that plenty of fans are no doubt less than thrilled about. There are uncomfortable corridors here and there and plenty of loud and unsettling necromorphs – which balls so hard – but there are also a fistful of shootouts with heretical terrorists and all sorts of (two or three) Cliffhanger Stallone mountain climbing exhibitions – which also ball so hard, but in a different way, like with a different ball or something. Like if all the creeps and crawls are like a football then the shootouts and the Cliffhanger are like a basketball – but so far as I’m concerned they both ball so hard.

But as bloodied, bleak hallways give way to frozen expanses and subterranean ruins so too does the pallet of claustrophobia and dread that has been such a staple in the Dead Space games give way to something a little more accessible and classically minded.

Dead Space is sci-fi horror at its best and while Dead Space 3 is going to leave horror fans wanting, science fiction enthusiasts are going to find a lot to love in the games more adventurous tone. With the larger set pieces and human enemies Dead Space 3 ends up feeling less like the Thing meets Alien and more like a demented survivalist Star Trek.

These games have always involved uncovering deep dark secrets, but while the first two games see Isaac Clarke peripherally discovering what he can as he works his way toward escape, Dead Space 3 sees the protagonist, at gunpoint and predictably reluctant at first, set out on an expedition with the express and primary purpose of discovery, and it’s this about-face that makes this third entry feel so different.

If you’re looking for a game to make you cry and quake with fear Dead Space 3 will probably get you to first base. It’s not all that frightening and after the first eight chapters it doesn’t even try. But if you’re down for a more classic sci-fi adventure, complete with ample amounts of eye-rolling narrative leaps, you’re in for a good eight hours of gameplay.

However, for those of you who fall into the as yet unnamed third category of people who assume that when some lady gets her godamn eye shanked out of her face with a screwdriver she probably shouldn’t have that eye anymore – stay away from Dead Space 3 entirely. There’s nothing but pain for you here. Pain and one more eyeball than the amount of eyeballs you expected would be here ([x+1] + pain = Dead Space 3, where x = amount of presumed eyeballs in Dead Space 3, or, Dead Space 3 ≠ x, where x = literally anything in agreement with the reasonable expectation of individual eyeballs given the amount of eyeball related fisticuffs in previous entries of the pertaining franchise).

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely expected there to be some eyeballs in Dead Space 3. I even suspected there could be as many as a bunch of eyeballs in Dead Space 3. But I never in a million years could have dreamt that there would be one more eyeball than I ever in a million years could have dreamt that there would be eyeballs in Dead Space 3. I mean, I don’t want to get on a soap box here.

So anyway.

Dead Space 3 is plenty  entertaining and still packs the same slice-and-dice gunplay the first two entries in the series delivered, but when faced with the inevitable choice between sticking with a carbon copy of a tried and true formula only to get bashed for being stagnant or tweaking said formula to get something new and being bashed for dabbling with something that wasn’t broken Visceral Games chose the latter. There will certainly be critics of Visceral Games’ tweaking but they tried something new that plenty of gamers and fans can enjoy.

Plus one eyeball.

Isaac and some other weirdos - and ten out of nine understandably existent eyeballs.

Isaac and some other weirdos – and twelve out of eleven understandably existent eyeballs.