Star Wars Battlefront Review

Star Wars Battlefront reminds me why I love Star Wars. Its skirmishes unfold across iconic planets, with gorgeous landscapes and sweeping vistas on a massive scale. Endor's trees dwarf us. Tatooine's desert stretches for miles. And when the battle music reaches its peak, and I glide over Hoth's frozen trenches, I'm right back in my childhood living room, watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time.

But Battlefront lacks the longevity that makes its source material great. It offers initial engagement, and for the first 10 hours, it swept me through its harrowing firefights at a rapid pace. But then the cracks began to show. In the end, Battlefront feels more like an homage to Star Wars than a substantial Star Wars game in itself.

And yet, what a beautiful homage this is: dynamic lighting, vivid textures, windswept forests--developer DICE has crafted a nuanced, detailed world begging for a closer look, enveloping you at every turn. Rain glistens on drooping leaves. Icy crystals extend from cavern walls. You can even see clouds of dust billow across Tatooine's arid scenery.

This is all stunning, of course, but it's Battlefront's sound design that truly reels you in. The ambient wildlife surrounds you and explosions carry through bunker walls, even as the pitter patter of rain strikes ferns in the wind. It speaks volumes that I considered turning the ubiquitous soundtrack off at times, just to hear the detail in Battlefront's world.Luke's force push is best used against groups.

Beneath all this grandeur, however, are shallow experiences. Maps look fantastic, yes, but they lack focused design. Endor's undergrowth lends cosmetic appeal, but not much cover. Hoth's barren fields impart a sense of distance, but few creative sight lines.

There are exceptions in some of Battlefront's locales, however--Tatooine's blend of exterior and interior environments, for instance, creates engaging battles from one match to the next. By darting into a nearby bunker, I avoided AT-ST fire. This also allowed me to flank a trio of enemy soldiers at a nearby capture point, and with a barrage of grenade launcher rounds, I cleared them out. Battlefront's best maps encourage these tactics across its various game modes.

And make no mistake, there's an abundance of game modes here. Star Wars Battlefront offers nine competitive variants, each of them distinct, for better or worse.

There's the spectacular Heroes vs. Villains, which plays out exactly how it sounds: as if a box of Star Wars action figures came to life and, unsure of what to do next, resorted to violence. There's Droid Run, a unique variation of zone control in which the zones shift locations throughout the match. And then there's Walker Assault.

Battlefront feels more like an homage to Star Wars than a substantial Star Wars game in itself.

This is Battlefront at its best. Walker Assault offers more emergent gameplay moments and, in contrast to much of the game's combat elsewhere, it lends the sense of a bigger objective. Imperials escort--and rebels attempt to destroy--AT-ATs as they march toward the base at the end of a path. That dichotomy between objectives means a different experience for both sides, and with numerous offensive and defensive options, battles unfold with surprising variety.

My favorite match took place on Endor. As a member of the Imperial team, I prioritized speed over anything else, sprinting along pathways toward Rebel uplink stations. If they captured enough of these, they would call more Y-wings in for bombing runs against our quadrupedal machine. So of course, I wanted to protect those stations.

But as the game progressed, and both sides adapted to the other's strategy, things changed. The Rebels made better use of their defensive turrets and whittled away at the AT-AT's health during bombing runs. So I began sniping from Ewok tree structures above the battle, focusing my aim on enemies operating laser turrets. In the end, we still lost--a well timed orbital strike brought our offensive juggernaut to its knees--but the battle remained engaging throughout. Walker Assault is the embodiment of innovative game modes.
This battle isn't canonical at all.

I also spent a lot of time with Survival, Battlefront's version of a wave-based cooperative option. And despite this idea being beaten to death in the last two console generations, Survival offers a welcome respite from Battlefront's competitive modes. Working with one other teammate against Stormtroopers, AT-STs, Imperial probe droids, as we collect power-ups through Hoth's Rebel base, or Sullust's hangar bay, grants a compelling teamwork experience.

However, just as many of Battlefront's modes feel uninspired, or even poorly designed. Blast and Cargo are slight variations on team deathmatch and capture the flag, respectively, and are only exciting for several matches. After that, I had seen what felt like every possible scenario take place. Hero Hunt--in which a team of soldiers hunts down a Jedi, Sith, or bounty hunter--is imbalanced to the point of being frustrating. I grew tired of firing endless blaster rounds at Boba Fett right before he killed me with a wrist rocket--over, and over, and over. Battlefront has a depth of game modes, but only a few have much depth.

Every so often, outlandish events bring life to proceedings. There are cases when Luke Skywalker cuts through an AT-ST, or an errant rocket collides with an unlucky TIE Fighter. I've seen Emperor Palpatine corkscrew into a group of Rebels. I also watched a crafty Rebel heave a grenade at an AT-ST as she jetpack jumped over it. I was too amazed to even shoot her. Battlefront excels when it places me in this Star Wars fantasy world, where Leia squares off with Darth Vader, or Han Solo shoulder charges a low-flying TIE Interceptor.

If nothing else, Star Wars Battlefront is an exercise in pure spectacle, laid out in all of its neon glory.

But these moments don't feel as novel after Battlefront's early hours. This traces back to one root cause: Battlefront's combat can be monotonous. By and large, it consists of medium range gunfights where opponents hold the trigger for two seconds and hope they're the one left standing. Getting shot from a distance, on the other hand, often meant sprinting in another direction, rather than seeking nearby cover and planning a counterattack. There's not much thought in modes outside of Walker Assault, and I seldom felt as if I was impacting battles, or as if my skill played any wider purpose.

Vehicle combat, however, does offer some variety. Although X-Wings, snowspeeders, TIE Interceptors and the Millennium Falcon all feel great, with intuitive controls and fluid maneuvers, they don't always play a huge part in combat. Airborne vehicles fly too fast over maps that are too small in comparison, so strafing runs are often futile. However, snowspeeders are essential in Walker Assault, as their tow cables can bring down the four-legged behemoths if used right. AT-STs can also turn the tide at crucial capture points across larger maps. I wish more vehicles followed suit.
Fighter Squadron is an entirely vehicle-based mode.

In a further attempt to encourage extended playtime, DICE does implement a progression system in its multiplayer, with everything from character skins to blaster variations, ion grenades to homing missile launchers. Some grenades do more damage to vehicles, while certain sniper rifles fire more accurate shots.

Aside from a few standout items such as the jump jet--which lets you leap across the map and into the fray--these unlocks don't change how you play in the long run. Trait cards, which grant you perks like radar masking or explosive damage resistance, are the most valuable options, and acquiring them felt worthwhile.They changed how I thought about my equipment loadouts: how they played into the current game mode, how they would help me in the long run, and how I might consider maps in a different way. Approaching Trait cards in the progression list offered me more incentive to play. They're gems in an otherwise bland array of abilities.

If nothing else, Star Wars Battlefront is an exercise in pure spectacle, laid out in all of its neon glory. I can't help but smile when the Boba Fett guns down three fighters in a row from his Slave I ship, or a snowspeeder careens past with flames trailing in its wake. The first 10 hours are packed with these moments, and it's worth playing just to watch them unfold.

But Battlefront doesn't go much deeper than its ambitious surface appeal. It front loads its best content, only to fade in quality as the hours roll by. Star Wars Battlefront's skin is beautiful, but its legs are shaking, and threaten to buckle with time.

Read Only Memories Review

What does it mean to be human? It’s among the most universal questions our species can ask. As a genre, cyberpunk exists to examine such an existential quandary. It challenges us to look at ourselves and seek answers to that which is the most fundamental to the human condition. From that perspective, Read Only Memories is a resounding success.

Outwardly, ROM is a neatly arranged, stylish adventure game that looks like it could have been released 20 years ago. It opens with a short, expository introduction, and a quiet, run-down room to explore. That modest preface quickly leads into a grim story about poverty, the underclasses of society, and a lonely, ambiguously gendered robot looking for their creator.

The robot, Turing, is the first fully sapient artificial being in history. As he begins to explore and understand his own existence, Turing comes to question his gender identity, and weighs the value of his own desires against those of his missing creator. After his “father’s” disappearance, Turing seeks you, an old colleague, hoping you can help Turing piece together what happened. And so begins an off-the-books investigation trying to find your old friend and Turing’s creator, Hayden. From there, ROM twists itself into a socially progressive neo-noir story.

Within the game’s mid-21st century setting exists several technological singularities--points of such extraordinary progress that they redefine humanity’s relationship to everything, especially itself. In ROM’s case, procedures like gene splicing are common. It’s normal to see a literal cat-person in a bar. That, plus the creation of Turing as a self-aware artificial intelligence, would be enough to test the conventions of any society, and Neo-San Francisco is no different.What Cyberpunk game would be complete without a rave?

This is a city brought to the brink by years of social upheaval and economic problems. Its citizens are divided among multiple rigid lines including degree of genetic or technological augmentation. And it’s here, in the descriptions of people and settings that ROM shines brightest.

Wielding the 16-bit aesthetic of games like Snatcher and Syndicate with finesse, ROM melds stellar writing and a world populated by expressive and vibrant characters. Small bots scoot around gathering trash, while a confident smirk from your “contact” at a bar betrays their true motives. The same degree of care and pride has gone into dialogue. Verbal exchanges range from succinct and witty to circuitous and delicate. Taken together, they give Neo-San Francisco a great level of depth. No one is without motivations; no one is static either. Dynamic characters will push and pull in response to their circumstances. ROM’s foundation in the struggles of its characters, particularly Turing, creates a stable of believable personalities.

Instead of cobbling together some nonsensical Rube Goldberg machine, as you might in Tales of Monkey Island, I simply found a brick and threw it.

As soon as you're introduced, Turing brims with emotive dynamism. Set against the gorgeous pixel-art backgrounds, Turing stands out. Where every other main character has perhaps three broad emotions they convey, Turing has a dozen. While every character is responsive, Turing is unique in that, again, he's the first fully sapient machine, and the one who, above all others, is the most expressively "human." It's a trait that brings Turing in line with other classic bots like Star Trek's Data, Futurama's Bender, or the Replicants in Blade Runner. That, combined with the narrative conceit of gender politics (more on that later), sends a powerful message about expanding the boundaries of who we grant personhood to.
Turing's expressiveness helps sell ROMs themes of acceptance and tolerance beautifully.

ROM takes that theme a step further by weaving in a strident theme of universal humanity and deference--regardless of appearance or circumstance. Turing’s responsiveness makes that association stronger, so as different pronouns start getting thrown around, it becomes harder and harder to ignore their preference. For all narrative purposes, Turing is a companion, your equal.

As your investigation progresses, you’ll see more and more folks that defy gender and identity norms. Some are women with a moustache and a goatee, others are ambiguous, and some are literally human-animal hybrids. That may well be a weird concept to us, especially when ROM discusses the mass discrimination against these hybrids, but it’s a clear metaphor for anyone who modifies their body in the real world. ROM, in not-so-subtle terms, suggests that some people need to alter their appearance to feel comfortable in their own skin. It also teaches you that looks alone can't tell you everything there is to know about a person; a snapshot of a person doesn't reveal the extent of their thoughts and experiences. Through effective writing and characterization, ROM illustrates how important the basic right of agency over one's appearance is, and why a person's story doesn't begin and end with that choice alone.

Dynamic characters will push and pull in response to their circumstances. ROM’s foundation in the struggles of its characters, particularly Turing, creates a stable of believable personalities.

Because ROM is styled after point-and-click noir adventure games, play is simple. You and Turing investigate scenes for clues, click on objects, sorting through flavor text, and piecing together what happened. Puzzles are far less obtuse than what many long-time adventure games fans might be used to, however, and that's a welcome change. At one point, I needed to disperse a crowd of protestors to meet with someone at a gene splicing facility. Instead of cobbling together some nonsensical Rube Goldberg machine, as you might in Tales of Monkey Island, I simply found a brick and threw it. Some time later, when I needed information from someone at a bar, I overheard them saying they wanted a fruity drink. So, I ordered an appletini and they started talking.ROM's writing is referential and sometimes corny, but it's a worthy embodiment of its many inspirations and comes off more as a well-made homage than anything else.

It's not deep in any sense of the word, but it ties actions to the plot well enough. The flavor text is, like much of the writing, excellent, and it creates a feeling of genuine exploration through each scene. Occasionally, you'll also hit a mini-game. In one instance you'll have to take control of traffic lights to keep a car from escaping. These puzzles are a bit more challenging and help ratchet up tension during some acts. ROM's only sin is that sometimes it drags plotlines on a bit too long, or bogs them down with unnecessary tasks.

How we define "human," and who we accept as part of a larger "us" is ROM's greatest question. The complexities of in-groups and out-groups mean that the politics of ROM's themes are inescapable. Horrible atrocities that one group of people enacts on another are often associated with de-humanization, with taking on a group of people and dismissing them as less than human. In the face of a world and a society that is still struggling to accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender people, ROM clearly says that if you can relate to a pretend gender-fluid robot, you can relate and connect with anyone. It's a bold, declarative statement backed with aesthetic skill on nearly every front. ROM is a resounding success and one of the most affecting adventures I've ever had.

Game of Thrones: Episode Six — The Ice Dragon Review

The finale of Telltale's Game of Thrones series finally takes into account the choices you've made in the past five episodes. There have been tough decisions aplenty since Episode One's launch last December, although they never quite felt as though they were connected to something more meaningful down the line. When interrogated, did you tell Cersei what she wanted to hear? Or maybe you sided with Margaery? Were you honest with Daenerys Targaryen? And did you brazenly stand up to the Whitehills, or did you bend the knee and bide your time?

In Episode Six, The Ice Dragon, it's time to pay the piper and suffer the consequences of all these choices. And although this episode leans a little too heavily on some odd elements that feel out of character for the Game of Thrones universe, the climax of the Forresters' story brews a perfect mix of anxiety, heartbreak, and a smidge of genuine horror.

We open on our scattered heroes in their direst hour. Gared, with Sylvi and a wounded Cotter in tow, finally finds the North Grove, and it's nothing like he imagined. Mira is straddling the line between continuing the fight to save her family and abandoning the endeavor to save herself from disgrace and other awful punishments. Back at Ironrath, the remaining Forresters are rallying for a showdown against the Whitehills but are struggling to find a way to beat them without endangering their captive little brother, Ryon

Look at this bear!

It's apparent the moment the episode opens that the end is nigh for our friends in House Forrester, and that everything you've made them do in the name of the family will come down to one final struggle. Depending on the choices you've had each individual character make, Episode Six is either a perilous minefield of ugly choices, or it offers more breathing room for you to manipulate circumstances in your favor. For example, Mira's tale of currying favor and keeping her loyalties finally comes to its heartbreaking head; if you've stood by Margaery she may stand by you too, but Sera is another story. Being a good friend could cost you your own safety--or your honesty and openness could win you a strong ally. Where her story goes is entirely dependent on how you've had Mira play the social circles in King's Landing, and the tiniest decisions she's made in the past can either come back to bite her or save her skin.

The same is true for all other members of House Forrester as our journey with them comes to a close. A major decision you had to make at the end of the previous episode completely alters the chain of events for the finale. Depending on that choice, you'll have a different set of options for staving off the Whitehills' invasion of Ironrath, down to the place, time, and allies you have when the final conflict starts. These diverging paths result in two entirely different episodes--one more focused on stealth and cunning, the other a little more tailored to brute-forcing your way--and it's worth going back and playing twice to see how both decisions play out.
Someone's overcompensating...

In fact, if you're one of those players who needs to replay narrative-driven games to see all possible outcomes, The Ice Dragon may give you a headache. In addition to the two differing experiences dictated by the final moment of Episode Five, there are at least a dozen different branching routes to get to the end of the episode. I played through the episode four separate times, taking several stops to rewind to specific moments to see things unfold differently. It's a lot to unpack, and having so much variety in the finale has allowed the series--which has had its highs and disappointing lows--to end on a deeply emotionally note.

Without getting into spoilers, here's just a small description of how deep the rabbit hole of decision goes in The Ice Dragon: Depending on who is in charge at Ironrath, your plan of attack against the Whitehills changes. On several occasions, you're tempted to call off your plans. And if you do, you could endanger someone dear to you. But if you stick to the plan, you may lose someone else. And even if everything goes according to the plan, there's still the chance that something you've done episodes prior will result in something terrible happening to someone else. It's a nasty web of tension and grief that grants the series its perfect tragic ending, in true Game of Thrones style.
Mistakes were made.

In other instances, small, seemingly unimportant decisions made at the beginning of the episodes can mean life and death for others, or whether or not you get your way. Being cocky to a potential new ally could cost you their respect. Allowing someone you love to stay near the front lines of battle could result in a terrible end of them later--and if you sent them away beforehand, they may be angry, but at least they'll be safe. It's a delicate balancing act, and the tension these decisions create has a lasting effect This episode is very good at making you second-guess yourself.

There are also some terribly gross moments that, in typical Telltale fashion, you'll be pressing buttons to complete yourself. If you thought helping Clementine stitch up her own arm was terrible, The Ice Dragon presents a particularly gruesome situation that trumps DIY stitches by miles. It's a gut-wrenching moment on both an emotional and physical level, and you never see it coming.

This episode's unpredictability is a first for Telltale's series. In previous episodes, you always had at least some sense of where things were going. You had a feeling Mira would have to choose between Tyrion and Cersei, and Margaery would be mad either way. You knew Asher would screw up his mission for Daenerys. You saw Talia's descent into a vengeful young woman coming. But The Ice Dragon throws no fewer than three plot twists at you, and it does so in moments that catch you entirely off guard. They are well-placed and well-executed, making the finale the most uneasy and traumatic episode in the series.

Like episodes before it, The Ice Dragon treads ground familiar to those who watch Game of Thrones. We go to The Wall and to King's Landing, see Ramsay Bolton's cruelty and Cersei Lannister's cunning firsthand. We meet Wildlings and the Night's Watch, pit fighters and slave traders. We see all these things in the source material; they all appear in the stories of the Starks. In the game, it felt as though we were watching the same story played out with a different cast. But Telltale's Game of Thrones takes some surprising turns in its later episodes, and although the Forresters' tale isn't as grand as the Starks', it does capture the desperation of one family to protect their honor and each other, no matter what the cost.Keeping my fingers crossed for the Beskha/Rodrick buddy cop spin-off.

However, The Ice Dragon introduces more magical elements into the series--elements that feel like they would be more at home in Harry Potter than Game of Thrones. They feel a little too deus ex machina, and just a tad too fantastical to not roll your eyes at. I recognize that Game of Thrones contains its fair share of the eerie, including snow zombies and women birthing shadow creatures, but the show never presents the supernatural as something that's just hanging around waiting to be utilized. There are no overt magic spells or magical people, and their presentation has always been spooky rather than spectacle. But in Telltale's game, the circumstances and characters connected to these elements are shocking and a little sad, but the magic bits feel so out of place it's hard to invest in that part of the plot.

In the end, Telltale's Game of Thrones succeeds in telling a violent, sad story that feels very much at home in the world of Westeros. By the finale, the danger feels real and your choices feel like they have mattered. At times the episodes pass over ground well-trodden by the original series and the game feels more like an adaptation of the source material than a standalone story, but the introduction of several unpredictable plot twists makes up for the predictability of its earlier episodes. Telltale's Game of Thrones delivers grand battles and unavoidable heartbreak, and despite some out-of-place or overused elements from the source material, it's a journey in Westeros worth having.