As of last week, the original Star Wars: Battlefront is now available on Steam and GOG.com. It's even discounted 15 percent, bringing the $9.99 asking price down to $8.49. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has been available on Steam for some time now, but now both games are on Steam and GOG.com.
There's a fervent community that still plays both titles, with helpful guides to help players get online and a host of mods to add maps, characters, and more. There's some argument whether Battlefront or Battlefront 2 is the better overall game, but both were an excellent time back in the early 2000's. If you're willing to jump back to an older graphic style, you get to experience Pandemic Studios' ode to combat in a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars: Battlefront set itself apart from its peers in 2004 by featuring huge pitched conflicts in the Star Wars universe. In the first entry, up to 32 players could jump into online ground battles. While you started on foot, as a soldier for the Rebellion, Empire, Republic, or Separatist Army, you could also take command of turrets and vehicles to help your side. Players could explore different sides of conflict as the nameless statistics, based on battles shown on screen in the first two Star Wars trilogies. It worked because you almost felt like you were there; the ability to walk the battlefield and directly commandeer vehicles rooted you in that experience. The maps were vast, not only correctly reflecting the Star Wars location, but also providing hot spots of activity.
Pandemic Studios returned only a year later with Star Wars: Battlefront 2. It doubled the maximum online player count to 64 players. Iconic Star Wars heroes and villains, who were non-playable in the first game, became controllable combatants if you had enough points. And space battles became a part of the game loop, allowing you to move from space dogfighting to starship boarding actions seamlessly. It's frankly fantastic.
Sadly, Pandemic Studios is now defunct and this older style of Star Wars: Battlefront is dead alongside it. The modern Star Wars: Battlefront titles do provide some aspects of the older experience, like buying different units based on your point totals and the named heroes, but it also misses parts. For example, in the Star Wars: Battlefront reboot by EA DICE, vehicles were special tokens you find on the map; pick one up and you'd be teleported into an X-Wing or TIE Fighter. Large vehicles like the AT-AT walker only allowed you to control their guns, staying locked on rails.
In 2017's Battlefront 2, vehicles have simply been folded in as alternate unit types you can purchase upon spawn; get enough points and you can spawn in as a Droid Fighter. EA's sequel also added space battles via the Starfighter Assault mode, but it loses the ability to board ships on foot.
The modern Battlefront and Battlefront 2 have concepts that are similar to their older counterparts, but far more walls have been added to the experience. There's no way to transition from being on foot as a B1 Battle Droid in Naboo's streets, over to an AAT-1 hover tank, and then back to a droid, as you kill your way across the battlefield. Instead, you play as the droid until you die, hopefully accumulating enough points that you can respawn as the tank. And depending on which phase of assault, you're on, the tank isn't even a viable choice. The lack of separate layers is key to making the original Battlefront and Battlefront 2 work. Each map felt like one big battlefield because there were fewer menus between you and actually fighting the war.
The primary issue with EA's Battlefront games feels like one of fidelity. As you move upwards in presentation, I find that the experience can become more narrow at times. The modern Battlefront games have to provide detailed models of Star Wars soldiers, vehicles, and ships, backed by the digitally-perfect sounds straight from the Lucasfilm archives. Naboo has to have the architecture, canals, and ground cover to feel like the real Naboo. Tadokana has to not only cover Maz Kanata's castle, but also the surrounding jungle, in high fidelity that could be used for an animated Star Wars series. (The games look better than Star Wars: Resistance, to be honest.)
As fidelity and presentation improve, more work has to go into making less. Taking the change in certain Western RPGs from the PlayStation 2/Xbox generation to the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360. Player choices in terms of dialogue narrow, because that dialog has to be spoken by voice actors. Dialogue trees (and consequences) became smaller and less complex to accommodate the improved presentation.
The same is true of the Battlefront games. As the fidelity ramps up, the developers have to work harder on each digital square foot. You get more detailed, but smaller overall maps. Combat has to shift to account for loading in bigger digital assets. I'd hazard EA DICE wants to offer ship boarding, but it wasn't technically feasible; the closest the studio has gotten is the new Capital Supremacy mode, which offers different ground and space-based phases. Again, additional layers diminish the experience.
For its time, Star Wars: Battlefront presents an amazing and unique version of being shoved under the helmet of a basic Stormtrooper or Rebellion grunt. The reboot franchise is fine, but I find myself picking up each one hoping that it can bring the feeling I had when I played Star Wars: Battlefront 2 for the first time back in 2005. I understand that's a bit of a fool's errand, as EA DICE has to keep up with the visual prowess mainstream players have come to expect. That said, Battlefield 5's vehicle system is a compromise between the spawning system and something that makes vehicles feel like an actual part of combat-vehicles spawn, but you can get in and out of them for repairs and other actions. This shows incremental progress on DICE's part; maybe by time Battlefront 3 rolls around, we'll reach a proper war simulation of these fictional wars.