It?s crazy to think that?s it already been 10 years since the last Star Wars: Battlefront game came to home consoles. But when EA DICE?s relaunch of the series drops this holiday season, that?s exactly how long it will have been since Battlefront II released on the PS2, Xbox, PC, and PSP. In honor of the new Battlefront?s reveal at this year?s Star Wars Celebration convention, we decided to take a look back at the history of this beloved gaming brand.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Back in 2004, Star Wars? popularity was still riding high. We were mere months away from the release of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in theaters, and although Star Wars games had long been loved on PC (X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Jedi Knight), they were going through something of an upswing on consoles courtesy of three successful Rogue Squadron games on Nintendo systems and the Xbox/PC RPG Knights of the Old Republic.
LucasArts looked to continue its success on consoles, and they tapped a then-little-known developer named Pandemic to play around with the brand. The studio blended first- and third-person shooting with some standard conquest gameplay, which brought a whole new dimension to a Star Wars video game. Players were allowed to jump into different conflicts from the movie universe, while choosing from one of five classes within four factions. And thus, Star Wars: Battlefront was born for PS2, Xbox, and PC. Although the single-player component was a rather bare-bones experience?and poor AI held the title back at times?Pandemic was on to the start of something special when it came to Star Wars and multiplayer gaming.
Return of the Jedi
Only a year after the massive success of Star Wars: Battlefront, Pandemic took the criticism it had received to heart and not only fixed many of the issues that plagued the first game, but also built new modes on top of them that would come to define the series in 2005?s Battlefront II. The first of these was the addition of a revamped single-player campaign. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith had released earlier that year, and Pandemic crafted a narrative around a single, anonymous stormtrooper who served in the legendary 501st division, Vader?s Fist, and followed his exploits from the Clone Wars up to the infamous assault on Hoth that opened up The Empire Strikes Back.
While vehicles had been a part of the first game, Battlefront II added space battles to the mix, allowing for many of the iconic firefights that played out across the movies to be re-created on TV screens. It also featured seamless transitions where players could fly a ship into the hangar bay of an enemy vessel, deboard, and wreak havoc from the inside out. Playable characters received a big boost in the game as well?not only was a sixth class added to each faction, but iconic heroes, such as Luke Skywalker, could be utilized in battle if certain criteria were achieved. These ?Hero? characters were featured as NPCs in the first entry, but here, they had specific game modes built around them, and they could often change the tide of any battle if implemented properly by a smart player.
In only a year?s time, Pandemic had crafted what many still point to as the premier Star Wars experience in video games, thanks to the freedom it offered players during conflicts and its wide range of scenarios taken from the films.
Size matters not
With Battlefront II dominating on the home-console front, LucasArts decided to focus more on making the franchise portable, so they tapped PSP development experts Rebellion to make Renegade Squadron, which released in late 2007 as a PSP exclusive. Similar in many regards to its console brethren, Renegade Squadron limited itself to the original trilogy of Star Wars movies, following a group of ex-criminals turned Rebel operatives through some of the most harrowing black-ops missions during the battles of Yavin, Hoth, and Endor. While the single-player component lacked the depth of Battlefront II, it did introduce customizable characters to the series for the first time.
The mixed fan reaction to Renegade Squadron wouldn?t deter the mobile movement for the franchise. Star Wars Battlefront: Mobile Squadrons was developed by THQ Wireless and released in the beginning of 2009, but it met with minimal success?most likely due to the fact that it was an on-rails shooter that featured none of the gameplay Battlefront had come to represent.
Battlefront again returned to the PSP in 2009 with Elite Squadron?but this time it also hit the Nintendo DS, making it the first (and so far only) time a Battlefront game was released on a Nintendo system. N-Space, the folks behind the DS ports of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and World at War, handled the DS version, and Rebellion was again tasked with making the PSP iteration (which had a longer single-player campaign and more customization features). Elite Squadron saw a movement away from some of the multiplayer aspects that defined the series, but it also provided perhaps the deepest story mode to date, as players took control of a clone trooper who attempted to atone for the infamous Order 66.
A great disturbance in the Force
While LucasArts had seemingly shifted its focus with the franchise toward the mobile arena, this wasn?t actually the case. Free Radical Design, known for the TimeSplitters games, was actually hard at work on Star Wars: Battlefront III. Sometime in 2008, however, the plug was pulled. Several years later, Free Radical co-founder Steve Ellis put the blame on LucasArts for the project?s demise, while anonymous sources from LucasArts pointed the finger right back at Free Radical, claiming they?d regularly missed deadlines. During those squabbles, leaked videos and screens showcased what the project could?ve been, including footage of a ship taking off from a planet and joining a battle in space. At this point, LucasArts supposedly had begun working internally on Battlefront III themselves, but the studio went defunct before it could finish what it started.
While Battlefront III remained in limbo for years, former secondary SOCOM developer Slant Six Games was also reportedly working on another chapter in the series, Battlefront Online, with a scheduled 2011 release. The game was intended to feature only the online multiplayer components that made Battlefront so popular in the first place, but this project, too, was nixed once Slant Six missed its target release date. Many speculated that some of the purported Battlefront III leaks could actually have come from this game instead.
A new hope
It?s now been six years since we?ve seen a new Battlefront, and it?s fast approaching 10 since we?ve had one on a home console. After Disney purchased Star Wars and its related properties for $4 billion more than two years ago, however, new hope was instilled in this beloved series?and, more importantly, its fanbase. EA DICE, the multiplayer masterminds behind the Battlefield series, have been hard at work on the next Star Wars: Battlefront, and we know for sure that it?s a full-fledged reboot of the franchise.
Few solid details are currently available, but we do know the game will tie into Episode VII, and Hoth and Endor are playable maps. Rumors, however, have swirled for months. Some say the Hero system from Battlefront II will return; others claim the planetside-to-space battles we saw in leaked footage from Battlefront III will be incorporated. There?s speculation that we?ll see 64 people in multiplayer (32-on-32) and that the single-player campaign will span the entire Star Wars saga. Whatever the case, we know for sure that EA will separate fact from conjecture over the weekend at Star Wars Celebration, and we?ll have more reason than ever to believe that a new Battlefront is finally ready to redefine what had become a rather bleak timeline in the Star Wars universe.