You’ve probably seen the Star Wars Battlefront commercial that preceded the game’s release last month. A thirty-something office drone gazes longingly at a beat-up R2-D2 action figure. He sighs, remembering his childhood: using a flashlight as a lightsaber, trick-or-treating as Darth Vader and Chewbacca, countless hours spent recreating the Star Wars movies with some paper and a box of crayons.
It’s a great ad, and it supports the message that the Star Wars Battlefront team has been pushing since the game made its first real appearance last spring: that it “allow[s] players to live out some of their most memorable Star Wars battle fantasies.” Put your cynicism aside. Forget about the prequels or the shoddy spin-off novels. Star Wars Battlefront is going to make you feel like a kid again.
That’s a powerful message. It’s also a lie.
Battlefront’s big hook is its massive online battles, in which 40 players duke it out across some of Star Wars’ most iconic locations. With that many people involved, there’s only one way to keep things fair: every player is the same, and nobody’s the hero. In Battlefront, you play as Rebel cannon-fodder or a cog in the Imperial Empire. You’re not special, even when you do briefly get to play as Luke Skywalker or Emperor Palpatine. You die a lot in Battlefront, and everyone’s expendable.
That might be standard for military shooters, but as one interviewer noted, “That’s not really Star Wars.” In response, a developer laughed. “Actually, if you’re a Storm Trooper, it very much is,” he said.
That’s Battlefront’s problem in a nutshell. Seriously, who the hell wants to be a Storm Trooper?
Star Wars isn’t about the grunts. It’s about larger-than-life heroes. George Lucas famously based the Star Wars movies on Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” template, or as it’s more commonly known, the heroic journey. According to Campbell, every story ever told follows the same pattern: an individual receives a call to duty, embarks on an adventure, survives a crisis, and returns to where he (or she) started, irrevocably changed.
The hero’s journey is an intensely personal story pattern, and one that plays out in Star Wars again and again. Luke Skywalker starts as a naïve farm boy, but grows into an unstoppable space-wizard. Han Solo stares death in the face and learns that life’s better when he cares about more than himself. Darth Vader, the ultimate bad guy, rejects evil, kills his oppressive master, and saves the galaxy. By sidelining the heroes, Battlefront neuters the Star Wars experience.
That’s why I say thank Yoda for Disney Infinity 3.0.
BUY THE TOYS, BE THE HERO
Disney Infinity is Disney’s popular game series in the “toys-to-life” genre/money-making scheme, where physical toys and figures tie in with digital games and print money for companies like Disney, Nintendo (whose “amiibo” figures inspire fanatical collectors) and Call of Duty, Guitar Hero and Destiny publisher Activision, for whom toys-to-life behemoth Skylanders is a tentpole franchise.
The latest edition of Disney Infinity—which adds Star Wars characters and locations to the mix—is the best yet. It’s all about the heroes, who are represented by real-life action figures. You simply grab a Disney Infinity figurine and plop it on a plastic stand and that character will appear on-screen, ready to play. At its best, Disney Infinity makes you feel like being a kid playing with toys because you’re literally playing with toys. It’s a gimmick, but it works.
And, unlike Battlefront, Disney Infinity 3.0 makes sure you’re the center of the action. Play as Luke and mow through a universe’s worth of villains with a lightsaber (Ninja Theory, the studio behind action games like DmC: Devil May Cry, Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, designed Disney Infinity’s combat). Jetpack around Tatooine’s vast deserts as Boba Fett. Play as Darth Vader and force-choke the life out of Rebel scum.
Disney Infinity isn’t just a Star Wars game, either. It has Marvel and Pixar and classic Disney, too. Want to team up Han Solo and Buzz Lightyear? Go ahead. Wondering who would win if Darth Maul fought the Hulk? Throw ‘em together and find out.
It gets better. What sets Star Wars apart from other science fiction movies isn’t its story, it’s George Lucas’s seductive world—a sprawling galaxy that feels gritty, lived in and limitless. Star Wars’ real power isn’t in what’s on-screen; it’s the infinite number of adventures that unfold once the camera pans away.
As an outlet for imagination (childish or otherwise), Disney Infinity 3.0 shines. While the game ships with a number of pre-made levels, its showcase mode is the “Toy Box,” a user-friendly game creation tool (think Super Mario Maker, but in three dimensions). Disney Infinity 3.0 has only been out for a few months, but the servers are already full of brand new, fan-made Star Wars adventures. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for elaborate Jedi training academies, undercover Rebel missions, or even Star Wars-inspired racing games. Disney Infinity hosts them all.
Infinity isn’t perfect. The figures are expensive, and unlocking everything the game has to offer requires a small fortune. Infinity’s art style is cartoony, which will put off some older players. The game has no online multiplayer, and the pre-made kid-friendly levels won’t be very challenging for experienced players.
And it’s not like Star Wars Battlefront is a bad game. Visually, Battlefront excels. Many of its 3D models are pixel-perfect renderings of Star Wars’ original props, painstakingly recreated from photographs. The sound is killer. At its best moments, playing Star Wars Battlefront really does feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of a civil war in a galaxy far, far way.
But that illusion is fleeting, and most of Battlefront’s action is a bloody, militaristic grind. It’s a fun game, but with its slavish dedication to realism it misses what makes Star Wars truly special.
If you want a war game with a Star Wars skin, by all means, pick up Battlefront. On that front, it delivers. But if you want to feel like a hero; if you want to let your imagination go wild; if you really want to feel like a kid again? Pick up Disney Infinity instead.
Christopher Gates is a writer and video game critic from Los Angeles, CA. In his spare time, he watches too much baseball, reads too many comics, and drinks too much beer. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisWGates.
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