When I came across the first rebel soldier, I decided to go for a silent takedown. That surely just makes them unconscious, I thought. I would not feel good at all about hurting rebels on my escape from a prison cell, as they are normally fighting alongside Luke and Leia against the Empire. The sound of breaking bones informed me that a silent takedown does not mean unconsciousness. There it was. I had killed my first rebel. This really did not feel good.
I cautiously made my way around some troops that were listening to Admiral Ackbar. I knew that speech. It was the one before the rebels started their attack on the second Death Star. It was obvious that I was not fighting alongside the good guys this time. There and then, I was a Special Forces soldier from the Empire fleeing from her prison cell.
I reached a door that needed some slicing from my trusty drone. It is a cute drone and I have previously steered it halfway around the ship to free the imperial Special Forces soldier Iden Versio. Iden is the stereotype of a soldier. A combination of Pvt. Vasquez from Aliens and Aeryn Sun from Farscape. Iden is just a badass, and she kills rebels for a living.
The door had opened and I spotted 4 rebels. It just did not feel right to kill them in cold blood. Could I silently walk around them, or maybe just outrun them? The next thing I saw were the words “Iden Vario is defeated”, and those rebels had shot my ingame character to pieces. Okay, those rebels were serious and I had to save Iden and her cute drone. I felt dirty because this went against everything I had learned during the 25 years I had been watching Star Wars. I took a deep breath, and then rushed into the room for a second time; this time with guns blazing and stone cold precision shots.
Less than 10 minutes later, and with more than fifty dead rebels on my conscience, I left the ship through an airlock. I had done it. I had saved Iden Versio from the hand of the rebels. However, it all felt so wrong and unsettling.
This mission does what Star Wars as a saga has not yet tried to do: it tells the story of the war between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire from the other side. In Battlefront II, the first three missions throw you into familiar locations from “The Return of the Jedi”. You fight and kill rebels all through the mission for the good of the Empire. You learn that soldiers of the Empire follow an honor codex, adhere to efficiency and have a sense of humor. The military in the Empire works like any other military does. It has a strict hierarchy and soldiers follow orders without question.
When you stand on Endor and watch the Death Star explode, you really start to wonder how the other side in that war might have felt. You see your squad of Special Forces troops stare in disbelief at the exploding Death Star. However, to my surprise, they do not despair upon this view but discuss the incompetence that could lead to something like this happening for a second time. No tears and no drama, but just professional observation.
The first 3 missions take about 40 minutes and feel like the movie that has been missing in the Star Wars universe for a long time. A missing piece in which the war can be seen from the other side. The story is believable, tight and extremely well-acted. The game world is photo realistic and everything in it oozes old school Star Wars. Both the movement and shooting of the characters is fluid. Being on the “wrong” side of the story is exhilarating, thrilling and, to my shame, fun to play.
Sadly, the game does not go along with the side of the Empire. Starting with mission 5, you find yourself defecting and joining the Rebel Alliance. This does not mean the story gets bad, but it does turn into what you would expect from a generic Star Wars plot. It is the usual shooting of bad guys in white storm trooper uniforms, before doing something heroic to save the galaxy. It seems that, somewhere along the way, the writers became scared of their own bravery.
However, the writers did include another memorable mission before turning your imperial Special Forces troop into yet another rebel squad. In mission 4, they offer a Star Wars interpretation of Enemy Mine. The concept of Enemy Mine is simple: two enemies are stuck in a place that will kill them both if they do not work together. In this Battlefront II mission, Luke Skywalker and one of the imperial Special Forces soldiers, Del, are stuck on the planet Pillio. There, they have to fight against the indigenous lifeforms. While the gameplay is just a defense horde mode, the conversations between Skywalker and Del are interesting, going back and forth with no clear winner.
The first 4 missions of the Star Wars Battlefront II campaign were unexpected in many ways. They deserve praise for what they achieve from a story-telling point of view. Moreover, they deserve to be played for the unsettling feeling they induce in long-term Star Wars fans. This small part of the 8-hour long Battlefront II campaign (main campaign & resurrection missions) shows what a polished modern single-player game in the Star Wars universe could look like. With that, it provides something important for the future of Star Wars games: Hope