ANAHEIM, Calif. » The Force isn’t merely awakening on the big screen. It’s also returning to the video game realm.
"Star Wars: Battlefront" publisher Electronic Arts and Swedish developer DICE showcased their next-generation rendition of the "Star Wars" multiplayer shooter Friday at Star Wars Celebration, the annual fan extravaganza celebrating the sci-fi franchise.
The new iteration of "Battlefront" takes place amid the conflicts of the original film trilogy and is scheduled for release Nov. 17 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PCs.
"Battlefront" will focus on frenzied shoot-outs between up to 40 players portraying Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire forces. In a demonstration of the game’s multiplayer mode, a team of jetpack-equipped rebels were shown carving their way through the woodsy Endor while Stormtroopers charged at them on foot, on speeders and within walkers, including a hulking AT-AT war machine.
Other locales teased in game footage included the snowy Hoth, sandy Tatooine and gooey Sullust, a lava-spewing planet referenced in 1983’s "Return of the Jedi," as well as many "Star Wars" games and novels, but rarely ever seen. "Battlefront" won’t solely be centered on expendable ground troops. The game will reward sharpshooters with the ability to embody such iconic characters as bounty hunter Boba Fett and Sith baddie Darth Vader on the battlefield.
"You can storm in as the Dark Lord himself," said "Battlefront" design director Niklas Fegraeus. "You can wield a lightsaber. You can Force choke the rebel scum, which is fun. Basically, you are the boss of the battle. This means that you, as Vader, can lead your team to victory — if you play well."
The action will also take to the skies with players engaging in dogfights with TIE Fighters, X-wings and the Millennium Falcon, though the developers were coy about how battles would alternate between ground and air combat.
"We wanted it to feel authentic to this universe," said "Battlefront" executive producer Patrick Bach. "You can get into these vehicles, from speeder bikes to X-wings, TIE fighters, AT-STs, AT-ATs. There’s a wide range of vehicles that we wanted to realize. The difficulty with a game is that they need to be balanced with the troops on the ground."
"Battlefront" will also include a free downloadable level available two weeks before "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens in theaters Dec. 18. It’s set on Jakku, the battle-scarred desert planet glimpsed in "Force Awakens" teasers. The expansion, dubbed "Battle of Jakku," will explore the moment following "Return of the Jedi" when the New Republic confronted Imperial holdouts on the previously unseen Outer Rim enclave.
"You never get to see it in the new movie, so it was this brilliant opportunity to recreate the Battle of Jakku, which you only see the remnants of in the movie," said Bach. "In the game, you actually get to play the Battle of Jakku. It’s the same place from the new movie but 30 years earlier."
The original "Battlefront" was released in 2005 by publisher LucasArts and developer Pandemic Studios. It dispensed with traditional "Star Wars" storytelling in favor of shoot-’em-up action.
The forthcoming "Battlefront," which was first teased at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2013, marks the first title in a 10-year deal between the Walt Disney Co. and Electronic Arts Inc. to create new "Star Wars" games.
"We didn’t want this to be a normal licensing relationship," said LucasArts digital business vice president Ada Duan at Celebration. "We didn’t want them to just make movie games. We wanted a deep partnership to create brand-new experiences."