Hands-On With The ‘Star Wars Battlefront X-Wing VR Mission’ From The Creators of ‘Burnout’

by Sharon Coone • December 2nd, 2016

I have a difficult time describing Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission as anything but embarrassingly indulgent.

The PlayStation VR experience opens to a simple menu screen invaded by the descending foot of a massive AT-AT walker. The moment pushes me to crane my neck upward, using the replica to inform users to the magnitude of the space. I watch it slowly tread behind the ‘Settings’ menu option and stomp off into the distance. I start to realize that I’m watching a menu screen far longer than a normal person should.

I hold a button to begin, and the white space is filled with an X-wing. My own X-wing, I gather, by the friendly R2 unit rolling around underneath, beeping and twirling with familiarity. I’m able to teleport to various vantage points around the garage, a feature meant entirely to engorge me in every architectural accuracy and storied ding of the ship. Again, I become awkwardly self aware. I’ve been ogling virtual metal for an objectively strange amount of time.

Perhaps the X-wing VR mission is best measured by how much shameless time I spent silently staring at it. Its vehicles and dogfights are a captivating blend of authenticity and fantasy.

“That is kind of Star Wars,” Criterion art director Kieran Crimmins tells me as I recount my experience to him. “There’s nothing hard to watch in Star Wars.”

“It is this kind of roller coaster ride of spectacle,” adds Criterion designer, John Stanley.

Criterion flourishes in this enchanting space between realism and enjoyment. Their past titles, including Need for Speed and the Burnout series, turn cars into arcade-like experiences they hope will be easy to pick up but difficult to master.

“Criterion are known for doing spectacular vehicle experiences,” says Stanley, “and you definitely don’t get more spectacular than an X-wing.”

Soon it’s time to hop into the cockpit, my R2 loads into the ship exterior just behind me, per protocol. I’m wearing the standard pilot garb and admiring a detailed arrangement of buttons and gauges, able to carelessly fumble with panel controls for the targeting computer and blaster configuration. A push of a button, and I’m in space. The R2 squeaks incoherently, but my character answers in just a way that both translates and responds, and I smile at the familiarity of the series’ dialogue pattern. The robot seems to be confidently doubting my piloting — the droid sass is also familiar.

I’m staring again, this time without care, for ages out of my cockpit as I glide towards my flight team. There’s no inaccessible angle, so I lift myself to peek over the edge of my fighter for a better view at a nearby galaxy. The distant stars and planets aren’t as visually crisp as the exceptional ship interior, but they surround me in a way that only virtual reality can.

star-wars-battlefront-vr-key-art-1024x411

The galaxy seems to care about its resolution as little as I do, because the backdrop never struggles to immerse me given the ships in my vicinity. Rebel allies crowd me with X-wings and runners identical to their canon counterparts. In fact, Criterion collaborated so closely with LucasArts that this VR mission is now an official entry in the Star Wars lore, they’ve told me.

Unsurprisingly, the rebels need a small unit of ships to respond to a distress call in Imperial territory. Nobody seems to mind that I’m ceaselessly circling our fleet during the briefing, busy acclimating myself to the simple control scheme. The left stick controls throttle, the right is used for direction. The DualShock’s triggers are relegated to my shields and attacks. Best of all, I am my own camera control. First-person flight’s usual chaos, I found, melts away when you can easily watch it unfold around you.

We warp into an asteroid field and search for our objective, blasting a path through small debris and smoothly weaving through larger rocks with little maneuvering resistance. My charmingly voice-acted teammates banter and poke fun at the inexperience of my character, who’s designed to parallel the player’s own amateur state.

After convening with the target U-wing, a new ship introduced with the Rogue One film, a flock of enemy TIE fighters appear, howling in the distance, to kick off a dogfight at the perfect time. Criterion paces the X-wing Mission carefully, layering experiences in a way that will welcome fresh VR players. I had learned to observe thanks to the walker at the main menu, mastered controls while admiring the Rebel fleet, and found my firing footing while gleefully zooming between space rocks. Without noticing or trying, I’d become comfortable with Battlefront’s VR mode, Criterion using irresistible pieces of Star Wars to bait me through their subtle tutorial.

star-wars-x-wing-vr-mission-cockpit

The seamless structure is a result of Criterion’s almost absurdly shotgun development style. This is the studio’s first released virtual reality game, yet they’ve made nearly 50 VR titles in-house.

“We’ve got this really amazing hackathon culture in the studio,” Stanley says. These frequent development marathons challenge members to create games within a short period of time, and produce what Crimmins calls a “smorgasbord of experiments.” A similar process led to DEXED from Ninja Theory, earlier this year.

“We love experimenting,” says Crimmins, and you wouldn’t doubt it by the smile on his face. “We put a big emphasis on prototyping and playing our games. We call ourselves game-feel experts, which basically means we don’t believe a feature or anything is worth anything until we’ve played it and see how it feels.” Their own connection with the material is the star of the process.

But back to the dogfighting, because that’s what really matters in an X-wing mission.

star-wars-battlefront-death-star

Thankfully, I’m happy to report it’s enjoyable. The immersive set and tight controls combine into an iconic battleground of weaving targets. Most memorable of the frenetic shooting is the eventual Star Destroyer, whose ominous appearance stirs the same “we’re screwed” feeling that’s core to the Rebel experience this is looking to recreate.

Helpful indicators point out enemies and objectives in the dauntingly dimensional world of space, and though I spent most of my time chasing after them upside down, I didn’t feel VR sickness creeping on me. Less experienced VR users will definitely want to take it easy on the rolling, but the game’s sitting position and stable cockpit elements manage most of the movement — similar to Call of Duty’s Jackal VR experience, or EVE: Valkyrie.

My biggest gripe is that I wish there were more. The mission feels relatively short, ending after the final moments of this battle, but this fact is remedied slightly by the arcade nature Criterion admires. The end screen hoists into view a scoreboard, your stats, and a list of bonus achievements for the enthusiast pilot. It all challenges you to jump back in and enjoy the experience a number of times.

star-wars-x-wing-window-engine

The brevity is remedied yet again by the fact that once it releases on Dec. 6, Rogue One X-Wing VR will be free for all PS VR users who own Star Wars: Battlefront on PlayStation 4. Criterion assures me it will stay PS VR exclusive and coupled with the full game.

After I relinquish my headset, I question Stanley and Crimmins on their experience with VR development; the response is vividly optimistic, and no doubt Criterion’s belief in virtual reality lends itself to the impactful design of their project.

“There’s a certain rule book of kind of visuals we’ve developed over the years for flat screens,” Crimmins says of developers. “Half of it doesn’t work in VR, so it’s really frustrating for a lot of people, especially experts that are working in the field, and half of their expertise now becomes irrelevant.”

He likens the discord to the uninspiring first wave of mobile games, and emphasizes that creators need to develop a new language that understands what works best with the technology.

“But at Criterion, that’s kind of perfect,” Crimmins continues. Their atypical approach to development is equipped for “rewriting the language of VR.” They pull successful features from their many trial creations, and even find inspiration in the avant garde world of experimental theater. “They’ve [theater groups] been doing that kind of fully immersed experience and directing people’s attention – stuff like that – for a long time,” Crimmins explains. “A lot of the stuff they do is really, really relevant in VR.”

It’s the futility of the standard cinematic language that brings a chuckle from these two. The old paradigm spent years learning to manipulate 2D images and perfect techniques for utilizing screen space and corners.

Crimmins ends his pondering: “You can’t have any of that. You’ve got to rewrite it.”

Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission is certainly a confident entry in VR’s sprouting lexicon. A headset and the push of a button launches you into the well-crafted dream of virtually every Star Wars enthusiast. It’s a bit brief considering how good it is, but when the experience is as carefully planned and fine tuned as this, the dream is as simple as noticeably tarnished metal, a familiar orange jumpsuit, a series of metallic squeaks ringing from over my shoulder, and a flurry of deadly lasers shooting over the other.


Sharon is a freelance games journalist and Editor-in-Chief of Twinfinite. You can follow her on Twitter: @Sharoogala.

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  • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    What a waste, publishing to the vastly underpowered and poor selling PSVR.

    • Uncle

      Vastly superior with no SDE or god rays FULL RGB OLED PSVR that already sold more than Rift and vive COMBINED.

      • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        Yeah ok there fruit. Anywho Sony will cancel their PSVR support by the middle of next year and you’ll be stuck with your Welfare Station wondering what you’re supposed to do with it now.

        • Uncle

          AHAHAHA, Dream on buddy, you can only dream. Keep begging for good games thou, PC Only gamers are great in begging.

        • antoniogaud

          Wow, what do you own share in a competing VR system?

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            I’m just not some fanboy and understand how Sony operates. Sony is a bankrupt company outside of the PS division, that means they jump on everything if they think they can turn it into a quick buck. The PSVR is a hacked together system using a parts bin – thus the reason it doesn’t have simple things like proper head tracking – they just reused their failed webcam. The failed PS Move controller was next up – what a great way to sell off a warehouse full of junk. If Sony was legit they’d about VR they’d have created some big budget games for it – it is after all a big money gaming company – they did not. Sony puts out their halved-a solution, if it hits they ride the money train, if it misses they move on to their next project. Look up the company history lately – you’ll see a trend fanboy.

          • Barry Harden

            It’ll be truly funny when Xbox costs Micro$oft so much money that the shareholders will revolt and the division is sold off to another player. The XBone was truly a joke and seeing them try to implement Oculus Rift was HILARIOUS!

            Only a fuckboy like yourself would go to such lengths to denigrate a great company like Sony who caters to many gamers.

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Hey stupid – do you own a Vita, a PS TV, a PS EYE, the PS Move? I do – and Sony abandoned all those products, back to back to back to back. It’s what companies do when they’re bankrupt – and outside of the PS division, Sony is bankrupt. They rushed an incomplete product to market to try to cash in on a trend – if not show me the big budget games they’re making for VR. Hint: they’re not. This is a cash grab by Sony and they will abandon this just like everything else they’ve done lately. Even the PS4 Pro was rushed to market with very little hype – you could buy one on preorder basically up until the day it went on sale – that’s not good. Hopefully with MS they’ll actually try to do VR correctly, partner with Rift, put some money into titles – have everything crossplay – including hardware, between the XB and the PC, then they might be onto something.

            But anywho be a fanboy and when you have a worthless system in 18 months remember this conversation then you can look back and realize how big of a sucker you are.

          • NoneOfYourBusiness

            Says the moron about Sony… the company that leads and outsells all the leading consoles. You are truly a fucktard!

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Yeah stupid – and Sega outsold Nintendo for a time as well.

            Wow are you fanboys just boring cucks.

          • Barry Harden

            Last I checked the Vita is still getting titles. PS Eye and PS move are still being used for PSVR. MUCH more support than what Micro$oft gives.

            Own a Kinect 1 or Kinect 2? How about an Xbone S? Yeah that too will be abandoned quickly after a year for the Scorpio. Every company has products that eventually get dropped. Except Micro$oft’s stable of dropped products is much larger than most companies.

            You fucktard!

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Yes stupid, I own a Kinect and a Kinect 2, and the Kinect 2 for the XB1 I use every single day – it’s awesome. You should try it so you sound like stupid.

            As for the Vita, it was abandoned by Sony years ago, and the “games” you get are nothing more than low budget poorly translated Jap titles. Also stupid the Scorpion is based on x86, like the current XB1, it’s all backwards compatible/forward compatible, etc. God damn are you fanboys some dumb f’s. I own all these systems, I actually use them and know them. Now stop being such a whiny cuck.

            God bless.

          • Barry Harden

            Aww fuck boy you sound desperate. Too bad the facts can’t be disputed. No new games are taking advantage of the Kinect 2. You overpaid for something Micro$oft ABANDONED. Such an idiot for trying to defend failure.
            Take your head out of your ass for a moment and breathe.

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Wow that’s interesting. Anywho you should get back to giving people HIV, because the world needs you.

        • Marc

          I have both PSVR and Oculus. Image quality on PSVR is better, hands down. way less SDE and no Godrays make the image quality amazing.

          You’re an idiot if you think the PS4 is underpowered and my PC is running two 980ti’s

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Hahaha… yeah OK there kiddo – whatever you say.

            Anywho back to the glory hole for you – your mouth is missed.

      • Kalle

        True, but it’s quite blurry instead if you compare. All hmd’s have their own pros and cons.

    • C.P. Garcia

      Poor selling? It outsold the total sales(6 months or so) of Vive and Rift in its first week.. Explain how that is “poor selling”.

      • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        “SuperData, the research firm that often provides insight into the world of game and hardware sales, has revised its expectations for some VR headsets, saying the platform has been “the biggest loser” in sales so far, particularly coming out of the Black Friday shopping season. The firm greatly downgraded 2016 expectations for PlayStation VR in particular, from 2.6 million down to less than 750K.”

        Actually I want to see PSVR do well since it should help the entire business – but Sony rushed its product to market without any killer software and with a pretty half-a solution. I mean the thing doesn’t even work out of the box, you have to buy the poor quaility webcam extra and PS3 gen Move controllers extra. Sony basically figured out a way to blow out old inventory at full retail price. Next up for Sony, just like with the Vita and PSTV (and PS Eye and PS Move) is to dump support for the product soon after launch as it says sales weren’t that good. Remember that Sony is basically a bankrupt company outside of the PS division – they rush to cash in on trends but don’t have much in terms of long term outlooks. Just look at how they rushed the PS4 Pro to market.

        • C.P. Garcia

          Two things.. First.. SuperData has been known to be bullshit most of the time…. and Second.. I love how you skipped the part that still had the PS VR selling DOUBLE then Vive or Rift.. Doing so in 3 months time.. compared to being on the market for several months. Even in their bullshit numbers..

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            I didn’t skip anything stupid – I pointed out he fact that the PSVR has been a bust, mainly due to terrible software, that mixed with bad hardware that takes a Rift DK2, then some off the shelve parts and mixes it up, which introduces latency, and increases motion sickness. Sony’s half-a’d job with VR will likely come close to killing the whole industry as it tries to cash in on a craze and put very little effort into their actual release. At least with a Vive or Rift you’ll have something that will have support for years to come, even if VR is indeed chalked up a nothing more than a trend. Meanwhile the PSVR will be on the clearance rack in less than a year and you’ll have something with the set number of titles that is available and nothing more.

            I don’t actually have anything against Sony, I have a PS, I’ve had every single one they’ve ever released including handheld – but Sony is taking the Sega route of rolling out stuff, then abandoning it. They did so with the PS Eye, they PS Move, the PS Vita and the PS TV. If they thought PSVR was going to be a big part of their future, where are their big budget exclusives? They don’t have any because they just launched the product and took a wait and see approach – which means it will fail.

            Perhaps MS with the next XB will be serious about VR and make it a big deal by creating exclusive titles for the Rift – big budget titles.

            In either case VR isn’t going anywhere mainstream until it gives people must own titles. I’ve owned the DK1, the DK2 and the CV1 – it’s awesome (if vomit inducing) – and while I think it’s awesome it’s nothing others are going to spend money on unless they are given games that take advantage of the technology, and no one has done that yet for any platform.

          • antoniogaud

            Terrible software? A lot of it is carryover from the other VR systems. Have you tried to actually use the system?

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Not yet, going based off all the reviews I’ve read – the software lineup has greatly unperformed. Battle Tank I was hoping would be awesome, but it’s way overpriced at $60 and seems to be a very shallow game. Batman VR is just a standing around game, not a Batman game… uh, what else? Driveclub VR the reviews are terrible, people say you can’t see anything in the distance and the game looks blurry – most likely because of the lower resolution of the PSVR and the underpowered PS4 (plus Driveclub stinks, I have it, it’s awful). I’m trying to think of the other launch titles and nothing even comes to mind as they were just mainly generic titles that got mediocre scores everywhere. If Sony was going to be involved they should have had some big budget titles, like a version of Uncharted ready, or Gran Turismo – they didn’t because the product was rushed to market. Also the PS4 just doesn’t have the horsepower to run titles and make them look good – that’s not a dis to the PS4, I have one, it’s just a fact. The PS4 Pro was rushed to market for VR, but they don’t have any titles where it makes a difference. The whole launch is a mess and they don’t seemingly have anything in the pipeline that shows Sony has a big commitment to VR, if they did, they’d have some VR exclusive titles coming that were big budget – but they don’t. Sony will most likely do the same thing they’ve done with the Vita and the PS TV and the PS EYE and the PS Move, they’ll kill the product very quickly and move on to the next “trendy” thing. I hope not, I want Sony to do well since I think the entire VR market depends on them doing well – but to me I don’t see any commitment. Hopefully I’m wrong – I really mean that. For the Rift to do well, PSVR needs to do well – and I think Sony botched the launch big time and after Christmas when you’re able to get a used PSVR with everything for under $300, and new ones start getting discounted, that’s going to be a very bad sign. We shall see.

          • NoneOfYourBusiness

            Yo Muhammad, your mother is calling you for dinner. Get off the computer so you have time for your bath and ice cream.

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Good comeback cum eater.

          • NoneOfYourBusiness

            Ignore this moron.

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Ignore anyone who isn’t a boring fanboy…

            What do you do dolt, resell PSVR’s on eBay for a living?

        • Roger Larsson

          So SuperData first makes their own prediction on how many PSVR units will be sold.
          When that is not met, because SONY can not deliver fast enough (something that SONY would have known but not SuperData)
          It is suddenly the fault of SONY that SuperData was wrong and have to revise SuperDatas expectations…

          So if SuperData had not made their prediction or asked SONY how many they could deliver before making their guestimation everything would have been OK?

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            You can buy a PSVR on the secondary market for around $100 more than what it cost new – and basically all that money is people paying taxes and then seller fees and shipping, which means they’re at most breaking even. The Rift after 3 weeks was selling for about around double the cost of retail, and the DK2 at this point was selling for over $750 – which I know because that’s around the time I sold mine for over $800.

            Anywho those are the sales figures available – if they’re accurate or not I don’t know, but the secondary market tells me it’s not a super hot item or the prices would be higher.

            AGain I hope the PSVR is a huge success, it will only help all the other VR headsets – but it’s not a huge success. The games are mostly garbage, the reviews are mediocre and the outlook for the unit is very dim as Sony will, as always, just abandon the hardware. I hope I’m wrong – but I’m not.

    • Barry Harden

      Spoken like a true idiot. Like your fake name.

      • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        Wow, you don’t think Muhammad Jihad is my real name? Truly shocking info you got there stupid.

    • Hans Wurst

      Poor selling…I guess that’s why it’s sold out almost everywhere on the planet.

    • Rey Rangel

      You are a bit of an idiot aren’t ya?

      • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        Wow Rey, that’s so interesting. Anywho back to the bathhouse, there’s a lot of happy endings waiting for your mouth.

  • Barry Harden

    Hopefully they work to integrate this with the existing multiplayer component of Battlefront. X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter in PSVR would be spectacular.

  • Trooper

    Oh look another bunch of kids arguing over which HMD is better……….F***ing grow up, ALL VR is great, ALL HMD’s have their strengths and weaknesses, there is no major difference between them at all. pretty much every VR comment section just ends up as a seriously stupid argument about which is better…….

    We are the Early adopters who will possibly shape the community and all new people can see is petty, childish platform arguments. If you can’t agree that all VR is great then just go back to the playground and come back when you have grown up a little, morons.

  • kaosstar

    The PSVR may very well have the best display and optics. It’s also likely the winner in the comfort category.
    Though it also has, indisputably, the worst tracking and controllers of any high-end VR headset. The PS Move controllers are just a small step up from Wiimotes. By contrast, the Rift has excellent touch controllers and very good sitting or standing tracking. The Vive has virtually perfect roomscale tracking, and very good controllers.