Star Wars: Battlefront took gamers by surprise when it released in 2004. With its combination of familiar Star Wars locations, races, weapons, and vehicles, and fast-paced, any-way-you-want-it gameplay was the game that fans never knew they always wanted. Its addictive gameplay got a serious upgrade one year later with Battlefront II, which introduced playable Jedi, updated graphics, and a slew of bigger, badder battlefields.
You’d think Lucasarts would have been all over a third installment to such a lucrative franchise, but here we are six years since the last game was released (not counting a trio of mobile games), and we have yet to see a next-gen Battlefront. Not that it’s been idling in limbo — far from it. Development studio Free Radical Design (best known for the TimeSplitters series and PS3 exclusive Haze) is known to have spent approximately two years working on the game, before Lucasarts pulled the plug on them for unknown reasons. It’s also unknown why Lucasarts didn’t work again with Pandemic Studios, who crafted the first two games.
Free Radical’s version of the game is believed to have been a departure from the battles seen in the films, with richer gameplay that incorporated both ground and orbital fighting in the same instead battlefields, and scenarios that opted for a “what if?” approach that included a Sith version of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kotaku posted concept art of this “Dark Obi-Wan” in 2009. Also in 2009, Kotaku got its hands on some leaked video footage of Free Radical’s Battlefront III in action, which looked pretty frikkin’ spectacular. (See for yourself, below.) Xbox 360 screens later surfaced showing some impressive loading and menu screens. Sadly, it was all postmortem leakage, since Free Radical was forced to close its doors in ’08 (the company was eventually purchased by Crytek).
There were even rumors that Free Radical had done preliminary concept design work for a potential Battlefront IV (!!), thanks to some concept art that surfaced, though this was never even remotely confirmed as plausible. Later rumors suggested that Battlefront IV might have actually been Star Wars Battlefront Online, an MMO based around Battlefront‘s style of gameplay.
Today, rumors abound that Battlefront III is in development once again… somewhere. One persistent bit of noise suggests that developer Spark Unlimited — whose rather shaky resume includes mostly forgotten shooters like Legendary and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty — has been awarded the Battlefront III license by Lucasarts and is currently building the long-awaited game. These rumors are fueled by job listings on Spark Unlimited’s website, which mention openings for “an unannounced high-profile, popular game property for next generation console.” From one of the listings:
Spark is looking for a veteran character artist for contract work to create first-in class content for a 3rd Person Action/Adventure title in a high-profile science fiction franchise currently in development for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC markets. As an experienced senior character artist, you will work together with the character and animation groups to create the best looking creature, human and non-organic character models to life.
If these job listings do refer to Battlefront III, then they also reveal that the game is being built on the Unreal 3 game engine, as proficiency with that engine is one of their requisites for hiring. The listings also refer to this unidentified game as currently being in “prototype development” phase, which means a release is probably a long way off. But to put things in perspective, it’s worth noting that this job listing could very easily refer to any number of scifi game franchises.
With E3 coming up and the rumor mill starting to churn again, is there hope that fans will finally get their hands on Star Wars: Battlefront III? Years ago, a third entry in the series seemed like a given. But separating reality from fantasy is something only Lucasarts can do, and for six long years, they’ve remained agonizingly silent.