Despite the fact they are flesh-eating guerilla warriors capable of thoroughly thrashing a vastly technologically superior foe, everyone’s takeaway about the Ewoks is that they’re cute, stress-lowering, fuzzy teddy bears. But Star Wars: Battlefront II has added a new mode that reminds us that these teddies can be utterly terrifying when you’re their target.
When it’s not offering added this week, is “Ewok Hunt,” which tasks a group of Stormtroopers, left on Endor the night the Death Star II blew up, with surviving in the dark until a shuttle can evacuate them. The thing is, you’re surviving against a team of human players playing as Ewoks themselves — and if you die as a Stormtrooper, you join Team Yub Nub in their quest to murder every last plasteel-covered Imperial on the planet.
I forgot to mention the cave you can find respite in is filled with the armour of your presumably dead/eaten friends. Fun!GIF: Star Wars: Battlefront II (EA/DICE)
It’s a pretty standard take on a video game “infection”-style or “last man standing” sort of multiplayer mode – and for the first few games I played, it felt pretty drab. While most of the map for the mode is set in the pitch-black nighttime forests (the only gear aside from a blaster the Stormtrooper team has is flashlights with limited batteries before needing a recharge, and you need them if you venture out into the dark), there’s also a pretty big and well-lit cave structure Team Stormtrooper can set up shop in and defend pretty well until they need to break cover for their extraction. So if you have a good team, you can hunker down pretty easily.
But when a good match gets going, and you’re one of the last surviving Stormtroopers, the real joy of “Ewok Hunt” is that it essentially turns Battlefront II into a fully-fledged Star Wars horror game. Endor’s night is ridiculously dark, so if you’re a Stormtrooper, you want to scurry to the cave at the start of a round as quickly as you can, lest you get picked off by Ewoks skulking in the treetops.
Stormtroopers are forced to play from a first-person perspective (Battlefront II, by default, is played in third-person), making it much harder for you to be aware of your surroundings, and therefore easy for an Ewok to sneak up on you and plant a spear in your backside. When your trooper’s low on health, or tired from sprinting away from an attack, you hear their labored breathing under the helmet. It makes even the quiet moments in matches where you’re waiting for the inevitable onslaught all the tenser.
As your own numbers whittle down (denoted by the screen flashing that a player was “lost to the forest”) the Ewok team gets bigger and bigger, making it harder to defend the many entrances to the cave from the fuzzy horde. So when the Ewoks do come for you – and they will come for you, heralded by the clarion call of their horns, which give the furry little arseholes a damage boost – those quiet minutes of waiting to descend into all out chaos as a sea of Ewoks floods into the cave, hooting and hollering and throwing disorienting flash-bombs (they’re actually, in a lovely touch, pouches full of Wisties, fairy-like creatures from the ’80s Ewok spinoff TV movie Caravan of Courage) to break the Stormtroopers’ line before they close in for the kill.
It is, honestly, legitimately terrifying. The Ewoks’ movement is fast and skittish, so as a Stormtrooper you’re often just spraying blaster fire into a crowd, hoping you’re killing at least enough Ewoks for you to get away into another part of the cave for a brief moment of respite. The way your flashlight reflects off the Ewoks eyes makes them look absolutely nightmarish, like fur-covered Satan-spawn rapidly descending on your ankles. In the final moments of a round when you’re forced to abandon the safety of the cave and flee to the extraction shuttle in the night, it’s alarmingly intense.
Alas, actually playing as an Ewok when you fall to them removes a little of that layer of fear built up from the Stormtrooper’s perspective. Although they have the advantage of being able to see better in the dark, as well as the aforementioned flashbombs and horns to give them an advantage against blasters, controlling an Ewok is hectic and messy in a way that makes it feel more like you’re spinning a camera around and flailing wildly rather than being the elite, shadowy hunter they feel like when you’re up against them. If anything, they feel as silly as you might expect playing as a spear-armed fuzzball jumping around like they’re on meth would be.
Maybe that’s the point though. To the Empire, the Ewoks are meant to be a small, insignificant threat until they suddenly become a horrifying horde. To the Ewoks themselves, they just wanna run around playing their horns and turning their enemies’ helmets into percussion instruments to have some fun. But “Ewok Hunt” is absolutely at its best when it’s the former, instead of the latter.