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LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Especially the Younglings

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To call Traveler’s Tales’ LEGO series ubiquitous would be an understatement. I know that a lot of flak gets thrown at Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed for having a new entry in the series rolled out every year, but since the original LEGO Star Wars launched back in 2005, TT has churned out, on average, two new LEGO games annually ever since. So, it’s kind of interesting that ten years on, with LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, TT still hasn’t quite found the bottom of the barrel.

Despite focusing on a single movie instead of an entire trilogy as in the previous LEGO games, it pulls off an interesting first for the long-running series; rather than merely being a parody like previous entries, it actually adds to the canon of the series–possibly because with only one movie to draw from, they needed some way to pad it out. These additional sections (unlocked by collecting gold bricks) include Poe Damerson saving admiral Ackbar and taking part in the mission that preceded the X-Wings coming to the rescue of Finn, Rae, Han and Chewie on Takodana.

Most impressive of all is the fact that original recorded lines exist for these sections, making them feel like genuine additions to the plot and universe rather than being conspicuously mute for the duration, or feeling like the new interactions had been sandwiched together with a bit soundboard magic and a very limited vocabulary.

It’s clear that LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is more than a simple retelling of the movie, even from the game’s opening, which doesn’t start with the first order attacking Jakku, but instead opts to place the events of the film in the context of the entire Star Wars Saga by recreating the climax of Return of The Jedi.

Players start off as Han, Chewie, Leia, and Wicket as they attempt to bring down the shield generator protecting the second Death Star on the Forest Moon of Endor. It’s a great opening, and is used as an effective means of introducing changes to gameplay. The main LEGO-based improvement is the ability to make multiple objects out of the same pile of bouncing bricks by directing them to different glowing outlines in the environment. Then, once you have used whatever ladder, switch, or laser cannon you built, you can destroy your creation and rebuild one of the other potential structures. It’s a small change, but a welcome one, and one I’m surprised didn’t come sooner. At this point, it feels almost obligatory.

The biggest changes to LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, interestingly, have very little to do with LEGO. TT have changed the usual style of action-based gameplay, making it feel more like a more traditional action title than just another LEGO game. The vehicle sections feel like an on-rails version of Rogue Squadron, starting with Lando destroying the second Death Star in the Millennium Falcon. There are also cover shooting sections now (that may as well be baby’s first Gears of War), where your characters duck behind chest-high LEGO walls, trading fire with storm troopers and rarely missing, thanks to the game’s incredibly forgiving auto-targeting that instantly locks you on.

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You’re also told when you’re about to get shot, via flashing yellow exclamation marks that appear above a foes head once they’ve got a bead on you. There’s almost zero challenge to these sections, but I am crushingly aware that as a 30-year-old man, I may not exactly be the target audience. Other man-children take note: it might be a little on the pitifully easy side. Good for kids though, if you’re training them up to deal with Gears of War 9 in a few years’ time.

However easy, it does make the game feel that little bit more cinematic. Everything feels more action-packed, with a sense of immediacy that’s missing from previous entries in the series. Gameplay seamlessly shifts from cover shooter to vehicle section, and then back to the traditional character-based puzzles; it’s just a damned shame it couldn’t be more challenging.

Like previous entries, each character in LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens has abilities which allow them to interact with parts of the environment in ways that other characters can’t: Wicket can order other characters to help him pull blocks; Rey can run along walls and scale the environment to reach areas others can’t; and BB-8 can hack terminals, access computers, and electrocute foes, but having no opposable thumbs (or claws I guess), he can’t build anything. Force-adept characters like Vader and Luke can use their powers to tear up parts of the scenery and do battle with their lightsabers. In all, there are 205 characters to unlock, and though this does include many variants, the cast is still pretty damn huge. There’s also the now-obligatory new vehicles to unlock and red and gold bricks to find, as well as the usual stud collectathon in order to be crowned a “True Jedi.”

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The puzzles in LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens have been refined compared to those found in previous iterations. The breadth of powers and abilities available, as well as the fact that you generally have a large party of characters to play, helps this along. Usually players help each other, with one player using their powers and then the other, with no one left hanging around for too long.

Ten years after the first LEGO Star Wars kicked off the whole series, it’s fitting that it took TT to return to the Star Wars universe to shake up the series. While these additions are mostly welcome in a series that has been in danger of stagnation for a while, the wide-eyed innocence of the target audience round them off into minigames that, while fun, don’t offer much in the way of challenge, which will certainly put off older players. It’s certainly one for the younglings.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: TT Games | Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive |  Genre: Action, Adventure | Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, WiiU, 3Ds | PEGI/ESRB: 7+/E | Release Date: June 28, 2016

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Review

American Fugitive Review — A Grand Tale of Theft and Auto

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American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 1

The original Grand Theft Auto rocked the virtual world with its violent gameplay from a birds-eye view perspective back in 1997. Once the series moved to a third-person, 3D perspective with Grand Theft Auto III, few gamers looked back and few developers attempted to replicate the original style. More than 20 years later, Fallen Tree Games has become of those few with American Fugitive.

Players control Will Riley, a man convicted for a crime he did not commit and filled with the desire for revenge. Once he has escaped from prison, Will must find old friends—and meet some new ones—to run errands and discover the person who killed his father.

The game is played from a top-down perspective in a 3D open world. More reminiscent of Chinatown Wars than the original Grand Theft Auto, the camera adds a level of complexity to American Fugitive, as players often will not see what lies beyond the edges of the screen. While a behind-the-character perspective would, at times, not go amiss, players will eventually grow to familiarise themselves with the camera, respecting the callback to classic open world titles.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 2

The open world itself is also reminiscent of classic titles, with simplified designs regularly complimented by the detailed art style. The game’s animated, cartoon design scheme is fitting of its fast-paced action gameplay, always managing to keep the player on their toes and keen to discover more. Technically, the game plays almost flawlessly, with no significant performance issues to disrupt the player while they explore the map.

Players can explore the rural open world of Redrock County on foot or in a vehicle. The vehicular gameplay may take some time for players to familiarise themselves with, with some overly slippery mechanics leading to some unfortunate collisions, though fitting to the game’s tone. Thankfully, most environments in the game are destructible, so sliding off the road—if the player follows the road to begin with—does not often lead to disaster.

Despite beginning the game as a seemingly innocent man, Will doubles down on his criminal actions once he escapes from prison. Akin to Grand Theft Auto, the player can hijack cars, kill civilians, and attract the attention of police. Most residential buildings in the game can be robbed by the player, often leading to tense confrontations with the homeowners or police, so players must continue at their own risk.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 3

The ‘wanted’ system in the game works similarly to Grand Theft Auto games, with players accumulating up to five stars depending on their behaviour. The stars often accumulate a little too quickly, however, with additional stars regularly added simply for evading police. Oftentimes, the player may possess a full wanted level—complete with large police vans and circling helicopters—within a minute of committing a minor offense. While this over-the-top gameplay design is fitting to the pace of the game, it may lead to frustrations within the main story missions by bringing the player’s progress to a halt.

The missions are also reminiscent of those in Grand Theft Auto, tasking the player with a wide variety of tasks to keep them busy while the story evolves. While many of these missions may seem disconnected to the main narrative structure, they are unique and regularly keep the player entertained, ranging from simple fetch quests and car robberies to full-scale shootouts. The game’s fast-paced gameplay and lack of loading screens also make the poorly-placed checkpoints bearable, especially when the beginning of missions require the player to drive to a certain location.

American Fugitive‘s storyline is simple in design but entertaining enough to keep the player engaged. The game’s ‘cutscenes’ exist in the form of text atop character designs; while some simple voice acting would elevate these scenes with more dramatic tension, they are short enough to maintain the player’s attention and continue the missions at a fast pace. Players will find themselves surprisingly engrossed in the story, wanting to see it through to its full conclusion.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 4

Accompanying the fast-paced gameplay and narrative is the game’s music. From slow, explorative themes to fast-paced tracks, American Fugitive‘s original score is reminiscent of some of the best soundtracks across different media—from television’s True Detective to video gaming’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us. Each song accompanies the gameplay nicely, ramping up and down as the player makes the appropriate actions, and, along with the expert sound design, add the auditory sprinkles atop a visual and narrative treat.

American Fugitive, simply put, is fun. Fallen Tree Games has added its own unique twist to a classic gameplay formula, and utilised a simple but engaging narrative and a beautiful original score to maintain the player’s interest until the very end. Despite a few minor flaws in gameplay, the game stands strong against its competition. Players looking for a fast, fun, and mature sandbox game should not miss American Fugitive.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.

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