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.
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.”
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