The juggernaut that is the LEGO videogame franchise is moving at pace and is sucking in all potential victims and spitting them out in brick form. In the last 6 months we have seen the release of 3 LEGO games, the latest being LEGO The Hobbit. LEGO The Hobbit is actually based on the trilogy of Hobbit films, but they have been so quick to release it, probably in line with the DVD film, and it only covers the first two films. I can imagine the next instalment to follow as a standalone, but they may offer this as a DLC instead. I don’t think it matters too much as you don’t need me to inform you that the game is taking its lead from the films rather than the book. I wouldn’t expect too many die hard Tolkien fans would be playing this looking for a book to game experience.
The story is very close to the film which is good to see, I worried how much of the story would be lost or changed to suit the game, but it transfers very well. You of course primarily play Bilbo Baggins (or John Watson if you prefer) and the LEGO Character does a good job of recreating Martin Freeman. He and his tribe of dwarves experience many of the films set pieces across middle earth in their quest to find the Arkenstone. As you would expect in a game that closely follows a film on the epic scale of Peter Jackson’s vision, it’s very plain to see that it lends the game a grand scale I have not experienced before in a LEGO title. There are murmurs from some that it is too reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, especially in the larger battle sequences, but for me who has not played the former it was great. Many of the voices have been taken straight from the film so these stand up to scrutiny and the overall sound affects work well from standard TV speakers all the way up to 7.1 surround.
The LEGO gameplay is alive and well in The Hobbit, though is it getting a bit repetitive? Maybe a little, they have implemented a new ‘crafting’ aspect of the gameplay where you have to find certain items to build a specific solution to a problem. This is a nice addition, but as it is an extra process it can sometimes be frustrating, they could in my opinion of worked on this idea and dropped the break and build system that is still present. The cut scenes work well to connect the different phases of the levels with illustrations of Middle Earth being an added visual gem. No LEGO game is complete without the customary coop gameplay, again it hasn’t come on leaps and bounds but it keeps the kids quiet for a while. Aside from the main story there are the usual side missions and areas to explore, this is not as engaging as I have found in other LEGO games, but it gives you are chance to savour the visual treats of the game.
The characters you can be during this game can be a little overwhelming, for me I am not a massive fan of the Hobbit book or films so I didn’t take too much notice of the different characters names and roles etc. Apart from a couple of main ones, I found myself referring to them by anything but their official names. The developers have tried to make sure you get to know them and their skills in the game as each has their own influence on the level. Yes, there are very scripted sections whereby you must use Dwarf A for his ability to be used as a trampoline et cetera, et cetera. In the not so scripted sections such as a battle scene, smaller skills and weaponry are less easy to decipher and you find yourself constantly switching character to find the one you want. The advantage of previous games such as LEGO Marvel Superheroes is that you normally know which character you need to do what. As you play the game more this will get easier, but is a little frustrating none the less.
I have been fortunate to review the last 3 LEGO games and have started to play some of the back catalogue; Batman and Indiana Jones to name just a couple. This is the first LEGO game I have played on the PS4 and visually it looks very good compared to the previous games. The opening sequences look polished and crisper than before and it adds to the softer nature the Hobbit story centres around. This is down in part to the fact that this game has reverted to mostly non-LEGO environments so items have better textures and colour depth. Where the game wants you to feel warm, safe and fuzzy it really does create this. But it also has a dramatic affect on the big bold exciting scenes too, and really helps you get the sense of drama. The only complaint I would have is that however good it looks at times there is so much going on you can get a little lost and overwhelmed and may miss some of the overall connection with the game as you are trying to figure out what fat dwarf you have just started controlling this time!
A PlayStation 4 review copy of LEGO The Hobbit was provided by the Warner Bros. PR team. LEGO The Hobbit is available now for all platforms.