With a new instalment of (arguably) the biggest movie series in the world, it’s with a predictability usually reserved for the yearly release of sport franchises that we expect a new LEGO game. Coming several months after the home release of the film, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens lands on virtually every current gaming platform, aiming to bring us the satisfyingly straightforward gameplay that the series renowned for. Not only covering the events of Episode VII, the game promises to deliver additional details of the events prior to the introduction of Rey, Finn and Poe, and give us answers to some of the unresolved questions like why C-3PO’s arm is red.
Picking up with the Battle for Endor, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens wastes no time in dropping you into the shoes of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker for the last stages of the destruction of the Empire. It serves as a prologue to the main game and gives the opportunity to sample the gameplay changes the Travellers Tales team have built in this time round. Defeat the Emperor, free the galaxy from tyranny, and then jump 30 years or so to the planet of Jakku to start the adventures of the new Star Wars heroes. What takes place over the next 10 chapters mirrors nearly every aspect of the movie, with the usual slapstick retelling of the tale through the cutscenes. It’s fun, well designed and a game that nearly anyone can pick up and play, such is the way the developers approach these titles. They’ve had years to hone and refine the mechanisms involved, particularly in how they guide and inform the player, and this is an example of how to create a polished experience.
It might have been given a couple of coats of Mr. Sheen (if you’re not in the UK, Google that gag), but that doesn’t mean they haven’t attempted to put some new elements into The Force Awakens. Most noticeable is the inclusion of some third person cover shooter sections. Hit a part of the level where you’re getting shot at by pretty much everyone and the game prompts you to dive behind cover and enter a shooting gallery for the next few minutes. It’s a fairly simple idea that breaks up the shoot/punch combat, and adds some variation to the level, though it’s not much more than guiding a cursor around the screen and hitting the fire button. Reduce enough enemies to their constituent LEGO parts and you’ll get an overload option that lets you rapid fire your blaster.
The other major addition is the ability to choose what to build from some piles of LEGO bricks. It’s not necessarily free choice, there are usually only two or three options to go with, and even then you’ll have to build them all in some situations, particularly towards the end of the game when you’re solving multistage puzzles with them. It does however feel fresh and novel, especially as it’s now not just hold a button to build, and you get the feeling it’s the first iteration of what we might see in future games. There are tweaks and subtle changes here and there, with an update to the combat that sees you building a power gauge which allows you to unleash an area attack every once in awhile (this replaces the team up moves seen in LEGO Marvel’s Avengers); and the ability to “command” teams to solve puzzles. On the whole though, if you’ve played a LEGO game before, you’ll be in familiar territory. If it’s your first time, it’s all very clear on what to do (smash blocks, smash enemies, smash everything), and you’ll enjoy the simple and effective gameplay it offers.
Unlike the Marvel instalments, there’s no open world to navigate between levels, though there are hub areas linking each of the story missions. Spend time exploring the Millennium Falcon, the rebel base on D’Qar or even the desert wastes of Jakku and you’ll find plenty to keep the LEGO characters busy in free play, with the main aim being to get you to uncover all the gold bricks that are lying around so that you can unlock all the bonus levels. There’s hunting Rathtars with Han and Chewie, rescuing Admiral Akbar with Poe Dameron, assaulting a frigate as Captain Phasma, and more. Each of which gives some additional backstory and fills out what would be a relatively short game by LEGO standards. If you pick up the PS4 copy there’s an extra level for C-3PO too, though I expect it’ll come to all platforms eventually. Levels themselves are a mix of short focussed puzzle and exploration with some that feature the cover combat, and others with pretty decent flying sections. All are heavily inspired by the original trilogy as well as The Force Awakens – even down to a prison rescue and jaunt through a trash compactor.
Finishing the story is by no means a marker of finishing the game, it’ll only show around 20% completion by that point. As with all previous titles, the LEGO games work on the idea of making you play their way first, then using free play to select on the fly which characters you want to use – and therefore opening up more exploration areas and secrets. The character roster is vast (as usual), and feels a little padded given that main characters have costume selections in their slot to cycle through the variants, yet Stormtroopers get lots of slots filled with one version. Not a deal breaker in terms of content, but annoying when you’re trying to find the character you want from the big selection on screen. At least these are in alphabetical order… if you know what the character in question is called. Vehicles get the same treatment, and minikit versions of them are usable in the hub areas in place of the minifigures. As you’d expect, this throws in the chance for races using some of the quicker ships and speeders, with them being fun rather than infuriating. It will take a while to get through everything and open up the last bonus level (requiring 249 of the 250 gold bricks), and there’ll be some repetition on the way, though it’s never dull and the idea of specific missions this time round where it loads you into a new area to complete a task, adds to the feeling of a larger scope.
Because this is the about the 20th release of a licensed LEGO title in this game style, the whole experience is refined and focussed. Graphically the game is lovely with more of the real world elements being replaced with LEGO blocks, though the ones that remain as the scenery match the aesthetic. This is probably the first one I’ve played where I have completely forgotten that it’s actually LEGO based and not 3D rendered models of movie assets. During the battle above Starkiller Base, flying around in Poe’s X-Wing and blasting Tie Fighters out of the sky, I was reminded of Battlefront and the skirmishes in there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a photorealistic version of The Force Awakens, it’s just good enough that combined with the audio immersion, the excellent voice cast, and the scale of the action, I’d forgotten I was flying a ship made out of bricks. Maybe I’ve just hit the point where I’m so used to the LEGO style and the great work the team have put into recording extra dialogue and environmental noise, it doesn’t register that it’s representations of plastic figures and blocks on screen.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is probably the best version of a LEGO Star Wars game to date. It’s well produced, knows exactly what it has to do for the audience, ticks all the right geek boxes with Inception-type in-jokes making appearances, and features a huge amount of replayability without it being completely onerous. You might find there’s slowdown and framerate drop in some of the free play hub areas due to the amount of activity, and the odd pop-in/pop-out glitch, but nothing that spoils the experience. Star Wars fans will enjoy it because of the attention to detail – who wouldn’t like being Han Solo running around the Millennium Falcon?; kids will love it because it’s LEGO and built with them in mind; and anyone else will be able to appreciate what’s on offer overall. It’s a very good game that you definitely won’t get a bad feeling about.
A review copy of LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens for PS4 was provided by Warner Bros. PR team, and the game is available now in one version or another on multiple platforms.