Over 10 years ago, Traveller's Tales (now known as TT Games) released LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game for the PS2, GameCube, Xbox and PC. Since then, the LEGO series has gone on to branch into over 10 other IPs (including Batman, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Jurassic World) and become one of the best-selling video game franchises ever. With 2015’s LEGO Dimensions, I personally thought the series had reached its peak. Including some of my favourite franchises ever such as Back to the Future, Portal and a childhood favourite, Doctor Who, it’s easily one of my favourite games of this console generation so far.
My only problem with the LEGO game series inherently is that TT Games somehow manages to release two or three of these games a year and sure, they obviously sell well, but sometimes they can really bank for quantity over quality (such as with LEGO Marvel's Avengers). It can sometimes be hard to predict which will be the good LEGO game of the year and which will be the bad one just because of how often they’re released.
Now we have LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released on June 28th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, OSX, 3DS and PlayStation Vita. Coming off of such a great game like LEGO Dimensions (let’s pretend LEGO Marvel's Avengers doesn’t exist), is LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens not only proof that the LEGO series still has more to offer, but also a faithful return to the franchise that kicked off the LEGO game series?
I’m going to assume that because you’re reading a review of this game, you’re already a fan of Star Wars so I’ll spare you a summary of the movie you’ve been hearing everything about for 6 months now. All you need to know is that LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows the movie almost perfectly, but all of its story-telling is condensed to cutscenes which are abridged versions of scenes in the movies. They’ll take some dialogue from the script, add a joke in the background and show re-enact a scene from the movie, and that’s really all they needed to do. Nobody wants Metal Gear Solid length cutscenes from a LEGO game. It does its job telling the story of The Force Awakens, like it has to, and then gets on back to gameplay. The game also includes missions based off scenarios taking place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, such as Poe’s rescuing of Admiral Ackbar and how C-3PO acquired his red arm.
One of my biggest concerns with LEGO games for the past few years is with the humour. The charm of a lot of the earlier games in the series was the lack of voice acting and use of visual humour that made them unique as tie-in games. Ever since LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, a worry of mine has been that the humour will not work well because of the inclusion of voice acting, and I’ll admit, a lot of the time I have been wrong, thankfully. This is the first LEGO Star Wars game to include voice acting though and part of me worried that this might be one that breaks the chain of good comedy in the series. Thankfully, I was wrong once again.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens ironically returns to the roots of the series and tells most of its jokes through visual-humour during cutscenes, either while the characters are talking or not. It takes time to make funny little references to the Star Wars franchise and its characters in the clever tongue-and-cheek humour the series is known for. As you can probably tell, not only did this catch me by surprise but it was also definitely welcome, considering my doubts. It keeps the comedy in tone with the rest of the series and consistent for people planning to play through the previous games and jumping into the new one.
Like others in the series, this game is a platformer with drop-in/drop-out co-op where you break objects in the environments to re-build for solving puzzles. For the first time in the series, a ‘Multi-Builds’ system has been introduced. This allows the player to choose from multiple building options from the same set of bricks to solve puzzles. At a glance, this seems like a rather useless addition, and at the beginning, it definitely seems that way. As the game goes on, though, the Multi-Builds begin to add a layer of depth to how the player approaches puzzles. You have to be really careful with which Multi-Build you use first, and this adds a lot to the level design. You don’t have to spend too much time waiting around and building, you end up spending more time progressing through the levels.
Perfectionist gamers have always been to drawn these games because of the amount of content and unlockables in each entry, and this game is no exception. There are over 200 characters to play as and unlock in LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and while not all of them play uniquely to each other (matter of fact, there are seven different versions of Rey alone), some of them range from prominent characters like Han Solo and Finn; to characters you’d never even want to play as like Wollivan and Unkarr Plutt. There are even characters such as Anakin Skywalker and Yoda, who don’t even appear in the movie, which is kind of cool. You can also unlock vehicles to play as in certain missions, such as the Millennium Falcon and even the Death Star II… for some reason.
Vehicles are used for dogfights, something not new to these games; but definitely with more emphasis to them than ever before. They play similar to the likes of Star Fox, where you fly through an on-rails scripted section, blasting enemies with your ship and flying through an occasional hoop, every now and then. Later your put into open-ended arena battles where you must either shoot down parts of enemy ships, take down a certain amount or type of enemy ship, or defeat a boss. I’m usually not a fan of this type of gameplay; unless it’s something like Kid Icarus Uprising, but this is some of the most fun I’ve had with dogfight gameplay in a long time. There’s a certain thrill to controlling a TIE fighter in flight, even if it is made of plastic bricks. These scenarios are also very well controlled too, which only made them better.
One more addition to the LEGO game series with this instalment is the inclusion of a cover-shooting mechanic, known as ‘Blaster Battles’. These sections control similar to third-person shooters such as Uncharted or Gears of War and have you acting in shoot-outs with Stormtroopers. I know, that sounds especially odd coming from a LEGO game. These work surprisingly well all things considered, but the camera can feel a little bit loose sometimes. During these sections, characters like Finn and Han can use their grappling hooks to pull boxes to crush foes, to pull down scaffolding they’re standing on and to solve other puzzles. These scenes translate well to the formula, and it intrigues me to see how it’ll be used in future entries in the series.
While not going too far out of the series’ comfort zone, this game manages to introduce some new and fun mechanics to the formula that keeps things from getting too repetitive. I played a good majority of the game in co-op and it definitely increased my enjoyment of the experience as a whole. I respect that TT Games is one of the only developers left nowadays that takes advantage of couch co-op, a dying multiplayer method. It makes solving puzzles way more fun if you have a friend along with you to converse with.
In terms of visuals, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks great for what it is. The graphics mix the infamous LEGO bricks and minifigures with some slightly realistic looking environmental effects. You’d think these don’t mesh well together and I don’t know how, but it somehow just looks right. The game runs at a native 1080p on PlayStation 4 (the version I played) and Xbox One. For the first time in any LEGO game though, I noticed slight frame drops during gameplay, specifically in Blaster Battles or the dogfight battles. These drops are very minor, but they do slow things down a bit.
Where frame rate especially drops is during co-operative gameplay, specifically in scenes with heavy environmental effects such as fire. The frame rate can drop from 30 frames-per-second down to 20 or even into 10. It’s jarring since not too long ago I played LEGO Dimensions, a much bigger game, almost entirely in co-op and noticed barely any frame dips. I’ve seen a couple of people complaining about glitches in the game, but for me, the only glitch of sorts I encountered was that the game crashed on me during a cutscene at one point and caused my PS4 to close down the software instantly. This only happened once and is the only technical error I encountered throughout my entire playthrough.
There are two things people will immediately notice about the game’s audio upon booting it. First that a majority of the prominent actors from the movie return to voice their characters in the game, second that the game uses John Williams’s score from the movie as it’s soundtrack.
The main cast returning to voice their characters was not only a huge surprise, but definitely a very respectful inclusion from TT Games. While not all of the cast returns, important actors such as Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver and even Harrison Ford return to voice their respective characters. A smart inclusion was the use of archived audio for minor characters who did not return, instead of hiring a voice actor that kind of sounds like them, they chose to use actual audio from the movie. It makes the entire experience feel more authentic and immersive, having the cast who played their characters return.
Speaking of “authentic and immersive”, the use of John Williams’s beautiful score for the movie drives these qualities in even further. I’m usually not a very big fan of re-using soundtracks in anything unless it works and in this case it only stands as a testament to how good the film’s score is. The fact that it can be used in both a movie and a video game equally well is only a compliment to it. It worked in Disney Infinity 3.0 and it definitely works here.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumphant return to the franchise that kick-started the LEGO video game series. The gameplay serves to prove that TT Games still has more to offer us, introducing fun mechanics that I can’t wait to see built upon in future instalments (especially the Blaster Battles). The story serves to please Star Wars fans new and old with a charming sense of humour that has stuck with the series for over a decade and the choice to bring back the cast of the movie only helps to increase the immersion more. It isn’t without its faults, though, a few technical hiccups keep it from being the best LEGO and Star Wars game out there, but it’s definitely up there with the best.
|+ Fun new mechanics that keep the formula fresh.||– Irritating frame drops, especially in co-op.|
|+ Charming humour and storytelling.||– Not without it's share of minor glitches and bugs.|
|+ Fantastic voice acting from the returning cast.|