Based on the recent Star Wars hit film from Disney, the latest LEGO game improves upon previous LEGO Marvel game but has much room for improvement.
Release Date: June 28th, 2016
Developer: TT Fusion
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
NOTE: LEGO The Force Awakens was played on the PlayStation 4.
The release of Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens last December marked a new age in the franchise, with Star Wars movies planned for release every year as well as new video games that will expand on Star Wars lore. Last year’s Star Wars: Battlefront primarily focused on the original feature film trilogy and barely met, maybe even lowered, the expectations of the fanbase. And while there are more Star Wars games on the way, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens attempts to pick up the slack…and does, though it also has a hard time exceeding expectations, with its limited cast of characters and questionable game design decisions.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens begins with the end of Return of the Jedi as we see the fall of the Empire at the hands of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. The game fast forwards to where The Force Awakens starts and progresses at a consistent beat from there. Given that this LEGO game focuses on a singular movie - rather than a trilogy or collection - the pace of the journey through the plot is much more controlled and patient. Certain aspects of the game are elaborated on, such as Rey and Finn repairing the Millennium Falcon or Rey’s journey underneath Maz’s bar. These moments of exploration are beautifully rendered in LEGO form and detailed landscapes. The forest moon of Endor and Jakku have a lot of life in them despite the fact they’re basically plastic toys.
When you finish a story mission, the game usually spits you and your partner out (this LEGO game, as well as the others, cooperate fully with couch co-op) in a level where you can explore. The Resistance Base, the burned down village from the film’s beginning, and Maz’s bar are at your disposable as you break apart all measure of objects to build and collect studs to buy more characters and fun bonuses. Additionally, whenever you begin a mission, the classic opening title crawl with the John Williams score plays. The first time is novel and cute, but when it happens every single time you start a mission, it quickly begins to hamper play and get annoying. The game definitely pushes for a more casual, “play for a chapter or two,” rather than for longer stretches of time.
The levels are directly inspired from The Force Awakens, so Rey and Finn will logically evolve and gain new tools as they did in the film. The gameplay is as varied as a LEGO game could be. There are the standard explore and solve puzzle segments and the vehicle segments that are surprisingly enjoyable - the Resistance shooting down Tie-Fighters as they come in to save the day at Takodana is a highlight.
A new addition to this iteration of LEGO game is the forced third-person shooter segments, which takes away what makes for a LEGO game in the first place. You are locked behind a piece of cover as a turret or a powerful foe attacks you and you’re tasked with fumbling through the awkward controls to just end the sequence as soon as possible. Not only that but the camera fights you and moves around if you try to focus fire on an enemy outside your scope of vision. When I think of LEGO games, I don’t think of a poorly controlled third-person shooter and I’m sure it sounded better on paper.
The last LEGO game released was LEGO Marvel Avengers and there was a surprisingly noticeable lack of characters that appeared in the previous LEGO Marvel Superheroes. LEGO The Force Awakens meets the player half-way in this respect. Throughout the world, there are carbonite bricks you can find that unlock the classic characters from the original trilogy. Characters like Boba Fett and skins for pre-existing characters are unlocked as you progress through the game. And if you’re playing on PlayStation 4, you can unlock General Grievous from Star Wars: Episode III and Bounty Hunter IG-88. But the vast majority of the characters are complete throwaways.
Why even include characters like Major Kalonia, Ophi Egra and Trinto Duab when everyone will want to play as Kylo Ren or Rey? It’s padding of the highest order, especially since many of the characters function the same way. Certain characters can use the force but the majority can use grappling hooks or activate panels that others can’t. Less is more in this case where a smaller but more diverse roster would benefit LEGO games rather than jamming in every character in existence. On your first playthrough, you are forced to use the story characters. But once you complete the game, you can unlock Free Play and go back and get the other goodies you missed to unlock more of the “stellar” cast of characters. You and your co-op partner can pick through the cast at any point during Free Play, including BB-8.
That adorable ball-droid is one of the more annoying characters in LEGO The Force Awakens because if BB-8 even grazes you, your character staggers, which interrupts whatever action you were doing. BB-8 is the only droid that does this and the design decision to let him do that to a human partner was either schadenfreude or done vindictively.
LEGO The Force Awakens includes side missions that fill in some backstory from the film, but they don’t add much to the game or the greater Star Wars lore. Poe Dameron rescuing Admiral Ackbar does nothing to quell the detractors and nay-sayers of The Force Awakens as it mirrors the rescue of Princess Leia nearly identically. Han Solo gathering Rathtars gives some background on Rey’s gun and where it came from but the side missions are weak. They are better than the LEGO Marvel Avengers’ side missions but they don’t give anything greater meaning.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens represents an improvement from the earlier LEGO Marvel Avengers. The level design, the characters (while limiting) and the audio design are all better than the Marvel heap, but there’s still room for advancement and improvement in future LEGO games.