The crux of Disney Infinity’s success is a character design style that works excellently as both in-game graphics and real world action figures. By Jiminy, those little action figures look great.
Then, against all odds, it also manages to unify the look of – amongst many others – Lightning McQueen, Donald Duck, Captain Jack Sparrow and the Inside Out emotions, so that they can sit happily together on the very same shelf or screen.
Yet conversely, the game offers an amazing amount of variety. The new 3.0 edition stretches to open-world 3D platforming and combo-ready combat with both range and melee attacks; 2D platforming that can be very classical in its approach; Diablo-like dungeon crawling; weapon-loaded kart racing; and an awful lot more besides. Every one of the new 3.0 playsets offers a significantly different gaming experience and, at an even finer scale, every individual character comes with their own distinct and upgradeable move set and range of play capabilities. It’s simply not possible to sample everything this game can offer without putting in a good few hours.
There are, so far, two Star Wars playsets, with a third one based upon The Force Awakens coming at much the same time as the movie. This is going to be the only Force Awakens game on console or PC, and it’s a weird quirk that thousands upon thousands of gamers worldwide already have the disc at home and the software installed, but simply can’t access the locked-away gameplay until the physical playset piece ships in December. I thought somebody would have cracked the code and leaked a string of spoilers by now, but am relieved to say they haven’t.
Straight out of the box, the Disney Infinity 3.0 starter pack offers gamers a Clone Wars and prequels-inspired Twilight Of The Republic campaign, and as of this week, everybody can buy some add-on gameplay based on the original trilogy.
This is the Rise Against The Empire playset, a Disney Infinitisation of Episodes IV-VI that offers a compressed, sometimes significantly altered retelling of the three most popular Star Wars stories of all. The story has been changed a lot in translation for gameplay, with a massive narrative difference that’s obvious straight out of the gate. It’s an honestly hefty change, but one driven entirely by the needs of a video game.
Here’s how it goes now. During the opening cut sequence, set inside the Tantive IV blockade runner that everybody knows from the beginning of Star Wars, we’re introduced to not just Princess Leia as a lone operative, but as one of a whole party of adventurers. Also onboard and already operating in sympatico with Leia are Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca.
So the original story’s structure of the band coming together during the first couple of acts has been eschewed entirely. This is the price we pay for being able to play as Luke, Leia, Han or Chewie from the very beginning of the game. For the end result we want as game players, it was the correct thing to do.
Instead of Leia putting a message into R2-D2 and shooting him off to Obi Wan Kenobi in a desperate attempt to garner his assistance, the Infinity version of the story sees the droids and our lead characters all making off in escape pods for the surface of Tatooine. There’s then a quick hunt for the droids, before the game opens up a whole level of exploration around Mos Eisley. The main mission here is to get the Millennium Falcon out of hock, which means completing your selection of side-missions to earn credits.
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between a sandbox-style game narrative and a movie. Games like this benefit from multi-part objectives, such as the raising of cash in portions, to allow the player to get a lot out of their surroundings. For the sake of the game we want to experience a multi-faceted Mos Eisley that works as a playground for exploration, not the focused portrayal that was required for a feature film.
After getting on board the Falcon, the player is able to set a course for Alderaan… and then some well-known narrative events take hold. They will still be a spoiler to somebody, so I’ll tread carefully. Anyway, it isn’t long until the characters find themselves inside the belly of the Death Star, and there’s then another, distinctive shift in how the story is told.
With Leia on the team there’s no longer any need for a rescue mission, so the player party take on the job of shutting down the tractor beams. It’s not a huge part of the game – a speed-run incentive asks players to try and complete it in under five minutes, which isn’t too hard – but it’s a way of drawing quickly-graspable gameplay objectives out of the movie narrative.
It’s not true that all of the trilogy’s high-points are here, nor even everything that seems suitable for gameplay adaptation. There are, essentially, three sets of levels, one for each of the films, and in each set there’s a central open-world planet to be explored, and also some space-based combat and flight sections. This translates to Tatooine for IV, Hoth for V, Endor for VI, and the open space above each of those planets.
The corridors of the two Death Stars make for brief, pleasantly digressive interludes, and it was of course inevitable that Star Wars’ climactic trench run and Return Of The Jedi’s assault on the Death Star core would be included too. Thankfully, they’re both rather fun, and I really liked the pseudo-dated mono-shaded graphics used to evoke the Rebels’ briefing sessions before each of those missions.
Overall, there’s a diminished narrative punch to the cut scenes, but they’re not as glib and sarcastic as some of the Lego Star Wars games. The perfect example is the moment where Darth Vader confronts Luke with the reality of their relationship – which happens in-game on Hoth, because Cloud City has been wiped away entirely. It’s not got any real meaning, being there more to mark out the scene as having happened rather making any serious attempt to replicate its atmosphere or drama.
Instead of impact or belly-laughs, the effort here seems to have been spent on charm. When there is a cut sequence, it will tend to be very short and the likeable character models breeze through it quickly, just to bridge the real meat of gameplay without compromising the all-round sense of appeal and likeability. What humour there is tends to be gentle, and largely comes from the central conceit that in Disney Infinity, all of the characters and all of the play-worlds are actually toys.
Oh, and as there’s no Cloud City, just by the way, the gamemakers had to find somewhere else to sneak in an introduction to Lando Calrissian. He’s now become one of the chief mission-givers on Endor, alongside some chatty Ewoks.
Rise Against The Empire is a brisk, fun digest of the original trilogy, skipping from well-known action scene to well-known action scene and taking in plenty of new, gameplay-facilitating missions as it does so. It took me about six or seven hours to complete, bypassing loads of side-objectives as I went, and I’ve already spent a lot more time diving back in and playing around in the Mos Eisley backstreets, the chasms of Hoth and those Death Star trenches less travelled.
The appeal of the game is much less in following the plot points of the films, precisely or not, but in taking well-rendered, irresistible re-versions of beloved characters into battle against the Imperial Legions that we love to hate. It’s the myriad bits of Star Wars hardware, setting and design, all filtered though the Infinity house style, that make progressive through this playset so attractive. When you take on a fleet of AT-AT walkers with your snowspeeder, the fun comes from this basic confrontation being open to you, not its fidelity (or lack thereof) to how the scene goes down in the movie. I will say that the tow cable trick still works, though, even if it is just one of the ways you could choose to best the big metal beasts.
And because Disney Infinity has its Toy Box mode, players who pine for a particular part of the trilogy’s stories that wasn’t included by the developers have the option to build it themselves. It was only while writing this piece that it struck me how building my own Cloud City mini-adventure would be more than do-able. Maybe I’ll get right on that when I’ve finished building my epic, hectic, and never-less than breakneck Speederbike race track.
UK players who have the Infinity 3.0 software will be able to buy and play the Rise Against The Empire playset now. It comes complete with Luke and Leia player figures which give you command of these characters in game. They’re nicely varied in their abilities – not least because one is a Jedi-in training with a lightsaber – and that already adds replay value, before you even consider snapping up Han, Chewie or Darth Vader on the side.
I love Disney Infinity, and Rise Of The Empire is some of the most fun I’ve had with the game so far. Fully recommended.
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