Release Date: June 28, 2016Platform: PS4, XBO (reviewed), PC, PS3, Wii U, 3DS, X360, PS VitaDeveloper: Traveler’s Tales, TT FusionPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentGenre: Action, puzzle
One of the chief pleasures of the Lego video games seems to be their simplicity. Break stuff, collect rewards, play as familiar and favorite characters; even the sounds, from the little “poof” of switching between characters to the authentic Star Wars lightsaber buzz, are simple fun. The latest installment seems to invite a well-discussed question for reviewers – is cute fun “enough” to make a game good? In this case, despite some disjointed control schemes, the answer is yes.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just as polished and sugary sweet as its predecessors, with a goofy sense of humor in both cutscenes and dialogue during missions. The characters are chatty – Rey has some particularly good jokes – and I found myself pausing at times just to listen to a conversation between two NPCs.
The player can access a variety of hub worlds as well as a galaxy map, and while the method of traveling between them or finding the next story mission was a bit confusing at first, it was far less cluttered than installments like Lego Lord of the Rings, with its mission-rich, endless hub world. The galaxy map navigation also allows you to access the four missions that tell stories that weren’t revealed in The Force Awakens.
Many of the missions involve three stages with different types of gameplay: typical Lego exploration and puzzle-solving, target shooting, and space combat. Lego pieces can now be rebuilt into one of several items, allowing for puzzles that require the player to experiment.
The target shooting felt like an opportunity to embed first person shooter-like elements in the game. The first thing these segments do is pin your character behind cover, occasionally adding the need to move between cover or avoid sniper fire. Clunky shooting controls unfortunately make for extremely floaty targeting, which becomes outright hand-contorting when you’re required to throw a grenade on top of that. The shooting segments offer varied types of challenges, including the aforementioned snipers and some puzzle-solving, but as someone who usually favors shooters, they were one of the least enjoyable parts.
The ship combat hasn’t been changed much from previous Star Wars Lego games – shoot lasers, pick up bombs, sometimes navigate. Playing with two people, I found the space combat scenes a bit cluttered, although flying the Millennium Falcon with Rey and Finn doing their respective jobs as pilot and gunner was an exercise in chaotic teamwork that pretty well replicated the frantic experience Rey and Finn had in the movie. The most fun I had with the space combat wasn’t actually in space: the Resistance counter-attack at Maz Kanata’s palace puts you in Poe Dameron’s X-Wing, which feels light and maneuverable compared to the Falcon. Some flying segments are on rails to a degree, allowing you to whip the ship around within a confined corridor while elements like Lego mini-kits or bombs fling themselves twitchily at you. The X-Wing battle over the lake gives the player the perfect balance of freedom and restriction, allowing you to perform the relatively easy task of taking down TIE Fighters in an area sized to allow for the ideal amount of barrel-rolling and swooping. Even if enemies did dissolve into little bricks, it felt like I imagine a “real” X-Wing fight would. Like Luke Skywalker in that first, classic X-Wing battle, the player both experiences a thrill and needs to build up skills on the fly.
Co-op in general is a joyous, nicely paced exercise in problem solving. The puzzles are insistently easy. Most are able to be solved by running around until a prompt appears to tell you what button to press to activate the appropriate special ability. More than in any other Lego games, my friends and I found ourselves waiting for one player to solve a puzzle while the other just loitered in a room without many breakable objects. Giving more consideration to what one player might do while the other is solving a particularly tricky segment might have improved this. The lure of replaying missions to find hidden objects or simply to play as favorite characters is still very much present.
As an adaptation of a movie, the main story strays just far enough to be interesting, and some of the fun came from realizing that you could play through a scene in more detail than expected. Rey’s “first steps” into the basement of Maz Kanata’s castle becomes an atmospheric, steampunk level unto itself with one of the game’s lengthiest puzzles. Because of this, it does an even better job than the movie did of showing Maz’s castle as an ancient, slightly threatening place, tied to the Jedi in some obscure but undeniable fashion. Captain Phasma also gets an expanded role, a cool fight involving a weaponized throne. Some dialogue from the movie is slightly expanded, with Kylo Ren trying to tempt Rey by offering her the chance to command armies and rule planets. The game also makes it very clear that Rey’s ultimate attack on Kylo Ren was a product of the dark side, implying that she listened to his advice in order to deal the final blow. The emphasis on building and fixing things in the dialogue makes allowances for the Lego world, but is also an endearing hook that might encourage kids to try out STEM (or maybe just buy more Legos.)
The four unlockable levels that expand the story around The Force Awakens are, consistently with the rest of the game, fun and simple. Together they piece together tidbits about how Han Solo found the ratters and how Lor San Tekka got the information about Luke Skywalker’s location. Playing as Poe Dameron in an attempt to break Admiral Akbar out of First Order custody, I was struck by the humor of the characters and relatively natural callbacks to the Original Trilogy.
You also get the chance to fill the villains’ shoes in the unlockable missions: “Ottegan Assault” is a straightforward adventure that gives Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma more screen time together than they had in the film, and “Trouble Over Taul” sends Phasma and FN-2199 to a disintegrating starship. “Trouble Over Taul” was also notable for introducing some brief zero gravity scenes. These don’t add any new mechanics per se, but they do add a little danger – I was alarmed and amused to find out that characters can in fact fall out of the ship.
My only other major concern was that the Xbox One version did have a tendency to crash, forcing me to restart levels several times. The autosave sometimes put me down just minutes from where I had previously been, but other times kicked me back to the level hub. Other reviewers have reported similar issues, with trouble starting the game on PC. It didn’t ruin the experience, but a patch would be welcome.
With the inclusion of the ability to build multiple objects, talk to NPCs, and explore various hub worlds, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens builds on the series to produce something fun and polished, although the shooting segments are a laborious exception. Recommended for Star Wars fans who want to know every possible twist and addition to the story, plus people who enjoy the Lego formula and are looking for more. Players expecting rock-solid control or satisfying difficulty in the campaign won’t find them here – but Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens sticks to its thesis that cute and fun are more than enough.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.