Review: LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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I remember buying the first LEGO Star Wars game over a decade ago and being excited to see a new and unique way of interpreting a movie franchise I had loved through the years. Flash forward through LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, and LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, and Traveller’s Tales has spent quite a few years refining the tale told a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

At first blush, I wasn’t expecting much from LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens because with the previous titles, there were three movies for each title (plus a wealth of cartoons and comics to fill the gaps in Clone Wars) to really create a substantial amount of gameplay. Creating a full game from just one movie seemed like it was going to be a bit of a challenge. However, I was very quickly proven wrong as the game opens with the events of Return of the Jedi and the Battle of Endor. Tying the original movies to the new Disney produced franchise allows players an opportunity to play classic characters while also bridging the storylines together. The Battle of Endor also sets the stage for pretty much all of the forms of gameplay that can be expected from the rest of the game: platform and environment puzzles, land-based vehicle missions, and space combat levels.

Of course getting one movie into a full game also means creating some form of overworld map that will quickly allow players to jump from one level to the next.  (The original LEGO Star Wars game was rudimentary but clever in that the hub world was contained in a mock diner run by Dexter Jetster from Attack of the Clones). LEGO Force Awakens has a galaxy map that shows various planets that have specific story missions as well as an open-world hub (which provides plenty of extra content once the story missions have been completed). While Jakku, D’qar, and Starkiller all have open-world hubs and story missions, side story missions, which are unlocked by collecting a various amount of gold bricks from the hub and story missions, expand the story beyond what’s covered within the movie’s two-and-a-quarter-hour screen time. These smaller side mission levels are actually really great because they explore background characters seen in the new movie and help tie them to the larger narrative while also offering a glimpse into the lives of characters that aren’t Rey, Finn, or Poe.

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As with all of TT’s LEGO titles, there are tons of collectibles to find, including the usual mini-kits and red and gold bricks. For a change of pace, Force Awakens also includes Carbonite pieces, which can be redeemed for classic characters from the original two trilogies. Mini-kits create vehicles which can be used in both land-based missions and space battles, red bricks are the “allowed” cheats which in turn provide multipliers for stud collection, silly blasters, disco lightsabers, and many more fun ways to modify the gameplay.

Collecting every character and vehicle is the ultimate goal, which also means replaying story missions in free play. Free play allows players to pick any unlocked character, making available certain areas that weren’t accessible during the first pass in the story mode, either by using Dark Force powers, or rapid fire blasters, or grenades to interact with various LEGO blocks. While I enjoyed playing some of the space/flying combat missions in the story versions, replaying them back to back in free play mode (and again at times in the open-world hub) shows how limiting and frustrating they can be. Controls for flying a space craft are very limited. The left stick moves forward and steers, L2 triggers a speed boost, and R2 and/or the square button fire weapons, but there is no way to slow the craft for sharp turns or banking to quickly get behind an enemy. Flight missions drone on and on as ships don’t blow up in one shot, and they tend to fly away faster than can be killed in one straight attempt. Compounding the frustration is the fact that most space/flying missions start off with a goal of taking down 10 TIE Fighters, only to have that number reset with another 10. This repetition almost feels like unnecessary padding, especially since the levels are played in Story mode, Free play mode, and mini missions offered up in the hubs. Fortunately, the hub missions don’t necessarily rely solely on space/flight combat missions; there are plenty of “go and blast or smash through enemies until a goal is reached” types of mission.

Fans who have played previous LEGO titles will find some new mechanics in Force Awakens. The first one that really stands out are the multi-build jumble of bricks. Per usual, objects can be broken into a pile of bricks to then be rebuilt into a specific item, but now with the multi-build, a single pile could potentially be built into two or three different objects. These multi-build objects are often used as multi-step puzzles in the environment. One such puzzle requires the bricks to be used initially as a wall that a character can climb up to a new level, then switching to the second character who shoots the wall, returning the bricks back to the jumbled pile. The second character then can select a different location for where to build the pile so that a floating droid with an umbrella will block a waterfall from covering the walkway for the first character to pass while they are on the upper level. These multi-build “puzzles” are a neat addition to the standard “break and then rebuild” functionality, but I did find that from time to time the third option for a multi-build wasn’t always highlighted as obviously as the first two.

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Star Wars wouldn’t really be Star Wars without a good blaster fight, and Force Awakens adds a whole new cover-based shooting mechanic to the mix as well, really bringing the vibe of a blaster shootout front and center. Moving in and out of cover isn’t always an option as the game basically expects players to move into cover and deal with all enemies before letting players get back out of cover. At times this can be a bit frustrating as some cover-based encounters don’t rely solely on shooting enemies, but rather require players to switch characters so that they can use a special ability, like revealing a hidden trigger behind Stormtroopers. Getting caught up in the moment of a blaster fight to suddenly not see that there is more to the encounter is frustrating since the camera shifts to a narrowed focus with no way to move the camera around the character while in cover mode. What I found rather fun, though, was the fact that Jedi characters could “shoot” enemies with a Force push instead of using a blaster or by throwing their lightsaber. This is a nice touch that adds to just how bad ass a Jedi should feel in combat.

What kept me going most of all was the significant amount of care and detail that clearly went into each section. The hub worlds are large and varied with plenty of different nuance for that particular area. Jakku’s open-world missions revolve around surviving a desert wasteland while missions on Starkiller lean toward Finn’s former janitorial job as a Stormtrooper. Missions on D’qar skew toward the paranoid notion that the First Order was infiltrating a secret base of Rebels. This humor brought each area to life in a way that had it not been there, the game would’ve fallen flat very quickly.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun game. There is plenty of kid-level humor mixed in with touching moments retold from the movie (albeit in LEGO form). Each environment looks absolutely amazing and all of the levels provide plenty of replay. Even though it’s only based on the first movie in the new trilogy, Star Wars fans have plenty to look forward to with this title as there are some fun side mission gems providing an extended look at periphery characters and locations. Fans of past LEGO titles will find similarities to go along with some added touches that bring a renewed freshness to this entry.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Vast, well crafted levels
+ Tons of characters to unlock and play as
+ Fun Kylo Ren trophies to earn
+ No Jar Jar Binks!

Cons:
– Repetitive space/flight combat missions

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also on 3DS, iOS, PS3, Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Warner Bros
Developer: TT Games
Release Date: 6/28/2016
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Amazon.com, Steam, PlayStation Store, Wii U eShop, Xbox Games Store

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.