Review: LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens

As a long time fan of both Star Wars, LEGO and games in general, this review might come with a bit of bias. As you should probably anticipate, there will be spoilers for the movie ahead, so if you haven’t seen it yet, go do that, then come back. We also won’t be keeping any of the games secrets either, so if that’s an issue for you, take the same advice.

Back? Ready? Alright, let’s continue.

The LEGO games in general have had an interesting relationship with their individual franchises, and while it has explored different themes, they’ve all had fairly consistent play techniques. You run around and break everything you can, then build it back up again.

Sometimes a minifig will have a special power that you need to get past an obstacle, but the puzzles are relatively straightforward. When you’ve gone through respective story relating to the game, you return to the levels in free play, all in pursuit of that grindy-yet-obtainable 100% completion.

While LEGO Worlds brings in a better build aspect (and doesn’t have much story to speak of), even LEGO Dimensions runs with the tried-and-true play style. At its core, LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens is about running around, breaking everything you can, and building it back up again.

 

The first LEGO Star Wars game was the one that originally brought a franchise together with the LEGO name, and while TT Games has gone through many other entities, from comics, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings and even Jurassic Park, it’s the Star Wars games that started it all. As a tie-in with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, we’ve got a brand new LEGO Star Wars game to run around with.

It’s impossible to talk about these games without mentioning the humour. It’s one of the things that they’ve done so well over the years, and even with the shift from grunts and non-verbal communication to vocals taken straight from the source material, the humour has been consistent.

It often relies on the idea that LEGO pieces are interchangeable, as there’s nothing to stop a five-year-old from mixing her Batman figure with Scooby Doo (LEGO Dimensions kind of mandates it, really). It’s built around the defiance of conventions, and embracing those juxtapositions.

 

There’s a lot of slapstick, switching out sometimes violent material with family-appropriate replacements, and the repetition of in-jokes across the games. They often show a great understanding of the subject, and LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens is no exception to that.

When the film first hit cinemas late last year, there was a lot of discussion about the different characters – the way that Rey and Finn were fanstruck by Han Solo, the way Kylo Ren’s temper got the better of him and how he was as much a fanboy of Darth Vader as we might be – all of these elements feed into the jokes, from Finn wandering the Falcon with a big goofy grin on his face, to Kylo Ren’s quarters being wall-to-wall with Vader paraphernalia.

There are other occasions where the jokes mightn’t work for some, but these are also the ones targeted at a younger crowd. It’s what makes it suitable for parents and children to play together, as it still provides enough humour to make the experience enjoyable, combining intelligent references to Star Wars with overt slapstick.

As many of the LEGO games have done, The Force Awakens brings new game elements, such as chargeable skills, cover-shooter sequences, spaceflight, and multi-build. There’s also a mix of abilities for each of the minifigs, and while there’s a tremendous array of them waiting to be unlocked, the core characters from the movies do have a vast range of utility. One of the new abilities is command, which lets certain characters (such as General Leia) order a squad around.

Multi-build is the most significant change from previous LEGO games, as it’s a change to the way players interact with the LEGO building portions of the game.

It leads to some puzzles that are either time-dependent, require specific order or sequence of steps, and adds a feeling of varied gameplay. As a shift in how the build puzzles are played, it’s not unreasonable to expect this element to show up in other LEGO games.

The chargeable skills are an aspect of the standard combat system, which give an additional power attack to the minifig – this can be useful for taking on a group of enemies, but are really just about adding something cool, rather than a type of play that would be considered critical – these aren’t challenging games by any stretch.

The flight simulator portions of the game are fun, but not sophisticated. Nobody would expect LEGO The Force Awakens to bring a strong flight simulation component, but what’s surprising is how well it stacks up against the lacklustre aerial battles that came with last year’s Star Wars: Battlefront.

With a similar range of evasive shortcuts and unlimited firepower, it’s a relaxing romp that still hits the right Star Wars notes. It’s as far removed from the complexities of old school Star Wars sims like X-Wing or TIE Fighter, but then, so was Battlefront.

The element most removed from past LEGO games (and another encroaching on Battlefront’s territory) is the simple cover-shooter sequences. They still retain the LEGO feel, but they’re a big departure from the type of gameplay these usually contain.

With characters needing to pop out of cover to fire at enemies and reactive environments, it could easily be considered a gateway game for those who want to taste what other games might have to offer. It might be a challenge for the youngest gamers, but is no more difficult than anything a Skylanders game throws out.

One of the biggest problems with the game is that some of the levels seem to drag on, and it appears that the ability to save within a level (which has been a staple of LEGO games) is no longer present. Even the prologue mission that takes us back to the finale of Return of the Jedi drags on in the Endor sequence, and its presence doesn’t aid in telling the story of The Force Awakens.

There are other unlockable missions that provide some extra time with characters from the film, such as Lor San Tekka or fan favourite Poe Dameron. These levels aren’t very exciting, and their link to the film is superficial (particular Lor San Tekka’s) but hey, it is a LEGO Game, not an open-world RPG set in the Star Wars universe that we’re all so keen to see. 

Similarly there are a number of mini-game sequences, some touching on bits and pieces of Star Wars, such as with the Falcon’s turrets, but there’s just window dressing to the greater game.

The audio is serviceable, and it’s hard to fault in many cases since it swells with the same soundtrack that brought so many emotions to bear in the film, yet a lot of the dialogue falls flat in isolation.

There have been many LEGO games now that have drawn on the vocals of the source material, and while it isn’t so clearly filtered as it was with the Jurassic Park levels in the LEGO Jurassic World game, it doesn’t bring in the charm like the grunts and squeaks of the early LEGO games did.

The biggest highlight with LEGO The Force Awakens is the Millenium Falcon.

It’s the best iteration of an explorable Star Wars ship this side of Knights of the Old Republic (but alas, the Ebon Hawk was no YT-1300). Walking through the corridors does capture that mix between a broken down relic and something really special, and is as near as many of us can get. To get closer than the LEGO counterpart, you’d need to track down the actual set used for the film.

While the defunct Disney Infinity series also took players inside the Falcon, it always felt small in some places and too big in others. The LEGO Falcon is sized right for minifigs, and as such doesn’t feel like an approximation.

Inside the lounge of the Falcon, there’s even a mini-game based on the Dejarik board, where you can control the monsters like the Mantellian Savrip or Grimtaash the Molator – and yes, the game only refers to this Alderaanian legend by the Molator moniker which makes you wonder if they even obsessed over Star Wars before.

In all, the game is going to be an obvious choice for those who already like the LEGO games, and nothing to sing about if they don’t interest you. For those that want to relive the stories of Rey, Finn and Poe while they wait for the next movie, it’s this or watch the movie again. The only other choice beyond those two is Disney Infinity 3.0, which plays a lot looser with the film’s narrative, and doesn’t do as good a job at capturing the Star Wars feel.

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