Warn Your Free Time – It’s A Trap!
HIGH Arguably the best use of character switching in any Lego title.
LOW Bricks. Studs. Bricks. Studs. Bricks. Studs. Repeat.
WTF The distance between checkpoints is a little ludicrous like Kanye West is a little arrogant.
It sometimes feels odd to review a Lego game. Regardless of whether the title features Wookiees, Hobbits, archaeologists, or teen wizards, the core gameplay is nearly always the same – break stuff, build stuff, collect stuff, solve remedial puzzles, and move along.
In that sense, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens (henceforth LSW: TFA) largely follows suit. But, when series veterans move past the well-worn mechanics, they’ll find a richer, more thought-out experience that embraces everything people love about the series, while also striking a better balance of humor, action, puzzle solving, and exploration than any of its predecessors.
Interestingly enough, LSW: TFA begins in more familiar territory – during the most pivotal scenes of Return of the Jedi, to be exact. First, players mow down Ewo—er.. I mean evil, bad guy stormtroopers—in the forests of Endor. Then, after an amusing cutscene, Luke and his dear ol’ dad join forces to take down the Emperor via Force-controlled miniature aircraft. (Remember that scene from the movie?)
Finally, Lego Lando and company fly to the heart of the Death Star and blow things up real good, even if the flight controls are a little squirrelly. This nostalgic intro serves as good training for the on-foot and in-air control schemes, and reacquaints fans with old heroes before putting them in exciting new shoes. That said, I’m not clear why the training wasn’t set on Jakku. It’s not like most people need a “Previously, on Star Wars” reminder.
Once gamers enter the realm of The Force Awakens, they immediately get a sense of just how much content there is. Early levels introduce players to every new character that matters, while simultaneously – and cleverly – teasing extra areas and puzzle sections that can only be accessed by specific members of the game’s 100+ playable characters and variants.
Yes, the storyline may need Rey and Finn to escape Jakku, but gamers know they’ll be back in the sandy wasteland with other characters in order to reach more unlockables. And players will want to go back because, in a very cool twist, a few of Episode VII’s more pressing questions actually get answered in Lucasfilm-approved and -blessed canon dialogue. These additions won’t fill novels, but they do offer serious fanservice in otherwise comical surroundings.
Getting back to the mechanics, players’ Lego muscle memory will be put to good use. Using only a few buttons, they’ll shoot, punch, Force push and mind meld a Star Destroyer’s worth of bricks and studs. There’s almost nothing new about the destruction, and there are several occasions when players will likely break everything out of habit, rather than desire. Yet, all these years later, it remains oddly satisfying to look around a stud-free level and know that no further damage can be had.
Where the game does show some new stripes is in its puzzles. As mentioned earlier, character-swapping is nothing new to this series but the variety of characters, personalities and abilities that pervade the Star Wars canon make these puzzles a touch much more enjoyable than in other fictional universes covered by Lego.
Obviously, characters like BB-8 (small size) and Chewbacca (brute strength) have clear advantages in certain areas, but having a Jedi around makes seemingly impossible goals much more attainable. LSW: TFA makes players think about how to best use the characters during free play mode, and maybe it’s not as mentally taxing as something like Portal, but it’s a welcome dose of challenge from a series not known for it.
In turn, the normally repetitious “magic block building” puzzles are back, but with a new twist – decisions. Unlike previous entries, now a player has the option of “aiming” the bricks in multiple directions to perform different tasks. A pile can be used to either fight an army of troopers or for an escape to the next story section. This once-redundant game mechanic is now a source of excitement and even strategy.
My biggest concern with LSW:TFA is the distribution of checkpoints. Sure, no one actually dies in Lego games, but progress is progress, and losing several minutes is frustrating. Considering the target demographic, perhaps the developers could have spent a little more time rethinking the save points. And that “save and exit” feature? It doesn’t bring players back to their current locations. Gamers should be prepared to repeat a lot should they have to exit mid-level.
Visually, LSW: TFA might be the first Lego title that truly takes advantage of current-gen machines. The requisite hard plastic Lego sheen is still evident, but set pieces are larger, backgrounds are more detailed, and most environments are lush and vibrant. Once players reach the Starkiller Base, the snowy forests and weapon outcroppings are reimagined perfectly, staying true to both the film and the game’s core aesthetic.
On the flip side, for a game so focused on recreating the movie’s magic, the audio of LSW: TFA is surprisingly lackluster. The music is adequate enough, but spoken audio, both from the films and newly recorded dialogue for the game, is muddled and muted behind a wash of sound effects and orchestral crescendos. Normally, I wouldn’t care so much, but when notorious curmudgeon Harrison Ford agrees to record some new canon lines, it’s important that they’re heard.
In the end, after hours of hair-splitting and nitpicking, the bottom line is that Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens just may be the best time I’ve had with a Lego title in years. Everything here is big, broad and loaded with replay value, and — unlike stormtrooper fire — will provide fans with a perfectly aimed blast of entertainment.
Disclosures: This game is developed by TT Games, and published by Warner Bros. Interactive. It is currently available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, PSVita and Wii U. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the primary campaign was completed. Two hours of play were devoted to local multiplayer for two players as part of the primary campaign. There are no online multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated E10+ by the ESRB at the time of review, and contains Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief and Mild Language. It’s all relatively benign fantasy violence, as performed by Lego brick characters. While there are weapons, and violence is implied, it is always presented in a comical, cartoon fashion, and never becomes gratuitous.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game relies heavily on music and dialogue to move the story along. However, there are subtitles, on-screen cues, and controller feedback to help gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are remappable on PC, but there are currently no options to do so on other platforms.
Colorblind Modes: There are currently no colorblind modes available in the options.
When not writing for Gamecritics, Brad spends his days managing several sports and entertainment websites, handling several freelance writing contracts, and occasionally playing the role of "Dad" when time permits.
Brad is also the only guy on this staff who prefers the Xbox One to other platforms. And he's not budging on that one bit.