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Just when you thought they'd run out of material in the Star Wars universe...
There have been dozens of Lego games from Traveller's Tales since the original Lego Star Wars and with Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, they have thankfully tried to add something new to the series rather than simply attach the Batman or Harry Potter license to their formula. The question is: does the Lego adventure block your path to enjoyment, or is it a character-building experience? What do we make of it?
Ignoring the cheap puns, this outing of the Lego Star Wars franchise genuinely has some great new features to get excited about. The game sets out with a three-pronged narrative, with plenty of room for the player to choose how to embark upon their galaxy-spanning journey, and with almost all of the tales inspired by the CG animated Star Wars series, The Clone Wars. This means that much of the game is focused upon the epic, sprawling battles seen in the show; the at times claustrophobic corridors of previous Lego titles are all but absent.
This increased ambition is evident across the game, with the all new space battles and battleground modes adding something fresh to the recipe. The Ground Assault mode grants players the ability to inject an element of strategy to the proceedings, an RTS-lite spin that provides a welcome change from the standard Lego play. Space battles are also an interesting diversion, with hundreds of on-screen objects and ships taking part in some truly epic cosmic fighting. Never before have the little plastic blocks ever looked so good either, with a radical overhaul of the engine now meaning that the characters look shinier and more realistic than the real thing.
The series’ trademark humour and silent story-telling skills return too, and although the slightly ambiguous story can get confusing at times, each cut-scene would always be able to provoke a small chuckle from even the hardest of cockney gangsters. There’s also the hulking mass content that we’ve grown used to from the series – numerous repeat play-throughs are required to grab all of the seemingly limitless collectables and unlock the giant list of characters.
No-one could claim this outing is lacking ambition then. However, many of these new forays into innovation are lacking execution. The depth of the game is indeed rather impressive, but when obscure collectables and unheard of characters are the only thing prolonging the gameplay, the apparent depth suddenly becomes all too shallow. Increased enemy numbers also manage to seem cheap, as unlimited respawning enemies make any sense of destructive progress feel pointless. Even the new gameplay modes, while appreciated as an alternative to the standard play, are riddled with flaws. Any strategies made available are incredibly narrow, and building new assets in your base is a foregone conclusion rather than an optional complex stratagem. The AI frequently disrupts your plans, auto-targeting is a nightmare, the Jedi orders don’t always work, and the space flight controls are sloppy at best.
Although the source material was the logical next step after tackling the films, the comparatively weak inspiration means many of the famously iconic moments that were cleverly twisted in previous Lego titles are obviously no longer available for exploitation. Renowned filmic scenes and characters are missing, and it’s just not that exciting to play out the CG series when compared to the films while, elsewhere, the Lego Star Wars novelty is unavoidably wearing thin. I mean, how many times have we played out that Geonosis scene from Episode II now?
Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games are known for their co-operative play, but the introduction of a dynamic split-screen quickly becomes a huge headache as the camera really toys with your cohesion. When working together, the puzzles are supposedly at their most fun, but the at times illogical problems are almost impossible to work out intuitively and it’s a blemish upon the game when two well-qualified twenty-somethings spend over half an hour using trial and error to get past a simply counter-intuitive puzzle, as was the case during this review. This air of confusion penetrates the entire game and, with no help for the awkward hub world or baffling puzzles at all, it's bound to leave younger players lost and frustrated. There are countless usability issues and obstacles that get in the way of the undoubted core fun of the game, and perhaps as the Lego fatigue wears on with every title released, players will be less forgiving of such problems.
So an attempted step in the right direction has led to a stumble in the wrong one. Despite some modest improvements, the weak source material and constant moments of frustration prevent this game from being much fun for long, especially as its younger target audience will struggle with the game’s confusing, abstract and somehow still simplistic gameplay. Lego Star Wars has glimpses of the great fun we loved in the originals, but as the novelty wears off and fatigue sets in, it's sad to see that it's ultimately made from a structure as unstable as a game made of Lego.