Star Wars! Lego! Together!
It’s the perfect nerd combination, and considering how successful the game series was during the time of awful Star Wars films, just imagine how popular this one’s going to be now, seeing as it’s based on a genuinely brilliant one.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens has all of your favourite characters from the film, makes many of the scenes playable in adorable Lego form, and even fills in some of the gaps between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. But beneath that Star Wars sheen is essentially the same Lego game you know and, depending on who you are, either love or are a bit bored of.
During a hands-on session at GDC, I had the chance to play three levels of LSWTFA (to give it its full, daft abbreviation), all based around the film’s early scenes on the desert planet Jakku.
It's Lego... exactly as you know it
The first is a rejigging of the point at which Rey rescues BB-8 from the scavenger Teedo. Instead of simply persuading him to let BB-8 go, in the game Rey beats him and his lackeys up in typical Lego fashion: i.e. lots of rolling about, mashing the attack button and watching enemies and scenery get reduced to their constituent Lego bricks.
It’s fun, but doesn’t exactly rewrite the Lego-game rulebook, which prioritises kid-friendly simplicity over challenge and depth. This scene does introduce one of the game’s new features, though. In all of the previous games there have been points that require you to build something out of a mound of bricks, but here you actually get an option of what to build.
In this instance you need something to distract the huge Luggabeast that Teedo’s riding. It doesn’t actually matter which of the two things you build as they each have the same effect (knocking Teedo off the Luggabeast) but at points later in the game you will have to choose the correct construction in order to proceed.
Once Teedo’s been dealt with you have to work your way back to Rey’s abode through a crashed ship, switching between Rey and BB-8 (or taking advantage of drop-in co-op) as you go. Later on you’ll be able to return to these earlier levels and play them through using different characters - some of these will even unlock secret areas that Rey and BB-8 can’t access.
Flying the original piece of junk
The second level in my hands-on took the nerdiness to a whole new level: escape Jakku in the Millennium Falcon!
This isn’t the first time a flying section has been included in a Lego Star Wars game, but here the experience has been developed a bit further, so on top of the on-rails sections there’s a sort of arena shootout at the end. This gives you a relatively decent sized area to fly around as you please, with a target to destroy a certain number of enemy ships before you can proceed.
It sounds great and looks brilliant, with a huge amount of action all around you, but it also feels overly fiddly, and I found the experience of trying to hunt down and hit the TIE fighters pretty frustrating. Now I’m no pro gamer, but I do feel as though my decades of gaming experience put me at least on a par with the children this game is really aimed at, and I can imagine many of them finding these sections a bit annoying.
Perhaps having a co-op partner doing the shooting helps - this is something I wasn’t able to try during the hands-on session.
TT Games’ love of the film and the Star Wars universe runs right through every part of the game. It’s in the lovingly recreated characters, it’s in the cutscenes, which often use identical camera angles to the films, and it’s in the little details and animations.
It’s also in the dialogue, which is often lifted directly from the film, but for me this doesn’t always work quite as well as you think it would. There’s something just a little bit incongruous about a little Lego man with John Boyega’s voice, especially when it seems to come with the ambient noise from the film.
I’m not quite sure what my issue is, and it may well be that you get used to it very quickly anyway, but I think it’s that some of the lines seem to have a fuzzy realism to them that doesn’t sit quite right with the crisp, cartoony presentation.
The little extra sprinklings of comedy are far more successful, though. I genuinely guffawed a handful of times during the short playthrough, including a moment when I smashed through a wall on Jakku and stumbled across a couple of stormtroopers doing some sunbathing. In fact, the vast majority of the comedy comes from stormtroopers, and rightly so.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens initial verdict
I'm genuinely torn in my feelings towards Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
From what I’ve played so far, it sticks to the same Lego formula that countless kids (both young and old) have enjoyed before. But surely people are getting bored of this by now? Even if later segments will also include cover-shooter sections that weren’t playable during my hands-on.
Then again, I’m a jaded old bloke and this is The Force Awakens in interactive form. The best Star Wars movie in a lifetime has been reconstructed from multi-coloured blocks and super-cute gameplay mechanics.
For plenty of folks, that’ll be enough to guarantee hours of fun. Especially if they’re already obsessed with The Force, BB-8 and the rest of a galaxy far, far away.
So, overall, I'm optimistic for Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ final incarnation, while still hoping it offers a little more variety.