In a galaxy far, far away…
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens on PlayStation 4
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens immediately opened my eyes to one thing. (No, it wasn’t that the Force is potentially real.) It made me realize that the LEGO games, while very fun, have played it relatively safe throughout the dozens of games released under the banner. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens didn’t help me realize this by compounding my new revelation, though. It did so by being more than its predecessors.
As you could tell by the title, this latest release covers the recent blockbuster film of the same name. Like all LEGO games before it, it adds onto the story with fun side quests. What’s different about The Force Awakens, however, is that the ones on display here build directly onto the film, offering more insight into the story by showing events from directly before the film, and off-screen moments. I never expected to learn even more about the expanding Star Wars universe in a LEGO game, but these extra peeks behind the veil helped to make the act of playing through a movie I’ve already seen multiple times even more exciting.
That excitement was only furthered by the gameplay, the very core of any video game experience. When it begins, it feels like your classic LEGO experience. There you are, fighting with your lightsaber and using your special abilities, all the while smashing blocks and collecting thousands of Studs, but after that brief tutorial that ushers you in with welcome arms, the new elements start to seep in from all sides. The first taste of something fresh came in the form of Blaster Battles, which are these cover-based shooter segments. Poking your head out to steal headshots, build combos, and pick off waves of enemies is a fun diversion. The addition of interactive elements helps to keep them from feeling bland as well, providing the option to use explosions, exploit weakness in giant robots, or build new advantages. I also loved the fact that this new feature wasn’t overused, an issue that plagues many franchises that try to switch things up.
Probably the biggest addition to the gameplay are the aerial battles. Flight is nothing new to the LEGO series, with previous Star Wars games, Batman, Marvel, and others providing quick arcade sections that put you on a linear blasting path, or set up a side scrolling shooter such as in LEGO Marvel’s Avengers. Force Awakens opens this mechanic up by providing the same linear, shoot as much and collect all you can segments, but also allowing them to open up into fully fleshed out dogfights, like those you’d expect from Star Wars Battlefront. These sections were reminiscent of the Rogue Squadron games, albeit on a smaller scale, yet their simplistic fun reminded me that it was high time for a really good Star Fox game. Piloting ships like Poe Dameron’s X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon felt a lot more special when I was given the freedom to fight as I saw fit.
Puzzles have also received a facelift. Yes, you’ll still see some of the same types that you may have come to appreciate over the past few games such as simply clicking buttons in a specified order, or matching shapes. But thanks to the changes in building, namely the newly introduced Multi-Builds, constructing objects is much more of a puzzle than just having to find all the pieces you need in crates. Even when you have everything you need, you’ll then be presented with multiple options. Some of these can lead to secrets and collectibles, while others must be built in a specific order as you navigate the scene, allowing you to progress. The simple versions of these aren’t anything to really write home about, but later in the game, when you must manage one character traversing a stage and another managing builds that will help you progress, they become much more meaningful.
Speaking of building, enemies can now use them as well, and they’ll use them pretty often. Watching Storm Troopers set up a huge laser blaster after getting ran through by you and your friends is both impressive and terrifying when you realize you’re about to get wiped off of the face of whatever alien planet you’re standing on. This didn’t completely transform combat into some sort of unmanageable challenge, but instead provided an extra layer to the experience that the LEGO series definitely needed. I had always wondered why enemies never just did what I did, so it was cool seeing that wish come to life.
Gameplay isn’t the only way that LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens sets itself above its predecessors. One of the aspects of the LEGO franchise that always weighed heavy on me was presentation. Yeah, I get that these are games based off of little plastic toys, but where freedom of character design was limited, the worlds and UI presented plenty of opportunity. Seeing a poorly rendered X button on my PS4 in the most recent games made the experience seem like just a port that was on absolutely everything, with control layouts lazily mapped in. Yet in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, every aspect of the presentation has a lot more nuance. The life and special bars are pretty and sharp, fitting right into the Star Wars world, and button prompts are clean and clear as well. Gone are the haphazard floating buttons that clearly were patched in after the fact. TT Games went all in on this one, and it shows in every aspect of the experience, including the graphics.
Let’s be clear, though, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens won’t be going toe-to-toe with the likes of Dark Souls III or The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine for graphical powerhouse of the year, but it is far more impressive than any other LEGO game that came before it, including the recent LEGO Marvel’s Avengers. Textures, lighting, world design, puzzle structure, they all feed into what is easily TT Game’s most beautiful experience.
There is one other aspect that some LEGO fans may be split on, but I personally appreciated. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a bit easier, even with all of its new gameplay additions. Red Bricks, which grant particular modifiers to gameplay that can speed up certain processes, are much easier to come by and purchase. There’s one hidden in each mission, and you can access them directly from your character’s select wheel, but that’s not what makes the game easier. Popular Red Bricks from the franchise such as Stud Magnet, Build Speed increases, and Multipliers can be obtained early on. This may not sound like a big deal, as some of you may very well enjoy the grind of having to unlock these things, but the option alone for some eliminates a lot of the sometimes unbearable quest to obtain enough Studs to get that one thing you desired. It’s difficult to put into words how happy I was to not have to go through every single BB-8 interaction, especially since they were impossible to fail and just ate your time. The fact that such options were normally relegated to late game, when you’d already lived through the slog of meaningless “puzzles,” makes this nod to players who just want to enjoy the game much appreciated.
When all was said and done, I found myself in a very good place. Being a fan of LEGO games for years, I knew I’d probably enjoy another romp through the tried-and-true with a new set of characters. Instead, I was treated to an experience that felt much more like a true Star Wars game that happened to be made out of LEGO, than a LEGO Star Wars game. The new gun fights, deeper puzzles, and dogfights that are much more fun than I expected them to be brought me back to the days of great Star Wars action games. TT Games has learned a lot over the years, and that’s helped them to create something truly special. If LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is anything to go by, the future of LEGO games is bright.
Score: 4.5/5 – Great