There’s just something about LEGO games that’s difficult to put a finger on. The basic gameplay never changes, yet the folks at TT Games always manage to make something feel brand new, even when set within the confines of those lovable toys.
At GDC 2016, I traveled to a galaxy far, far away (some may call it San Francisco, California) and got to try out LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens first-hand, though not without a few reasonable apprehensions.
The previous LEGO Star Wars games covered trilogies, allowing for you to play through multiple movies with a common thread. With The Force Awakens focusing on a single film, I was worried that it may be a more bite-sized experience. Also, the elephant in the room when any LEGO game is brought up, how will it set itself apart from a long line of predecessors?
It took only a minute to realize LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t some cash-in on one of the biggest movies of the decade, but one of the freshest LEGO games to be released in quite some time.
The gameplay for the most part remained largely familiar. I got to try a few different levels which put me in control of Rey, Finn, and BB-8. Finn was able to use a grappling hook, Rey had her staff and acrobatics, and BB-8? Well he looked adorable as I solved puzzles and avoided combat (the poor droid has no defensive capabilities). I jumped, broke everything in sight, and attacked swarms of Stormtroopers with quick attacks and flashy finishers.
For example, one section gave me the option of building a lever for Rey, a rolling switch for BB-8, or a bounce pad. One opened a gate, another lifted a ship, and the last gave me access to a hidden area. Even though I didn’t have to build all three, and it was clear to see which builds would benefit which characters, sheer curiosity pushed me to try them all. In this, the developers have made building an experimental and fun mechanic, rather than just a tacked on feature.
Soon after, I was in the pilot seat of the Millennium Falcon experiencing the chase sequence from early in The Force Awakens. Dodging through obstacles and blasting Tie-Fighters out of the sky was just as exciting as you’d imagine.
Towards the end of the path, the chase sequence instantly transitioned into a dogfight. I tightly steered the Millennium Falcon, dodging left and right, and pulling off loops to shake off enemies. The intensity of the combat was unexpected from a LEGO game, but didn’t feel out of place in the slightest; in fact, it showed that the team behind the game wasn’t afraid to break the mold.
There was one other brand new feature that I unfortunately didn’t get to try out: Blaster Battles. These are essentially cover-based shooter sections that allow you to use the LEGO environment to your advantage. Popping out to return fire to some poorly trained Stormtroopers seems as though it will help to transform this LEGO experience away from the notorious button mashing combat of its peers.
What made my hands-on time with The Force Awakens so memorable wasn’t just the new additions to the gameplay. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one seriously pretty game, easily one of the first to look and feel like a triple-A title.
It’s hard to imagine a LEGO game wowing on the graphics front. There’s that realistic gloss to the studs and figures, the surrounding real world elements have just the right textures, lighting sets all the right tones, and the background refuses to remain a stagnant backdrop. It’s not that the LEGO games ever looked bad; TT Games has always done a great job of bringing the toys to life, but now everything is much sharper, including the sound.
If you’ve played any of the recent LEGO titles based off of movies, you may have noticed that the dialogue tends to sound a bit distant or unclear, almost as if they held a microphone to a TV while the movie played and recorded snippets here and there. That’s not the case here. Everything is crystal clear as each LEGO character delivers its lines in beautiful scenes ripped straight from the movie.