LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens shows that while the familiar LEGO formula is still holding strong and entertaining, there is room for growth as the developers manage to take some chances that pay off more often than not.
The core recipe for LEGO game success really has not changed a great deal over the years. In a way, the LEGO games have come full circle for me, since I was originally introduced to the games by playing... you guessed it: Star Wars. I was a lot younger then, and it is interesting to see how the series has changed - you could even argue that it has grown up.
No longer are characters mute as they make funny on-screen expressions, but they are all voice acted. Properly voice acted in the case of LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as the movie cast lends their voice talents to the game. My older sister had never shown much interest in the Star Wars movies until a few things about Force Awakens tickled her fancy and now she adores everything about the series (except perhaps Jar-Jar). As a result, I had a chance to play this with her, and I have to say that the cooperative shenanigans were thoroughly entertaining.
If you are new to the series, I will try to explain the basics. If you are a returning veteran of LEGO video games, you know what to expect here by and large. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens has you running around with a variety of different characters. It is primarily an action game, with a focus on running, jumping and attacking swarms of enemies while running around LEGO-ized (if that's not a word, I'm going to pretend it is from now on) environments. The characters share the same blocky aesthetic and visually the game is charming and a lot of fun to look at. The fun comes from the familiar mix of a fan favorite piece of fiction mixed with a toy that many of us (myself included) loved as a kid (who am I fooling? I still have plenty of LEGOs in my bedroom).
However, even if it was just this mix of zany action, cutesy set pieces and puzzle-like adventure elements, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens would be a good time. The series does a great job of adding humor to the mix as well, never really taking itself of the source material too seriously. Plenty of sight gags appear throughout the game, helping to mask the fact that the actual gameplay mechanics are really quite simple. It helps that the characters have different powers so suit your style of play and grant stages significant replay value as specific skills allow you access to some of the hidden secrets within. The LEGO formula relies heavily on a completionist/collector's mentality that invites you to come back and tackle stages multiple times to collect everything you can along the way.
Some new mechanics work their way into the formula to add greater variety to the game, and these are a huge help. Now, there is a cover system for some stages that help to break up the flow of the game. I like the idea quite a bit, though the execution feels a bit haphazard at times and certainly could use some polish. I enjoyed the ability to have ship battles - that was a nice perk that feels more cleanly executed that the cover system. In terms of content, I was concerned that focusing on a single story would make this a short game - after all I cut my teeth on the series when it was presented as a trilogy of movies in video game form. Thankfully there is some fun additional prologue content that actually offer some insight on the story above and beyond what the movie itself provided, which was pretty cool.
What holds LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the fact that the core gameplay while fun and easy for my non-gaming sister to pick up and play is still a fairly shallow affair. It really is a somewhat average platforming/action game that is helped by the material used to present everything. Another new system, the ability to create different kinds of items out of stacks of blocks makes for a somewhat puzzle-like element that looks good on paper but dragged the pace of the game down for me at times as well. Lastly, the characters lack the variety of the Marvel games. At their core, you have force users with sabres, robots, blasters and... not a whole lot else. That is over-simplifying things, but super heroes offer more variety than the Star Wars characters. That said, I did feel this offering was stronger than say, Jurassic Park.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still a very solid game, with a lot of appeal for fans of action games looking to have some fun without having to learn a bunch of systems or battle an overly challenging difficulty curve. If you are a fan of the Star Wars source material? All the better - you will likely enjoy your time with the game even more. I applaud the team for doing some unique things with the game to try and change the pacing up and offer new systems to the players, though some of the innovations work better than others. Still, there is an undeniable charm to the classic gameplay, humorous situations and outstanding overall presentation both visually and from the voice actors.
Warner Bros. Interactive
Article by Chris H.