Art as Games – LEGO Force Awakens Review

The recent happenings in the Star Wars universe have had a tremendous impact upon the whole of geekdom. For anything that can be said about Disney’s monopolistic tendencies and imperialistic business practices, at least they got the Star Wars vehicle up and rolling again. The dissolution of the Star Wars Expanded Universe was a shame, to say the least, but there’s no question that George Lucas had left Star Wars in some kind of limbo after the less-than-stellar Star Wars prequels. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has injected new life into the world’s most venerable sci-fi universe, and so have the film’s various spin-offs and associated projects. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the latest such media, here to make an impact that only a Lego game can.

Experience the events of The Force Awakens as told by LEGO toys

Experience the events of The Force Awakens as told by LEGO toys

Premise

The cast and content of the film returns in Lego form.

The cast and content of the film returns in Lego form.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the latest in a long series of games that retell big movies with animated Lego toys. Thanks to generous publishing deals between The Lego Group and various media holdings, developer Traveller’s Tales has made goofy Lego games based on everything from Star Wars to The Lord of the Rings to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series got its start in 2005 with Lego Star Wars: The Video Game, which Lego-ized the three prequel films, and has since delivered a steady stream of fun, if repetitive, Lego adventure games.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is both the latest game of the series and the latest Star Wars-themed Lego game. It retells the events of The Force Awakens film, featuring levels and locations based on the content of the film. Because any game based on just one movie would be relatively short, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens also features a plethora of side content, as well as missions set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

The Basics

Each character has a special ability and will have to work together with other minifigures to finish the level.

Each character has a special ability and will have to work together with other minifigures to finish the level.

As with virtually all Lego games that have come before it, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens divides its content into large levels. Each level is based on a scene from the film, like Finn and Rey’s escape aboard the Millennium Falcon, or the climactic battle at Starkiller Base. Each level is played from a third-person perspective and allows players control over a party of at least two Lego characters. The game can be played co-op, which is always fun, or solo, in which other characters are controlled by the computer. Players can effortlessly switch between characters with the press of a button.

Although each level in these Lego games is fairly linear, each one contains a bunch of hidden collectibles. Golden bricks, mini-kits and the like are used to unlock additional content outside of the levels. Most characters in Lego games have a particular skill that makes them essential to finishing the level. Finn, for example, has a grappling hook useful for pulling down obstacles, while BB-8 and R2-D2 can access computer systems. Most characters also come equipped with weapons, to take the fight to the First Order.

Gameplay

Lego games are not complicated affairs.

Lego games are not complicated affairs.

Gameplay in Lego games is always simple and easy to pick up, no less so with this installment. Players push a button, and the character shoots their blaster. Players push another button, and the character uses his, or her, or its, special ability. Bam. That’s it. For anything that can be said about Traveller’s Tales’ penchant for repetition, they excel at making their games accessible to players of all ages. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ open-world collect-a-thon will sate older, open-world gamers, but the game’s charming aesthetic is also great for children.

By the same token, though, this is the exact same formula used by a Traveller’s Tale game as the original Lego Star Wars over a decade ago. Sure, they’ve added some new collectibles here and there, but the gameplay has barely budged an iota in 10 years’ time. The same type of gameplay is present throughout all of Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games; move around levels, find collectibles, unlock characters. The collectibles are dressed up as one thing or another, but there’s always 10 of them in every level, in every game ranging from Lego Harry Potter to Lego Jurassic World. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks better and feels smoother than past games, but anyone who’s played even a little bit of a Lego game will find no new ground in this game.

Level Design

For a game that has a single movie to work with, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens provides a surprising amount of gameplay.

For a game that has a single movie to work with, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens provides a surprising amount of gameplay.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ level design takes some significant liberties with what was seen in the movie, both to extend the game’s length and to allow for additional gameplay. Poe Dameron’s escape from Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer is extended from a five-minute scene in the movie to its own level, with puzzles and firefights across the giant battleship. Most movie games that extend their content this way do so very poorly, adding strange plot devices or “uncut” content, but Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens manages to get away with it because the gameplay is enjoyable. The fact that it’s a Lego adaptation means that the game already has no intention of being in lockstep with the film.

The level design, like the gameplay, is simple but effective. Most levels are a series of open firefights and puzzle areas, divvied up by corridors. There are lots of hidden areas for players to access, but most of them contain only hidden collectibles. Hidden areas crucial to the level’s completion are not nearly as well-hidden, and their presence is usually easy to spot. Each of the game’s 10 levels is generously paced, taking about 30-45 minutes to complete, which is great for a Lego game that’s trying to cover only one film.

Humor and Dialogue

The need for verbal dialogue in Lego games is an enigma, especially since the nonverbal comedy was already pretty good.

The need for verbal dialogue in Lego games is an enigma, especially since the nonverbal comedy was already pretty good.

The only thing Lego games are better known for than simple levels and gameplay is humor. For most of its existence, the Lego series has retold films and TV shows with quirky, nonverbal humor. In Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, Darth Vader reveals that he’s Luke Skywalker’s father by revealing a series of baby photos, in lieu of the legendary “I am your father” line. In Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, Sean Connery’s Henry Jones Sr. is shown skateboarding down staircases on an ancient shield. Nonverbal humor became as endemic to Lego games as the actual Lego toys.

In 2012, though, that all changed. Starting with that year’s Lego The Lord of the Rings, Lego games started featuring the dialogue of the film or TV show they were emulating. The transition to talking Lego characters was strange, to say the least, and it doesn’t work all that well on several levels. For one thing, it’s uncomfortable to hear dramatic dialogue exchanges being belted out by cutesy Lego toys. Lego toys are by their very nature supposed to be light and trivial, and seeing a Lego Luke Skywalker emote the downfall of his father is just… no.

Ha. Hehe. Heheheheheee.

Ha. Hehe. Heheheheheee.

The irony with all of this is that the nonverbal humor in Lego games that feature talking is still better than any amount of borrowed dialogue from the film. For one thing, players who buy this game and hear the spoken jokes aloud have probably already heard them in the theater. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens does feature some additional voice work from some of the cast, but it all pertains to in-game hints as to what to do next.

No, the parts that will make gamers laugh the most are still the parts that involve no talking. The torture scene between Kylo Ren and Poe Dameron is portrayed as the former tickling the latter’s feet with a feather duster. Later, players can see that Kylo Ren has a child’s bedroom decked out with Darth Vader posters and action figures, which is a hilarious nonverbal dig at the character’s obsession with his grandfather. If this point hasn’t been beaten to death by now, the presence of talking in a Lego game is not only strange, it’s unnecessary.

Visuals

This image is substantially less detailed and impressive in-game.

This image is substantially less detailed and impressive in-game.

The other issue with Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is its visuals. Make no mistake, they look great, but they’re substantially less impressive in-game than they are as advertised. To be fair, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is far from the only game that’s actually less impressive than it looked at E3, but this game’s drop in visual fidelity from what was in the trailer is perhaps the most dramatic since the Watch Dogs fiasco two years ago. The differences are so immediately noticeable that it’s a bit disturbing.

Still, as previously stated, they look good. Lego games have come a long way since 2005, with improved lighting and depth of field in each level. Character animations are pretty smooth, both in game and in cut scenes. Weather effects, while not exceptional, are good enough. This game will run on any decent rig and doesn’t require a warp drive to run well. It’s just a shame about the deceptive advertising.

A Persistent and Destructive Bug

The final and most pressing problem with Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is how buggy it is. Most Lego games suffer few to no bugs upon launch, but this one, oh boy, is a doozy. There’s the usual physics bugs and the usual object clipping bugs, but far more spectacular is a bug that sends players all the way back to the beginning of the game. There’s no way to exit back to any sort of hub or menu, even if the player is actually much further along in the game, forcing a start-over of all content and levels. Many copies of the game, including the one used in this review, suffer this issue. A bug that spectacularly destructive should never have been allowed to remain when the game shipped. Because of it, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unplayable for far too many gamers.

It doesn’t help that Warner Bros., the game’s publisher, has been tone deaf on the issue of resolving the bug. The forums on Steam are rife with bug reports, including one started by Art as Games, but Warner Bros.’ customer service has been… not great. The publisher has a curious policy of not returning any bug reports, but promises that “they’re being taken into consideration”. That’s not very reassuring, especially since it’s almost the middle of July and the problem still hasn’t been fixed.

Still, after the disastrous PC release of Batman: Arkham Knight last summer, no one should be surprised that Warner Bros. sucks at customer service.

Final Thoughts

See? Even Rey doesn't know how to fix it.

See? Even Rey doesn’t know how to fix it.

The final word on Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that it’s a fun tourney of the film with Lego toys, but it doesn’t contain anything new for inveterate Lego game fans. The game is fun, but shallow. Funny, but not terribly clever. It’s very colorful and has lots of big sound effects, but does nothing to advance the Lego game formula outside of the occasional new collectible. It feels like the same Lego game everyone’s known for the last decade, gone in to swap their clothes out for a new outfit.

Of course, players considering this game should also take extreme caution at the aforementioned game-breaking bug. Nothing’s worse than seeing 10 hours of gameplay wiped out and the publisher doing jack to stop it, so please be mindful of Steam’s refund policy. Gamers who enjoy Lego games should buy the game, play a few levels, log out, and see what happens. It’s unfortunate when such a colossal bug is allowed out the gate, but barring that, players could do much worse in terms of cutesy adventure games.

____________________

This post has been used with permission from Ian Coppock and is also found at his blog, Art as Games. Follow him on Twitter at @IanLayneCoppock or friend him on Steam at username Art as Games.

Leave a Reply