I want to like Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I really do. In the past, the folks at Traveller’s Tales have whimsically recalled the joy of Batman, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and, of course, Star Wars. But unlike JJ Abrams whimsically recalling the joy of Star Wars with his adroit filmmaking, this latest Lego iteration can’t live up to its inspiration. It’s familiar, played out, and disappointingly half-baked.
After the jump, 87/243, so only 156 Lego characters to go!
Not that it’s without its moments. Flashes of joy can happen. You’ll be rolling around as BB-8, bounding down the tubular hallways of the Millennium Falcon, flying Poe Damron’s X-Wing in and out of asteroids, and grooving to John Williams’ iconic music and the telltale tinkle of all those sparkling Lego bucks rolling into your coffers. Kylo Ren uses feathers for torture, Stormtroopers take an aerobics class, a mynock splats on the windshield of a TIE Fighter, and Han Solo barely snatches the top of his Lego head from the other side of a heavy door falling shut. Cute. Funny. Frothy. Like it’s been all along.
But the games in the series have been steadily losing consistency, and that’s nowhere more evident than it is here. For instance, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t open with anything from Force Awakens (it actually opens with a “connecting to Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens servers” message, which accomplishes nothing that I can tell other than collect data I haven’t offered to sent). Instead, it rolls the action back to Return of the Jedi. The part with the ewoks. A boss fight against the Emperor. Marching an AT-ST down a narrow forest corridor. It plays like B-side material left over from another game. Was this stuff not in an earlier Lego Star Wars? Previously, on Star Wars.
But then you get past that. Now scenes from the movie in the name of the game happen. Now they’re drawn out into contrived attempts at gameplay. Put out fires in the Jakku village. Do a bunch of tortured Tomb Raidering with BB-8 and Rey in the basement of Maz’s cantina. Figure out why Chewbacca has been swallowed up by the floor of the Millennium Falcon. Wait, was that supposed to happen? I need Chewie to open a door so I can progress the storyline and he’s buried up to his neck in a clipping error. Time to start over from the beginning. Again. There should be an achievement for having to start over a certain number of times because of technical errors.
It doesn’t help that the save points are few, far between, and frustratingly vague. I hope you don’t have to quit out of one of the drawn out levels until you’ve played all the way through! It makes no sense that you keep hitting checkpoints, but if you need to quit out of the game, all the checkpoints are erased and you’re back at the beginning. I thought the point of checkpoints was to save my place, like a bookmark. Imagine a bookmark that gets yanked out of the book if you ever close the front over.
So how does Traveller’s Tales keep the Lego gameplay fresh? The newest gimmick is grossly out of place cover-shooter sequences. Crouch behind cover, pull the left trigger to pop up and the right trigger to fire. Seriously. That actually happens, many, many times. This is what Warner Bros. thinks a Lego Star Wars games needs. To be more like Gears of War. The other new gimmick is that when you build something from a pile of jiggling Legos — and by build something, these games have only ever meant “hold down a button while something scripted appears” — you actually have your choice of a few somethings. Do you build the thing on the right, the thing on the left, or the thing in the center? Just pick one, because there’s no real information to inform your decision. So figure out the arbitrary sequence with a little trial and error. Oh, did you build the thing on the right first? I’m sorry, that one doesn’t do anything until after you’ve triggered the scripted thing that happens when you build the thing on the left. It’s all very tired, very brainless, and too frequently very tedious.
A messy open world binds the galaxy together. It’s not clear what it means when you unlock characters or vehicles. I know they’re available for free play, but aren’t I supposed to use them in the open world to collect all these bricks from the places where they’re locked behind character powers? No? Okay, when does that happen? And there are so many Lego figures, most of which seem useless for anything but filling out a roster. Time was Traveller’s Tales could fill up row after row with licensed superheroes. Now I’ve got row after row filled with characters like Gaff Kaylek, Lor San Tekka, Trentus Savay, Ello Asty, six Finn costumes, and a whole mess of stormtroopers I’ll never use. Oh, look, a JJ Abrams Lego character. There’s even a Kathleen Kennedy in here. When Lego games start including movie producers, a shark somewhere has been well and truly jumped.
The sound is weirdly inconsistent, so it can be hard to hear the dialogue. Some of the actors brought in to record new lines either don’t have their hearts in it or seem bewildered by what they’re saying. I understand Daisy Ridley is in demand these days and probably has a lot to do, but would it have killed the director of the recording session to explain to her what she’s saying? It’s enough to make you long for the days of the silent movie Lego cutscenes.
But still, it’s a Lego game, and it is Star Wars. Mindless, cute, without any meaningful gameplay, crassly but effectively premised on the need to collect, that modern drive that makes merchandising a crucial part of a franchise. It’s counting on you to push forward for want of more, more, more, even if you don’t know who Ello Asty is. And now with paid DLC on the side! You mean to tell me you’re going to play a game about collecting and not pay the extra $10 for the season pass? You only need 100,000 more Lego bucks to get R2-D2, so you might as well replay one of these long stretches in freeplay mode so you can unlock the bits that can only be unlocked when you bring a jedi into the level that you’ve already played at least once. Then do it again later with a protocol droid so you can collect a few more of the collectible bits. It’s the exact opposite of what Legos once were: an open-ended toybox to fuel unlimited creativity, based on imagination rather than intellectual property, encouraging children to build rather than smash everything in sight to harvest the level geometry for Lego bucks. Why are we doing this? Yes, we. I don’t have a leg to stand on, because I’m as guilty as the next guy of sinking into this oily morass of collecting for collecting’s sake. But just because it works doesn’t mean I like it.