LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Another Brick in the Wall (PS4)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… That familiar John Williams theme blares over my speakers as the opening story crawl begins. Star Wars is no stranger to the LEGO treatment. In fact, LEGO Star Wars was the initial foray into a beautiful collision of video games, LEGO, and major franchises that has blossomed out into a broad variety of other titles, including DC and Marvel comics, and their recent exploration in the toys-to-life genre. The return to a galaxy far, far away feels like an appropriate full circle return, using JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens as the palette for a great new LEGO adventure.
If you’ve played LEGO games, you know what to expect. The gameplay still consists of swapping between an enormous roster of characters that have various abilities — like using the force to move objects, or thermal detonators to blow up silver LEGO bricks — to get through each level. At the core of all this is the compulsion to destroy LEGO objects and collect studs, the currency used to unlock even more characters, cheats, and abilities. In other words, at its core, it’s still another LEGO game. The formula hasn’t changed, just updated to keep up with modern gaming demands, while satiating the need for people like me to run around and collect every errant stud.
Keeping the Faith
Faithfully representing the the base media in LEGO form has always been a point of pride for Traveller’s Tales, and LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is no different. The main story is told across 10 levels, plus an epilogue, with a prologue and additional levels detailing other stories in the Star Wars universe like how C-3PO ended up with his red arm or Lor San Tekka’s journey to the small village where Poe Dameron meets him at the start of The Force Awakens. It’s these extra levels that provide a real treat for Star Wars fans, getting a chance to play out scenes that weren’t in the movie, even if they do have a coating of LEGO silliness.
They even got the original cast to do unique audio for the game, in addition to pulling lines directly from the movie, which really helps to sell the authenticity of these as a genuine Star Wars experience. That’s why it feels like such a disservice that LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens has one of the worst vocal mixes that I have ever heard in a game. All vocal audio sticks out of the mix and shifts in volume from one line to the next. Every line and character sounds like it was recorded at different times with different equipment and then not properly mastered into the game’s audio track to actually blend in with the sound effects, the music, and the environment or scene.
It’s hard to pinpoint where the problem is, but the vocal mix issues presented themselves again and again throughout not only the main story, but also open world areas and alternate story levels. I never managed to get used to this odd voice issue. It’s definitely not a problem with the lines or the actors’ deliveries, but a technical issue of the vocal audio mix lacking any dynamics.
Keeping it Light
Making everything funny and lighthearted is a staple of the LEGO franchise. Rescuing Admiral Ackbar? He’ll keep insisting that it’s a trap (while the whole level mimics the garbage chute scene from the original trilogy). There are even a couple of Indiana Jones references using Han Solo, and of course a full helping a sight gags using props like rubber duckies, stormtroopers in bathing suits, and Kylo Ren’s bedroom full of Vader memoribilia. Dark things are made more kid friendly, like the bloody hand print on Finn’s helmet being a green stain from a thrown fruit or vegetable.
LEGO games have recently taken a turn to include open worlds in addition to the levels, part of the jump to evolve the structure of the mechanics. Star Wars taking place across different planets makes the ability for a unified open world difficult to do, so instead, each planet is given a hub world with its own set of side missions, collectibles, and unlockable characters. It’s fun to get to explore Jakku or take a stroll around Starkiller Base, again a must for Star Wars fans looking to enhance their Force Awakens experience.
The most difficult thing about LEGO games is that they are inherently designed for kids, so while they can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults, there’s a simplicity and ease to the game’s mechanics that uses cliches like frequent short unskippable scenes showing you that a switch opened a door, or that destroying a generator deactivated a turret. The hand holding is a minor annoyance — more noticeable on replays to collect all items — but one that’s always bothered me about LEGO games, especially as the overall formula really hasn’t changed since LEGO Star Wars just over a decade ago. The simplicity also means that little “puzzles” like activating a console as a droid feel like more of a waste of time than a fun mechanic, but this is easily resolved by unlocking red bricks (cheats) that let you skip having to play the little mini puzzles when interacting with objects. Maybe that’s the direction that TT Games should look next, is ways to enhance the challenge for more experienced players.
Keeping it Fresh
There are some fun additions that start breaking into other games’ mechanics, such as the cover based third person shooting sections that add a bit of variety to each stage and the overhauled vehicle sections which primarily consist of flying around and blasting TIE fighters out of the sky. There weren’t any sections that I felt dragged on too long, with the game offering a healthy blend of elements to make each level feel fun as I progressed. The new multi-build feature allows the same pile of LEGO bricks to be built into multiple items to get collectibles and work through the level, but doesn’t fundamentally change the LEGO game dynamics. And at the end of it all? Of course I dove right back in to collect everything else.
At the end of the day, LEGO games are all about that compulsion for destruction and collection, very clearly notating completion percentage to let you know that there is still stuff to do. Of course we can’t forget to mention the LEGO charm, keeping things lighthearted and silly when the source material may get too dark. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a solid LEGO experience — certainly in the top tiers as far as LEGO games are concerned — but still just a LEGO experience that isn’t looking to change the status quo while bringing the heart and soul of a critically and commercially lauded film to your console, brick by expected brick.
LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens review copy provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.