It was back in 2005 when the first LEGO Star Wars game trundled off the production line and into our hearts. Despite neither having the most ingenious of puzzles nor the most in-depth combat system, the fantastic humour, overall quality, and sheer fan service won it an army of fans. Many moons (that’s no moon) have passed since then and the LEGO games have branched out into many different universes, albeit to a very mixed reception. Can LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars restore balance to the force?[boxout]The first thing to comment on is the game’s high production standards. As one might expect, you are in for a visual and aural treat as familiar Star Wars themes and sound effects blast out at every opportunity, coupled with graphics that are much more vibrant than what we have seen previously. Exploding ships, barren wastelands, lush jungles – the game has them all. The character animation also seems to have been improved, with the blocky little blighters pinging all over the place with ease.
The cutscenes – usually the most highly regarded part of a LEGO game – are also on top form, favouring humour over the source material’s rather darker tone. Whilst they are rarely ‘laugh out loud’ funny, they never fail to raise a smile.
Having exhausted the original Star Wars films, TT have looked to the Clone Wars animated series in search of inspiration. The game follows season one and two of the Clone Wars, and it’s quite interesting to see what went on between the films. Rather than following a set path, you can choose to progress one of several story arcs featuring the likes of General Grievous and Count Dooku. Each story has several chapters to complete before it ends, and then you can move on to any of the others that takes your fancy.
Whereas before LEGO games were all about ploughing through level after level solving rudimentary puzzles, this time TT have tried to invigorate the series with a couple of new modes. The first sees you soar into space as you take control of one of several ships, and although this sounds like a mouth-watering prospect, with dreams of barrels rolls and trench runs, the end result is somewhat lacklustre. What it boils down to is you drifting listlessly from launchpad to launchpad, where you will land, press a few buttons, pull a few levels and rinse and repeat. This is such a missed opportunity and the disappointment is immense.
The second new mode is in the RTS vein, where you are given a limited number of resources and tasked with capturing or destroying enemy bases. At the start it’s actually quite an interesting idea, and leading your troops into battle backed up by all manner of cannons, air support, and walkers is a novel experience. Unfortunately, these levels tend to play out for far too long. The best example is when you’re was given the objective to take out a number of enemy bases. Completing the task feels great, but then you’re plonked right back at the start and told to do the whole thing again, but this time there were more enemy units.[drop2]Ok, that’s fair enough, it was a bit of a slog but you’ll probably go through it again, next level now please? No, you’re once again put back at the start and told to do the whole thing again, but this time the enemy had special units that could only be destroyed by a certain type of cannon/ground unit. As harsh as this sounds I actually turned it off at this point and went and did something else.
So that leaves us with the all too familiar puzzle and combat levels, and it will either fill you with joy or annoyance to hear these haven’t changed too much. The levels see you control up to a handful of characters, making use of their special abilities. The Jedi, for example, excel at melee combat and also have the force to manipulate objects. The Clone troopers have various weapons, plus a grapple hook. Jar Jar Binks (shudder) can jump really high, and thankfully doesn’t talk – mesa like it when hesa no talk.
Combining these special abilities will help you overcome obstacles and progress through the level, but it’s here where one of the big sticking points raises its ugly head. There are absolutely no hints at what you have to do to go any further. Now normally I’m not one for being led by the hand through levels, but in the words of Dr. Evil “throw me a frickin’ bone here!” Frustration is inevitable as you scour inch after inch of the level trying to find the trigger that kick-starts the next section, and believe me sometimes it can be as random as having to destroy a certain rock/bush which just so happens to looks like every other rock/bush in the level. To make life even more fun enemies will continuously spawn until you figure out where to go next.
The fixed camera also proves itself as a troublesome beast during the RTS and space sections. It’s a case of “I just want to see over there to the left a bit” but no, that’s not allowed in the LEGO Star Wars universe. If being a Jedi is this restrictive no wonder Anakin switched sides. Your AI partners can also be on the dim side, and, more often than not, provide no help at all as they stand and watch you try and hack down a 15ft tall metal structure on your own. In your own time, lads.
Credit where credit is due though, as TT has created an absolutely fantastic game hub. It starts off on the bridge of a starship, but by acquiring gold bricks you can progress deeper and deeper into the bowls of the ship until it is revealed that it’s not just one ship, it’s two, and you are in the middle of a firefight. The ship also houses dozens of little secrets, like the medical bay where you can create your own character, or the dock where you can actually buy one of many ships you have unlocked and take it for a spin into space. Look hard enough and you might even find a secret mission (wink wink, nudge nudge).
- High production values
- Lots of do
- When it’s good, it’s really good
- A game hub that goes on and on (and on!)
- New modes could be better
- Zero signposting
- A sense of having done this all before
Overall TT should be commended for at least trying to spice things up with new modes, despite them not being as good as they could be. The game’s core mechanics are sound, but they are the same mechanics we were playing several years ago. There are a vast amount of collectibles to unlock, but again there’s a fair chance you’ve unlocked many of them before in previous games. Yes, the game is fun, and yes there is a lot of content on offer, but one can’t help but wonder how much further the LEGO franchise can go.
Xbox 360 version reviewed