Ben Kenobi suggested that Yoda should watch were he puts his lightsaber
I have played and completed all the core LEGO games to 100% (or as close as I can get when considering achievement glitches), so I like to consider myself a bit of a LEGO fanboy. I’m not claiming to be cool, (although my C-P30 underpants suggest that I am) but I do know my LEGO Star Wars from my LEGO Indiana Jones. Over the years Traveller’s Tales (TT) have evolved the gameplay from the simple world of classic Star Wars to the complex magic casting of Harry Potter. Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is the next step in this slow evolution, but with every step forwards, TT always seem to take a step back.
At its core, LEGO Star Wars III is the same gameplay that has featured in the various games through the years. Two players can work together locally to tackle a series of Star Wars themed levels built with LEGO. The majority of levels are platform and puzzle based. They can be played alone, but in co-op the puzzles feel far more natural e.g. one person can use the force to open a door, whilst the other throws a switch. There are also the usual vehicle based levels and a new RTS (Real Time Strategy) set of levels (more on that later).
In terms of bang for your buck, punch for your pound, empowerment for your euro; the game delivers. There are plenty of levels that can be played through first in story mode and then again in free play. It is during these second run-throughs that the game comes into its own. Each level is packed with hidden extras and there is nothing quite like finding some hidden Easter egg with a co-op partner. If sheer gaming volume were taken into account, LEGO Star Wars III is probably the biggest in the series yet.
Improvements are also present elsewhere: graphically, LEGO has never looked so good; from the very first mission, TT state their intentions by having hundreds of enemies on screen at once. The enemies look better, with an introduction of more varied textures such as animal fur. There appears to have been some work done on shadowing to add depth to an otherwise flat textured world of plastic figurines. Finally, there is a sense of epic gameplay continually being showcased in open battles and daring boss fights. TT has certainly upped their game in this department.
Despite what TT has managed to achieve there is still a disturbance in the force. With better graphics, plenty of gameplay and a commitment to co-op, what could possibly be wrong? We need to discuss the Jar Jar Binks in the room.
LEGO meets RTS - success or failure?
Who cares about The Clone Wars? Admittedly, I don’t, but that does not mean that the legion of younger fans don’t watch the cartoon. I haven’t been up early enough on a Saturday to watch cartoons since the day I discovered someone had invented beer. The fact is that many people will not be familiar with this element of the Star Wars Universe and therefore the story used here. LEGO Batman was able to succeed with an original story, but I would argue that Batman has more interesting character types than Clone Wars. If you are someone who doesn’t know Clone Wars, you end up watching a series of admittedly amusing cutscenes, but a story that has little relevance.
Although the game plays better once you are in local co-op that does not mean there are no issues. The dynamic splitscreen is back, as introduced in LEGO Indy 2, and once more some people will love it, or hate it. I find it very useful as it allows the two players to move far apart. However, this does mean that at times the game feels more like two people doing their own separate thing in the same world. TT has managed to rein this problem in by having more sections that benefit from co-operation e.g. one person fights the boss, whilst the other player hunts for an escape. The game is geared towards true co-op much more than Lego Harry Potter.
Even the most ardent fan of the dynamic splitscreen feature will admit that it falls down during the vehicle and open battle levels. Here the screen continuously splits vertically, horizontally, diagonally, trapeziumly (one of these is made up). You are left with confusion and on occasion an upset and aggressive co-op partner! You can choose from the settings to fix the splitscreen at a horizontal or vertical level, but this means the platform levels are harder.
Star Wars III provides the most epic enemies of any LEGO game so far
My final issue with the game is about TT’s ambition being their own downfall. It is clear that with every new LEGO game they try to tweak the gameplay and add new features so that the audience feel they are getting something fresh. This time TT introduce a strange RTS style set of levels. Similar in style to Halo Wars, you are given a set of bases and must take out the enemy’s bases. You can spend LEGO coins on building weapons, tanks or troops and send them into the battle. When two players are onscreen this quickly becomes a confused mess, the dynamic screen tearing you apart and hundreds of enemies all around. The mode is too complex for a huge chunk of the LEGO market; children will just ignore the building element and fight, fight, fight. By introducing too much complexity you could end up with one co-op partner actually trying to progress the level, whilst the other walks around whacking stuff. Therefore, the game really needs at least one experienced player to be able to complete it – an adult and child, rather than two young children. A shame for families with more than one younger child.
Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is another step in the evolution of the LEGO series. Improved graphics, epic level design and co-op elements mean that it is a great game for 2 players to tackle side by side. However, the time draws near for the LEGO game franchise to think of revolution; their incremental changes fail as often as succeed. Without the well known setting of the Star Wars films themselves, this game loses some of the magic of the series and the inclusion of a RTS section will be too complex for some, whilst too simple for others. The game is still worth getting for fans of the series and first time LEGO players, but is a dip from the very best the series has had to offer. By aiming for the stars in terms of new gameplay ideas, TT have only managed to hit the moon - but that's no moon...