In recent years, it has become fashionable to adopt an air of cynicism about the Lego games. They have continued to come thick and fast and, consequently, have attracted accusations of saminess. Such cynicism generally evaporates once stuck into their gameplay, though.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens suggests that developer TT Games hasn't ignored that criticism, since it takes a back-to-basics approach which, while it doesn't quite constitute a full-on reboot, certainly freshens up the formula. All while continuing to inject its typically British sense of humour throughout.
Is it the best Lego game to date?
Lego Star Wars review: Film flattery
The Force Awakens is one of the most familiar films of recent times and TT Games, wisely, has opted to turn that fact into a virtue. Generally, Lego games based closely on specific films revolve around a story which consists of those films' most iconic scenes concertinaed together, so that you get to replay the moments which stuck most firmly in mind, yet narrative consistency goes out of the window. However, in Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens, pretty much every scene from the film is present.
What you get is an unprecedentedly faithful rendering of the film, seen via TT Games' unique Lego-prism. Which means countless little humorous touches in which, say, stormtroopers clown around at rallies which originally had fascistic overtones, or you find yourself on a mission to stock up on wookiee-cookies for Chewbacca before he will even contemplate getting into the Millennium Falcon. If you ever wondered what The Force Awakens would have been like if JJ Abrams had ramped up the silliness-level, here's your answer.
Lego Star Wars review: Expanded gameplay
The decision to drill deep down into the film, rather than skimming off its highlights, has another welcome by-product: it has freed up TT Games to expand the gameplay beyond what you normally find in a Lego game.
Sure, it still involves plenty of smashing of objects and rebuilding them in order to solve puzzles, plus swapping between characters, and the familiar meleeing and shooting. But this time around, you even find instances of cover-shooting (albeit ones with loads of snap, making it really easy to target enemies more or less instantly).
And on top of that, the game features many set-pieces in which you get to engage in proper Star Wars-style battles, putting you at the controls of, among other things, AT-STs, X-Wings, Tie Fighters, the Millennium Falcon and countless turrets.
Naturally, you get to wield a light-sabre and, when you've finished the story and want to mine the levels for all their collectables, you even find puzzles that require use of the Dark Side's force.
Lego Star Wars review: Building blocks
A small but significant alteration has been made to one of the franchise's key gameplay mechanics, too. This time around, you are given the ability to build different objects from each pile of bricks, by moving the right-stick around and highighting different construction-points. Which adds a bit of complexity to the puzzling, since you often have to build something, use it, smash it up and rebuild it as something else.
Lego Star Wars: the Force Awakens feels, in gameplay terms, like the most diverse and varied game TT Games has ever made, neatly sidestepping those recent suspicions of saminess. It's also the best-looking Lego game yet, doing magnificent justice to the general spectacle that the film offers.
Like all Lego games, The Force Awakens can be played in two-player co-operative mode, so it's the ideal source of game-related bonding for parents and offspring, in time-honoured fashion.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best game TT Games has made for years.
Naturally, it isn't one of those Lego games that features an open-world city, but it still has plenty of replay value thanks to the usual vast numbers of collectables, hidden characters and puzzles that can only be solved when you return to areas with specialist characters that you don't have in the story mode. And because it's so faithful to the film, that somehow leaves you keener to revisit every one of its nooks and crannies.
One thing that JJ Abrams' film nailed in an incredibly impressive manner was bringing back the universality that George Lucas's early efforts possessed, so no matter what your age, if you fail to derive enjoyment from this Lego-fied opportunity to relive The Force Awakens in all its glory, you must be very glum indeed.
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