Take a peek through my profile, and you will see that I've played a few Lego games from start to finish. While never the best games I've ever played, all were enjoyable in their own right, and from the original Star Wars Trilogy, to Batman, Indiana Jones, Rock Band and Harry Potter, the Lego adventure games have been a staple on my gaming shelf, and have connected me again in a cartoony way to franchises I was familiar with. However, having never seen Star Wars past the two trilogies, you will have to excuse my lack of plot knowledge with this current installment.
On March 22nd, the 8th game in the 360 generation's Lego Adventure gaming series (Bionicle aside) was released. After exhausting the movie saga in the previous two efforts, Lego Star Wars III would center its plot around the Clone Wars. Initial rumors of an all new engine and gaming experience peaked the curiosity of fans used to the same base model over the last 4 years, however, the demo released in January proved that indeed, this game would (no pun intended) clone the engines of old. Granted, the game is geared toward younger gamers who probably wouldn't be able to tell, nor care about the differences, but you had to wonder how this game would hold up with older games, who had played the same tune with a different instrument time and again.
Much like Harry Potter, the game starts you off in a level and scenario similar to the end of Star Wars Episode II with the death of Jango Fett, culminating with Mace Windu aiding in saving you all and helping you board (assumedly) the Mon Calamari to begin the rest of the game. Right away, this level well very quickly show you what Traveler's Tales has done to test the processing limits of the 360. At one point, you will see well over 100 independently moving smaller sprites on screen at once, along with approximately a dozen others of various sizes. The best part? No slowdown. That is very impressive, as is the enhanced character detail and shading. Characters are as shiny as Michelle Kwan's forehead, and just as smooth, however, not as polished. Harry Potter was (pardon the pun) brilliant in its graphic work, and unfortunately, Clone Wars is well behind in this aspect. Even in the highest of Hi-Definition, graphics are still a bit jagged and rough. This has been a bit of an issue for Star Wars dating back to the the Original Lego Trilogy, and it continues here.
Once aboard what I assume is the Mon Calamari, you start in the cockpit of the ship, left to build and destroy as usual. The entire level selection takes place on the cockpit menus itself (not like previous games that would have you walk into separate places for each chapter, and serves as a much more efficient way of getting the job done. Unpurchased characters walk throughout the ship that you can buy, and the in-game percentage counter serves to tell you how far you are through the game, and how long you've been playing. There is no looking for the special tavern or blackboard to enter your secret codes in either. You can simply pause the game and enter your secret code there. These journeys were meaningless in previous games, and it is good to see this all streamlined.
Rather than chapters that are obtained as you finish others, you get straight to the point and can choose whatever pathway you want to play from the getgo. The main storyline is broken off into 3 separate chapters which take place within the span of the first 2 seasons of the Clone Wars cartoon. Each chapter is broken off into the pursuit of 3 characters - Count Dooku, General Grevious and Asajj Ventress. As in previous Star Wars game, the levels are a mixture of walking and flying stages spread across cute landscapes with a variety of characters. However, very quickly on, you see the same patterns forming that you saw before. Menu streamlining and UI enhancement aside, this game is almost like you never left the last Lego Star Wars franchise. Characters walk around in story mode solving a mission based on the adapted plot with their weapons aiming to collect True Jedi, Minikits, Gold Completion and Red In-Game Powerup Bricks, and once done, you may repeat it over in Free Play Mode to collect what you missed (though it's never recommended to Free Play something until you have completed the game and have one character out of each class for simplicity's sake.) Thankfully, the charging option to hit multiple enemies has carried over from Harry Potter to make combat a bit easier.
In typical Lego game fashion, this game has reliance on solving mini objectives and puzzles utilizing the skills of the characters given to you at the beginning of the level. Amidala, for example, can subdue animals. Anakin Skywalker has tremendous raw power and the ability to defeat multiple enemies at once, and Jar Jar Binks' legendary lack of any usefulness makes you wonder why they even bothered to include him yet again (thankfully, they still haven't incorporated full voice into the series so you don't have to listen to him either.) Star Wars Lego has been less about puzzles, however, and more about combat, which this game has plenty of. There is never a shortage of perils on-screen at any time. If you don't have to worry about falling off a cliff somewhere, you will be chased down by plenty of enemy drones, ships or gunfire. This game in a whole offers a very clever and manageable boost in difficulty. Despite the cacophony of opposition, it never becomes too overwhelming or difficult to deal with, and you are never pigeonholed into repeated deaths from unfair angles. Once you've obtained the invincibility red brick (or cheated to get it, since the Lego games are always a code user's haven,) I implore you to stand in the middle of a fight scene with constant streams of drones pouring through the doors and see just how much can appear on screen at once.
There are 19 levels in all including the introductory level. Lego Harry Potter had some curiously short levels, and it carries over here as well. Many levels in Count Dooku's chapter are single screen, single scenario levels that should only take about 5 minutes to finish if you are paying attention to your surroundings, while you begin to see longer levels when you play the Grevious chase. Also new to this game is what the game refers to as "screen tag," which splits your characters up into different parts of the level to solve their own bits and meet up somewhere along the way. Ever wondered "Why don't they cut through stuff more often with their lightsabres?" Your curiosity should be satisfied since you get the option to cut through plenty of things. The novelty does wear a bit old, however, especially when you're in the middle of cutting out a hole to climb through and are being shot at by a dozen drones.
Compared to previous Lego Games, this one does not carry the same sense of fun into it that the other franchises did, and as a result, this game just isn't as fun as the ones before. Despite not being much of a Batman fan, I still enjoyed that game. Same with Harry Potter. This one started out promising, but by the end of it, it left me wishing that the next Lego game wasn't a franchise I really enjoy wanted to see in Lego form because a small part of me wants to be done with this engine and never play another Lego game again.
It's a shame really, this feeling that if you've played one Lego game, you've basically played them all. If you are addicted to the Lego series, or have a great fascination in Star Wars canon, or how the Clone Wars deals with its Lego treatment, it is worth checking out because at this point, you know exactly what you're getting, and how you're getting it. Luckily, this is not a full price retail release. It smartly hit shelves at a slightly discounted $49.99 MSRP on launch, which matches most Kinect titles and games aimed at a younger audience.
For series fans looking for just the new Lego game, however, be forewarned. From a fundamental standpoint, if you have played any of the franchise's adventure-type games in the last 5 years, you have played Clone Wars already with different characters or a different plot. Go follow the advice of Lego Rock Band and see if you can stack 6 lego bricks in the 6 billion different ways the game says you can do, because there's more variation in that. With these games now, there's just no diversity. Quite honestly, when I pop in a Lego Game, I can expect this exact formula out of it:
-Play Story Mode
-Unlock Gold Bricks
-Find Gold Bricks
-Build Minikits (or that game's equivalent)
-Try to Obtain True Jedi/-Complete Story Mode
-Play Free Play
-Find the Last Gold Bricks
-Find the Last Red Bricks
-Finish Building Leftover Minikits (or that game's equivalent)
-Finish Obtaining True Jedi/Indy/Batman/Wizard
-Get 100% after obtaining everything
-Play a bonus level for an achievement
-Collect achievements along the way for beating each level, getting all bonuses and 100%, and a couple cutesy role reversals.
-Enjoy the same basic engine with a different plot and different characters with the same abilities.
All of the above apply, and those seeking any change from previous editions need not.
Now considering these games always end up as Platinum Hits, it obviously continues to be a lucrative franchise, and therefore I continue to see value in the family gaming aspect of this. However, I continue to feel this whole concept is getting dragged mercilessly through the production line onto retail shelves. This is by no means as bad as the Guitar Hero Franchise yet, of which we bid recent adieu, but it certainly is not far from there at this point. What was once a great concept and a fabulous spin on gaming and franchising is now getting a touch old. Clone Wars won't even be remembered as the best Lego Game, despite the consistent improvements made. That spot may be reserved for Harry Potter.
It's hard to hate on such a fundamentally sound gaming franchise. The Lego Games are never buggy or glitchy, and throughout the way, they have always fixed any game design flaws (such as the on-screen rubber banding effect that plagued multiplayer in the old games) while adding a couple bells and whistles here and there. In that time, even EA and THQ have identified the gaming world is much different than before, and has become much more of a fly by night society. You can no longer say any of the yearly franchises like NHL or Smackdown vs. Raw are "exactly the same" every year because so much work is done in between, except to in-game graphics, which often stay similar, or show little change. Engines, sounds, entire experiences are changed. I don't see that here, or I see almost the opposite. The graphics and the plot are different, but the same sound effects show up, the same basic control scheme and the same basic expectations remain game-in game-out. Never once have these games become so boring they aren't worth playing, but there comes a point where that sense of deja vu is so prominent, you crave change.
Furthermore, these games have never sunk to the point where they are an obvious cash grab where the company has mailed in their efforts knowing they will sell out anyway. I'm sure that as long as Lucasarts and Traveler's Tales turn out million sellers on this Lego Engine, things won't change that much, and you will continue to see simple extensions to this Lego house, but until then, an exhausted gamer can dream.