By John Walker on March 26th, 2011 at 4:00 pm.
The latest Traveller’s Tales Lego game, Lego Star Wars 3: The Clone Wars, came out yesterday. I’ve played the Story Mode through to completion, and fought against replaying the entire thing in Free Play in order to have time to write this review. Is it any good? Well, I’ve sort of given that away. Yes, it’s extremely good. Here’s Wot I Think to prove why.
It’s hard to imagine how the Traveller’s Tales team don’t look at each other and sigh, “Here we go again.” Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the third Lego Star Wars game, and is the eighth Lego game they’ve made. Not including the Lego Pirates Of The Caribbean they’re currently making, or the rejigged releases of the previous Star Wars games. But even if they do, there’s not a single sign of tiredness in yet another absolutely stunning game.
Clone Wars is based on the TV cartoon series of the same name, that I’ve never seen. However, since I pretty much can’t stand Star Wars altogether, and have previously adored the LSW series, such ignorance was obviously not going to be a hindrance. So it’s set between the events of the Episode II and III movies, with an adult Anakin Skywalker buddied up with a young Obi Wan, fighting against the evil Empire.
TT know their formula for these games, and they’re not embarrassed about repeating it. Three chapters, each broken into six sub-chapters, with a vast array of playable characters using individual skills to solve puzzles, kill enemies, and most of all, smash up stuff. And once again, on a first play through there’s only a very limited number of secrets you can unlock, bonuses you can collect, etc, with levels littered with areas you’ll note should be returned to once you’ve finished them in Story mode, and replay in Free Play mode. All in place, as ever.
But there’s a bunch of new ideas in here too. Most notably, many levels (in fact, most of one chapter) offering a pleasingly simplified RTS game. We’ll get back to that. There are sequences in which you can control a small squadron of soldiers, usually about five, by playing as a Rebel soldier commander type. You can issue them commands, usually to focus their fire on a particular area, blowing up stuff that lightsabers alone cannot destroy.
There’s also space flying sequences, dozens of vehicles to ride, and a central hub that’s more elaborate than any of the previous games, offering literally hours of extra content.
More than anything LSW:CW takes the mad joy of smashing everything in sight to a new level of pandering to my OCD love of destroying ever object and collecting every token. Smash a block and it’ll inevitably leave a smaller block to smash. Break a wall and it’ll open up to reveal something else to break. That might fall into pieces that can be built into something using the Force. Which can then be smashed. And the constituent pieces it collapses into? Smash those too.
Funnily enough, as I started Clone Wars I thought, “Oh, shame, this is going to be another Lego Indy.” The weakest games in their collection, the Indy games suffered from a lot of faults, most frustratingly the endlessly spawning enemies. It’s not nearly as much fun to solve puzzles, smash objects, and try to reach tricky areas if there’s a non-stop assault of baddies trying to reduce you to plastic parts.
However, while Clone Wars is definitely far more combat focused than most of the Lego games, they seem to have finally found the correct place to put the balance. Unlike Indy, your average Jedi character is capable of putting up a fantastic fight, not least because swinging your lightsaber when not immediately next to an enemy causes your character to deflect the lasery bullets back into your attackers. Which means, you can still merrily smash up a big pile of stuff in one corner while under attack, because you’ll also be bouncing bullets back behind you as you go. And, importantly, the spawning enemies only appear in a few levels, and often can be stopped by manipulating the environment.
Of course, following their regular formula for the most part does mean making their regular mistakes. I swear Traveller’s Tale have never read a single review of their games, so consistent are the needless frustrations. The massively restricted camera means jumps can be frustrating to judge, and running backward is always tiresome. The peculiar control for vehicles still doesn’t allow anything to reverse, which is mad. And still – agonisingly still – you cannot manually select which object you wish to manipulate with the Force, meaning you’re constantly spinning around and picking up C3PO rather than pulling the switch you were sodding well facing. TT clearly couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks, and I sort of wish their arrogance would bite them on the bum. But the rest of the game is so gorgeous they flipping well get away with it yet again.
The RTS game took me completely by surprise. Not just that it existed at all, but that it’s so smartly implemented that it feels completely in keeping with the themes of the game, and even series.
Large, open battlefields contain circular areas belonging to either the Rebels or the Separatists (proto-Empire, I think). Control of a circle is taken by destroying all the units within it, each hooked into a central hub. Most of these sequences require that you take control of all the Separatist hubs to win, although some have more specific tasks.
Units are purchased with the regular Lego tokens that you collect throughout the rest of the game anyway, so there’s nothing strange about the introduction of a resource. These are gathered, as ever, by smashing things in the environment, or destroying enemy crafts. With them, based on how much territory you occupy, you can build turrets, shields, tanks, and most pleasingly, various All Terrain (AT-x) vehicles.
What makes it more interesting, and so smart in how it matches the main game, is the use of silver and gold units. Throughout LSW:CW you’ll find both silver and gold objects that can only be destroyed in specific ways. It’s a typical theme of the series, designed to make certain areas or tasks only accessible in Free Play when you can take in a character with the correct weaponry. Silver objects require a strong blast to destroy (the soldier with his rocket launcher is always a joy to have in your squad), and gold require sustained fire. In the regular levels this could be that squadron of soldiers, or maybe someone with a machine gun. So you’re familiar with those rules, and it makes perfect sense that the same apply here.
A silver turret, for instance, is going to require you build a unit with heavy artillery. Anything gold will need something like the giant laser-firing tank. And they link together cleverly, so taking out bases requires unpicking the enemy defenses. A gold turret in one circle may be being protected by a silver shield generator in another, which is in turn guarded by a gold barracks producing endless troops of Clone droids. You need to find the weak points that will let you unravel their defenses.
And throughout all this you can still jump out of whatever vehicle you might be using to be just your regular characters running on foot, smashing stuff as ever. It matches the core game masterfully seamlessly. Even more so when a won battle may then see the same characters carry on in the same environment in the regular manner.
Space flight sequences are similarly smartly linked in. Whizzing around in a ship, blowing up enemy canons and the like, is only possible because you’ll land your ship on various bases and complete on-foot sequences to release the necessary ammunition, or rescue appropriate people.
I mentioned the hub. You’ve got your giant Rebel ship, which becomes more explorable as you get gold bricks from completing levels. This opens up familiar areas – places to see your collected items, large hangers for mucking around in vehicles and ships, and places to design your own characters. The whole place is populated by the characters you’ve unlocked, either through play or by buying them with tokens, and their varying skills will allow you to explore even further. Then that’s not it – get a ship and you can fly across to the Separatist ship, and start the whole process over there too – only this time under attack if you’re currently a Rebel character. Red bricks that let you purchase bonuses (fast build, double score, glow in the dark (!), and even invincibility for a million tokens (I bought this, and it naturally spoils everything) are no longer in one place, but instead scattered about as secrets to uncover. This might be a touch frustrating in some circumstances, but it does make their role make a lot more sense. And from the hub you can launch various bonus modes, including some excellent strategy challenges, requiring you to complete various tasks on the battlegrounds within a time limit.
Oh, and the humour. I laughed out loud so many times. Sometimes the pratfalling is a little lazy, but often just tiny expressions, silly background details, or lovely running gags throughout a cutscene, are perfectly delivered. The poor Jedi who just wants to have a cup of coffee for an entire level is my favourite, and the punchline to it made me laugh and cry “AWW!” at the same time. And the very final gag of the epilogue level’s ending (which I’ll obviously not spoil) is by far and away one of the strangest they’ve ever done.
Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the Traveller’s Tale formula in fine form, with a whole bunch of new ideas that work brilliantly. It’s perhaps not quite as sublime as their Harry Potter game (I definitely will write a review of that soon), but it’s far more elaborate and involving. And in the 10 hours it took me to finish the three campaigns, it informed me that I’d completed 41% of the game. And I’m dying to go back in Free Play and unlock a whole bunch more. As ever, it’s a second game so differently is it approached when you can play as any character at any point.
As ever, you can play in single player perfectly (and there are barely any of those awkward moments where you’re relying on the AI to help you out – here you more often can tag out to another character and two-player a puzzle alone), or jump into co-op at any time. It’s the exact game parents should be playing with their kids. And as anyone familiar with the games will appreciate, they’re games where you can never fail. You can get stuck, but you can’t die and be forced to restart anything. You just fall apart, then get put back together again and carry on. They prove that constant threat of failure is absolutely not necessary for a game to be entertaining.
If you haven’t enjoyed the previous Lego Star Wars games, it’s unlikely this will win you over. But you’re such a wrong-faced buffoon that you don’t deserve fun. It’s constantly delightful.