May the brick be with you
There are good Star Wars games like the Jedi Knight series, bad Star Wars games like Force Commander and quirky Star Wars games like Lego: Star Wars. Lego: Star Wars took the gaming world by storm when it introduced fun/addictive gaming to a whole new audience through the medium of Lucas' creation and the definite twisted humour of the developer: Traveller's Tales.
Now it's the turn of the Xbox 360 to feel the force in the sequel to one of the best selling console games. Lego: Star Wars 2 - the Original Trilogy.
The story of George Lucas' first three (yes - first three) movies back when I was a kid was one of the reasons I loved the films so much. There's something about Star Wars that stirs the heart and puts a smile on my face still. So when I heard about Lego: Star Wars 2 I was wondering how close they'd stick to the original 3 films in terms of story and how much would they add in parody.
The Lego Star Wars games are known for their comedy and sense of ribald humour at times, this one is no different. The entire story is there and then some, it's great to see it reflected with a distinct Lego twist and the attention to detail from the developers here certainly puts a lot of non-parody games to shame.
The story plays through Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi. And in this Lego version just like the original on good old cinema celluloid and home Super8, we get to see Han shoot first!
That takes me back.
You play through the episodes in what ever order you decide, each episode is divided into several parts/chapters and you can only enter the next chapter after you complete the previous. You can play these chapters in Story mode to begin with and once you complete a story, just like the first game you can go back into Free Play mode and do it again to pick up missed secrets and extra bonuses.
You are often given control of one or two key characters from the story and must then go through and solve puzzles, defeat enemies and generally have a great time collecting bonus items and of course the currency of the Lego Star Wars worlds: studs.
These come in a variety of colours and give various score points based on the colour, collect enough of them and you'll unlock the True Jedi meter and gain a significant bonus at the end of the chapter. The bonuses come in the form of Gold Bricks, and these special bricks allow you to construct the bonus doors and other features in the game to unlock more content.
At the end of Story Mode you can unlock characters based on how well you did. Collect enough studs (you loose a portion of them when you die), the whole set of Mini-kits and a Power Brick from each chapter and you'll be on the way to amassing a fortune of studs that allows you to buy from the Mos Eisley Cantina shop.
Just like in the previous game you can buy characters, cheats, hints and other things from the shop. You can also play around with the mix and match character creator that allows you to create your own custom Lego Star Wars hero from the parts that are unlocked from playing the game.
If you want to put Darth Vader's Head on Yoda's body, or Yoda's head on bikini-clad Leia's body and replace a blaster pistol with a red lightsabre, you can.
You can change the colour of certain parts and the powers your hero adopts are based upon the objects or costume they're wearing. So if I created something that had a Bounty Hunter feel to it, then they could lob Thermal Detonators for instance.
A red lightsabre nets you the Dark Side force character feel, whilst one of the heroic lightsabre's will give you a Light Side force character.
You can name your character and take them into the Free Play game.
The game plays like the previous title with a few additions. The characters have a better control system, they have some new abilities. All characters (except for a few) can build objects in the world, doing so unlocks new pathways, may allow for bonuses and of course usually results in a collect spree jackpot-style stud payout.
New to Lego: Star Wars this time around are the build-able vehicles that allow characters to traverse the levels quicker (and some of these levels are huge compared to the first game) and get to places they normally can't go. The vehicles range from the good old Landspeeder to the Bantha, which can be used to leap off from and gain more height.
Each character has their own distinct personality and moves that they can do. Han Solo is a flashy shooter and he can dodge the enemy fire whilst he returns his own in a snappy-shot kind of manner, very slickly done and extremely well animated.
You can often take multiple routes through an area and find hidden bonuses and special interest areas. Some of these are just homage's to the movies but a lot of them have force based interactions or just interactive moments you can use to pump up your stud count or unlock an elusive Mini-kit part.
If you've played Lego: Star Wars then the controls will be familiar to you, except they've been tweaked and altered to make the game a little more accessible on this outing. Especially regarding the vehicle based missions where you're either in a Snowspeeder on Hoth or piloting the Millennium Falcon through the asteroid field to escape from the Empire. These have been tuned and tweaked and unlike the first game they're not the weakest part of the game at all now.
The puzzles in Lego: Star Wars 2 are usually fairly simple, they often involve breaking something in the environment to create a pile of pieces, these can be assembled into something (it could be a vehicle or an object to interact with) allowing you to further progress into the level.
The payoff for completing these puzzles could be an amusing mini-scene or a larger piece of another object to build, the fun in this game is discovering what the insane level designers have put together with a Star Wars feel.
In Free Play you are given the choice of which character you control and the game will assign you (from the large roster) a number of other characters that you can switch to with a flick of the controls, these will help you get to places you weren't able to reach in Story Mode.
The game has an Adaptive Difficulty setting that can be toggled on and off, to make sure it remains fun and pitched to the skill of the player in question.
There are tonnes of unlockable characters, costume parts and bonuses to gain in the game and it features a drop-in/drop-out coop mode, that while is a lot of fun, has a fair few annoying bugs that spoil the excellent gameplay otherwise.
The camera is very tight and will drag the 2nd player around the screen if the 1st so much as breathes the wrong way. This can lead to various comedy deaths that are funny but frustrating when you're losing studs left right and centre. There are some places where the other player must drop out, since there are some very tricky jumps and again the way the camera works is not conducive to cooperation regarding these - very often you'll end up dying or missing the mark completely until the player drops out.
There's also no friendly-fire setting, so when you have an over zealous friend join you it's possible that you'll end up being shot, punched, slapped or sliced to bits as they wade through a massive group of enemies.
It's still a fun experience but it could have been much better with additional polishing.
For all the cute-Lego-style graphics LSW 2 actually has a lot going for it. The Lego-style graphics are excellent in design and the developers have implemented all the effects that we know and love. The environments and the characters are all well realised and you can see key items, spaceships, locations and other elements of the Star Wars universe have been brought to life with a loving hand.
These things aren't just thrown together. The use of lighting, shadows and even a reflective shiny texturing (with bloom) effect to make the pieces look like plastic bring the game world to life with a bright palette and a definite eye for small details.
The level of eye candy is sufficient in the game to make it stand out from the crowd, with the PC and 360 versions looking the best.
Everything is constructed from Lego and the design of the game in that respect is flawless. From the Lego Death Star to the Lego Millennium Falcon it's all there and modelled perfectly. Even the characters have that Lego feel and they all have a distinct visual personality, right down to the rogue charmer Lando or the slick Han Solo, the design is excellent.
The vehicles, vessels and backgrounds are definitely a step above the first game and they are certainly more complex. Both in terms of the modelling and in terms of the way they can be built from separate pieces of Lego.
The game is packed with fun and quirky animations, from the characters to the vehicles, there's always something going on. The way the controls have been tweaked ties into the animation engine and now when you tap the X button whilst under fire with someone like Han Solo, you are treated to a quick dodge and attack, do this several times and Han delivers a quick-fire riposte to any enemies that are shooting at him whilst stepping out of the way of the shots.
Every character can do something funny or useful; Bounty Hunters will often have a Thermal Detonator ability (animation) that lets them destroy certain things other characters cannot. Some characters interact with another as well; try hitting Leia with Lando to see what we mean.
Chewie has an amusing animation where he pops the arms off any enemy that you are in close combat with. Yep, that's what happens if you upset a wookie.
There's a simple but effective AI behind the game. Your ally characters aren't often that much use in a fight, but when it comes to solving puzzles and getting around the level with you, they're pretty good - a lot of the time they're actually better at navigation than we were.
When it comes to a Force based puzzle, the opposite character will actually attempt to assist you or use the power to levitate a block you're standing on so you might gain some height and get at an elusive part of the level, be it a Mini-kit or a Power Brick for example.
With a button related puzzle then the AI will attempt to press the button, pull the lever or activate the puzzle with you. It's simple but effective as I said previously, and that's pretty much the extent of the AI in the game.
Simple physics make the game fun and enjoyable, there's not much in the way of advanced physics and that's about it.
I have no complaints about the sound in the game, nor should I. The developers have access to a wide variety of Star Wars sound effects thanks to Lucas' extensive library built over the years. The 'swoosh' of a speeder bike, the whine of a Blastech DL-44 pistol and the roar of the Falcon's engines are all here reproduced perfectly.
The spot audio effects are great and there are lots of nice little touches through the whole game like this, some of them you only get to hear if you wander around off the beaten track (which it's possible to do in some levels).
John Williams' original score is utilised to great effect through the game, there's not much can be said about that. The music still brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it and I'm transported back to the cinema when I first saw Star Wars IV: A New Hope, at its premiere.
There isn't any spoken dialogue. The approach has always been fairly Sims like in that respect with vocalisations rather than anything concrete. There are some nice vocal touches though, such as the Emperor's evil cackle when you're running around in Free Play or the occasional whistle of R2-D2 as you explore.
There's not much that can be said about Lego Star Wars 2 beyond the fact that it's a fun and engaging game, some people might find it a little too hard in places since the Adaptive Difficulty delivers an excellent level of challenge. Younger players might have a problem with some of the puzzles but it's a family game with no blood and gore, a flawed drop-in and drop-out co-op mode could get irksome quickly as the other player has to drop-out regularly to allow the first to solve a puzzle or make a tricky jump.
If they can fix the co-op aspect of the game then it would definitely be worth a higher score, the fact that the camera is pretty much stuck in one direction with very little control over where it moves, the irksome way it drags the other character off the screen with you is a detriment to what I consider a great game.
I hope they continue to improve the franchise with more quality Lego Star Wars titles, and perhaps see a few other genres faithfully re-created in Lego.