While Star Wars: The Force Awakens may have been one of the largest blockbusters last year, it almost seems surprising it only had one official game tie-in. While even Episode One: The Phantom Menace had at least two spin-off games (possibly more if you count Jedi Power Battles alongside Episode One Racer and the official Episode One game), all The Force Awakens really had was a Play Set expansion for the now no-longer with us Disney Infinity. Some six months later, and up steps LEGO to put things right, with a tour de force that sets a new bar for film tie-in games - and the LEGO games that follow.
The basic concept here is the one that's nothing if not familiar - based on the film of the same name, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens gives you the chance to play through a slightly more plastic-y version of the film, with a series of levels taking in every major moment. And unlike LEGO Marvel's Avengers, which somehow managed to feel like it was full of filler, despite squeezing the plot of two films into one game, LEGO Star Wars has a fantastic pace, that means there's always something interesting to do, somewhere interesting to go, and something you're looking forward to doing next.
The levels themselves take the standard LEGO formula, make a few tune ups, and somehow end up making the whole game feel fresh and new. While you'll still be doing the same things as before - with drop-in drop-out co-op multiplayer, you and a friend can squeeze on a sofa and take on the First Order together, smashing up enemies, and destroying every single LEGO thing in sight, before rebuilding it to something much more useful at the touch of a button - there are so many little touches here, you'll spend as long laughing at BB-8 as you will playing the levels.
The main story missions themselves take in almost every memorable moment from the film - and then some. From Poe's initial daring mission to recover the fragment of the map that might lead to Luke Skywalker, to the final assault on Starkiller base, the game takes in every cool bit - and actually goes even further. Perhaps because there wasn't quite enough material to create the standard 18 LEGO levels, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens goes one better, and actually has original, official "expanded universe" levels, to fill in the gaps left by the film, and answer some of the big questions. From explaining how Han Solo came to be in possession of all those Rathtars, to a daring raid which sees Poe Dameron trying to rescue Admiral Ackbar, who's being held prisoner aboard a Star Destroyer, these bonus missions are actually one of the highlights of the game. Even the cutscenes, which feature all new voice acting, provide plenty of laughs.
There's even going to be a mission that explains where C-3PO got his new red arm - although that's going to be a PlayStation exclusive downloadable add-on for a time...
Still, while the LEGO games are usually a long love letter to fans of a certain franchise, there are things LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens does that you'd kill to do in any Star Wars game, yet alone a LEGO one. For starters, while the game still has the same mixture of story driven levels and more open hub worlds, where you can complete random quests for characters - it now finally adds co-op vehicles. Whether you're finding Kylo Ren's lost teddy bear, or rebuilding statues after the invasion of Takodana, now, you and a friend can hop into one the game's vehicles together, and speed around in the same craft, making getting around that much easier, not to mention moving between quests. There's really nothing like jumping onto Rey's speeder, with Rey squeezing into the cargo net, and BB-8 at the wheel to make you smile. I mean, how is he driving? He doesn't even have hands!
It may only be a little touch, but it makes a huge difference - especially as the quests themselves now all work in co-op too! This was one of our biggest issues with LEGO Dimensions and Marvel's Avengers - that the quests the characters gave you in the hubs were actually nigh on impossible to do in co-op, because whatever it was you needed to hunt down, it would only ever show up on one player's map. Now, you can do everything together - and the game's a lot more fun because of it. And while LEGO Marvel didn't let you view an overarching map of the area to figure out where to go next, LEGO Star Wars does. Let's hope these changes carry over to the next game - whatever that may be...
Oh, and we couldn't finish our section about humour without mentioning the game's hat machines...
As one of the games that pioneered same-console co-op, the LEGO games may have been resting on their laurels for a little bit too long when it comes to two player gameplay, with their "dynamic" (read: crazy-whizzy-round-migraine-inducing) split-screen being a particular bane (and unfortunately, one that returns for this game - just set split screen to vertical in the options and you'll be fine). It's fantastic, then, that one of LEGO Star Wars' finest touches is an all new co-op option in the levels - co-op ships.
Have you ever wanted to jump on the Millenium Falcon's gun turrets, and blast seven bells out of the First Order (side note: we still have no idea why they're called that, and why the rebels are now the resistance)? How about flying a TIE Fighter as Poe, with your co-op buddy manning the gun turret as Finn? In LEGO Star Wars, incredibly, you can - and not just in on the rails blasting sections either. One of the coolest moments in this - and any Star Wars game - sees you orbiting a Star Destroyer, having just escaped as Poe and Finn, as happened in the opening of the film. With Poe at the controls, and Finn manning the turret, you get to fly around the Star Destroyer, blasting everything in sight, as you try and destroy the turrets so you can make a quick getaway. What we wouldn't give for a more open world, role playing LEGO Star Wars game, where we can fly between planets like this...
In fact, even the game's much vaunted new "cover-based shooter" style sections are nowhere near as bad, or as grating as you might have worried. While we'll admit, we did worry the game was going to become Gears of LEGO, these cover based shooter sections are just that - brief, only-a-few-minute-long challenges that are every bit as accessible, and easy to pick up and play as you'd hope from a LEGO game. All you really need to do is pop out and kill a few enemies, and you'll be back to normal gameplay.
However, not every brand new feature for LEGO Star Wars is a good one. One of the most trumpeted features in the run up to launch was the new multi-builds - dancing piles of LEGO which give you several options of things to build. The way this works is, should you find a pile of LEGO that's urging to be built, standing by it will make some orange silhouettes appear, showing you the items you can build. On the PS4, holding circle and pushing the stick towards your object of choice will build that object - it could be a giant cannon, a trampoline, or almost anything else.
The problem is, the multi-builds are a little bit awkward to do, as not only is it sometimes tricky to get the game to tell which of the two closely spaced items you want to build, but sometimes, some options won't actually appear on your screen at all. Whether this is because we're playing mostly in split-screen, we don't know, but it seems a bit of an oversight that you sometimes can't see all the multi-build options on offer. What might make more sense is being able to press circle to "start" the process, and *then* being able to choose which one you want, before confirming again.
However, the multi-build issues can mostly be worked around - unfortunately, it's the bugs that really start to let the game down. It's weird - while most of the game seems incredibly polished, both visually and stylistically, every now and then you'll come across the odd section where the game just breaks. Almost every bug we found in this game was one that involved the interface, and some prompt, gauge, or meter simply not appearing. The problem is, there are loads of sections like this in game - boss fights where you'll have to hammer X to beat someone; panels you can activate with BB-8, where you need to keep a bar in the middle of a gauge, and stop it sliding off to the sides - but sometimes, they just won't appear at all. When this happens, for the most part, you're in big trouble - unless you can somehow manage to guess what the game's asking you to do.
And, really, these occasional, annoying, yet fun wrecking bugs really bring down what's otherwise the best LEGO game in years - and possibly even ever. If this had had a little bit more polish, and a few less bugs, we'd have had no qualms giving it nigh on a full five stars. But with the bugs being as drastic as they are when they happen, we can't really give this anything more than this. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fantastic game - just make sure you're ready for the bugs when they happen.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS