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A return to form for LEGO

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    LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    A return to form for LEGO

    The LEGO video game franchise as we know it today really took off with LEGO Star Wars over a decade ago. The success of that game spawned an unstoppable franchise that continues to this day, with multiple LEGO games released each year based on various licensed properties, from Harry Potter to Marvel. With so many games released in the franchise over the years, it’s not surprising that innovation was thrown by the wayside in favor of churning out new games as quickly as possible, but LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like a breath of fresh air for the series.

    LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a noticeable upgrade from previous LEGO games. The first thing players will notice is the graphics, which are far more impressive than they ever were before. Not only do the LEGO bricks have more detail and animation, but the game worlds are vibrant and full. Because of the sharp visuals, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like a step forward right from the get-go.

    The sharper visuals are certainly appreciated, but they don’t mean much if the gameplay is weak. Of course, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens plays similarly to past games in that players spend much of their time smashing objects in the environment and solving puzzles. That remains true in this new game, though there are some tweaks to the formula to change things up a bit.

    For one, there are now multi-builds that give players a choice of what items to build in the game world. This is a neat idea and leads to some interesting puzzles. The downside to this is that players can simply smash what they’ve built and build whatever they didn’t before, meaning it doesn’t really matter what they build initially. This seems like a wasted opportunity to incorporate branching paths and player choice into the formula, but it’s still something new and interesting nonetheless.

    Another big addition to the gameplay are third-person shooter sections that play similarly to cover-based shooters like Gears of War. These sections are not particularly engaging or fun, but they do a decent job of breaking up the rhythm of the rest of the game. These shooting sections are not the greatest ever designed, but they still inject variety into the experience to keep things from getting dull.

    Otherwise, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like a bigger and better version of the games that came before it. Players will spend their time thoroughly searching the environment for studs and collectibles so they can unlock hilarious cheats and new characters. After beating the game once and unlocking free play for all levels, players will feel compelled to jump back in to find hidden areas and other points of interest, and that’s when the game becomes really hard to put down.

    LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is packed with content for players to unlock, which means it will spend a lot of time in the disc tray for completionists. There’s apparently 200 characters in the game, though that number is reached by some corner-cutting on the part of the developers. For example, some characters are hidden as alternate costumes for others. Furthermore, there are some "alternate costumes" that seem like a complete waste of time and only offer very minute differences between the characters’ other costumes.

    While some of the unlockable characters are a let down, there are plenty of unique characters here that span the entire Star Wars saga and unlocking them should be a treat for diehard fans of the franchise.

    Diehard fans of the Star Wars series will want to consider picking up LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens regardless. Not only does it pack a genuinely funny retelling of the events of the latest main series Star Wars film (at the time of this writing), but it also contains new plot developments that are apparently canon (or at least, the bits that are not comedic and involve LEGOs). There are secret missions here players can unlock that explain how certain characters ended up the way they are in between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, which really makes The Force Awakens much more interesting.

    These bonus levels are in addition to a main campaign of decent length, and have to be unlocked by finding gold bricks. This encourages replayability, which LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens truly has no shortage of. Most of the levels are a blast to play as well, which certainly makes things easier, with the exception of the flying sections, which are chaotic and downright confusing most of the time.

    Anyone looking for bang for their buck will find that LEGO Star Wars delivers. To make going through its content even more enticing, the game retains the two-player co-op from previous LEGO games. The camera can become a bit wonky in co-op, though, especially as the game bounces between split- and same-screen. Split-screen is a neat feature as it makes it possible to explore larger levels without remaining tethered to your co-op partner, but the developers need to find a better way to implement it as the system now can be rather disorienting.

    Something that’s a letdown regarding co-op is a problem that has persisted for all the LEGO games since the jump to the seventh generation over a decade ago. Unfortunately, the second player still can’t earn any achievements when playing LEGO games. This oversight continues to make the co-op feature less enticing for LEGO titles, and it’s ridiculous that it still hasn’t been addressed by the developers.

    Another issue comes from the sound design. Of course LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens benefits from having the Star Wars musical score at its back, but the voice acting pulled from the film sounds awkwardly placed. It almost makes one miss the days that the LEGO games were full of miming instead of voice acting.

    Small complaints aside, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a meaty game that gives Star Wars fans plenty to do. It moves the LEGO video game series forward in a few significant ways, and while it doesn’t do anything totally revolutionary or extraordinary, it is a fun experience nevertheless. Quite simply, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the best LEGO games in years.

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