LEGO… the wondrous plastic creation that gives you the ability to craft masterpieces of art and construction, then smash them to pieces. LEGO is one of those kids’ toys that everyone can enjoy, and, strangely enough, the same rings true for their video games as well. Mainly known for their colourful art style and great co-op, LEGO video games are essentially all the fun of LEGO but without the crappy instruction manuals or the pain of stepping on a block in bare feet. Traveller's Tales, the company behind the recent LEGO video games phenomenon, have struck again with LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. Now you may roll your eyes and protest that they've done all the original and prequel films, so why come back for more? Rest assured this take on an era of the Star Wars universe which is most well known for being represented in the frankly soul crushing CGI series The Clone Wars is a worthy addition to the Saga.
Take all the elements that made the previous games great – the childish humour, the great co-op gameplay as well as the fun collectables – and you've got the bare bones of what Lego Star Wars III has on offer. The hub, which is present in some shape or form in most LEGO games, takes the shape of a Republic capital ship which you are free to explore. The hub, for those of you who haven't played the previous games, is the place where you'll choose your missions, view achievements, unlock abilities and characters as well as taking part in various mini-games. Overall the hub in Lego Star Wars III is by far the best out of the lot, with immense attention to detail and a surprising amount of stuff to do and places to explore for a level that isn't part of the main game.
In a complete opposite move to the previous LEGO Star Wars titles, Clone Wars has, while in quite a slight way, a sandbox mission structure in the sense that rather than choosing various chapters from the different films, you are instead presented with a choice of 3 different mission arcs, each based around one of the three main villains, Count Dooku, Asajj Ventress, and General Grievous.
"…the charm unfortunately soon wears off as the levels get repetitive."
With this new structure come improvements to the missions themselves too. Vehicle missions are now improved with the ability to land at certain places and take the fight to the enemy on foot as well as the ability to play two characters story arcs within the same mission in Story Swap mode, in which players can switch between two characters, with parallel stories, in different areas. These missions will lead you all around the galaxy chasing your quarry, and while it sounds good in practice, and actually is for the first few missions, the charm unfortunately soon wears off as the levels get repetitive.
Among the biggest culprits of this would be the new slightly RTS-inspired levels you usually come across when pursuing the Dooku storyline. With the improved graphics engine from the previous games the engine is able to render over 200 units, whereas the previous games struggled with little over thirty units in most segments. These new RTS levels involve you running around a massive level usually containing around 12 capture points. These capture points, if held by your side, let you build various buildings that either periodically spawn units, such as clone trooper barracks and AT-TEs, or provide bonuses like laser turrets or shield generators. The spawn points provide you with an unlimited supply of units with the barracks spawning platoons of around 20 clone troopers and all vehicle spawns providing just one of those vehicles per building built. While it looks quite spectacular having hundreds of little LEGO people running around shooting each other, the AI and gameplay are a little lackluster. The AI is, to put it plainly, dumb to the point where they'll occasionally just keep running at walls and are completely useless without direct player intervention. Unfortunately that's easier said than done most of the time.
While you have the ability to use any vehicle you find, it's surprisingly hard to commandeer a vehicle from a friendly AI when they're hell-bent on running down practically everything in their way, friendly or otherwise. Not only that but you can only command infantry, who are essential for destroying golden buildings and shield generators, which vehicles cannot pass through or shoot at, only if you are the special commander character, of which there is only one in every level. This is made especially difficult when you are required to be within poking distance of the squad you want to command, who, once under your control, follow you around like mindless zombies, only shooting when you do and being completely oblivious to any and all dangers around them. Seriously, they'd jump over a cliff for you without thinking twice, and unfortunately, most do.
That being said, the thought was there, and with a little tweaking of controls and AI, the idea would be solid, but as it is, it's rather boring and repetitive once the initial wow factor has subsided. Strangely, that last sentence sums LEGO Star Wars III up quite well. Mostly, it's all been seen and done before; that's not to say that's a bad thing though. The formula works, but it seems that the charm is wearing off a little now. While the new features are more than welcome with the improved graphics, the split screen combat and the new RTS and vehicle mechanics – it's all a little worn out now. What the two previous games had was a good story which, while we all know how it goes already, was still engaging and fun to see due to the LEGO-based humour which can still make audiences young and old chuckle. LEGO Star Wars III fails in that area, much like the CGI series did. The story (what little there is of it) is too disjointed to keep one hooked. It's still got the classic LEGO charm but not in the same way the previous games did. While fans of the series will no doubt enjoy the title, it's definitely not going to sway anyone who isn't already a fan. The content is in abundance, the gameplay is mostly solid, and the child-like humor is all there, but it just feels like something is missing to make the whole experience great.