Traveller's Tales are one of the few developers that successfully marry accessible family fun with a deep respect for their source material. Their Lego titles, while prolific, are also intensely capable in their own right- but many are worried that their newest Lego Star Wars title might be a step too far for the franchise. With every film now well and truly covered, Lego Star Wars III only has the Clone Wars CG television series to draw upon... and even though I'm a fan of the franchise, I was still a little worried about the new setting.
After half an hour of one-on-one time with the latest build and Traveller's Tales Producer Nick Ricks, I'm almost certain that this will be the best Lego Star Wars title yet. If not the finest work that Traveller's Tales has produced to date.
The first thing you'll notice about Lego Star Wars III is that it's running on a brand new engine. Characters and backgrounds enjoy a new lease of shiny high definition life, featuring realtime lighting, impressive texturing and a physics engine that allows Lego pieces to realistically roll around. Ricks explained that they'd moved the camera much closer to the action in order to create a cinematic feel- and by doing so, have managed to fully immerse the player to the characters and action. It's a much more visceral experience this time around.
Ricks explained that TT was designing the new experience was to deliver a new experience while rooting it within the series– and to demonstrate, he showed Yoda and a Clone Squad in action. Mashing X now creates a fluid and powerful set of combos, with the diminutive green Jedi dynamically mixing leaps, twirls and slams to throw down on his Seperatist foes. Cleaving through hordes of droids felt both natural and extremely powerful; and using the Jedi focuses on awesome combat and force puzzles rather than platforming and simple switch pulling. New powers include a targeted Saber throw and an assembly mode that lets you manipulate lego manually.
The Clone squad make up for their lack of lightsabers and force powers by packing overwhelming firepower. A homing rocket launcher can tear huge chunks out of enemy formations- and an R6 rotary blaster cannon can be used to and overheat 'gold' lego barriers in order to pass through them.
The quirky and charming humour is still intact. After dispatching several battle droids with the R6 cannon, a cutscene showed the brave clone having his arm shot off and holding the severed limb over his eyes in terror. Luckily, Yoda was on hand to pick up the droid and use its guns to destroy the aggressors… and to set the scene for a puzzle. A gold Lego barrier stood in the way of the clone squad, but the R6 operator was only capable of hilariously swatting enemies with his arm! After a while I realised that Yoda could pick up another droid and use its blasters to circumvent the barrier. As Ricks was keen to point out, “Jedi don't pull levers.”
Dual storytelling is another new gameplay feature that allows Traveller's Tales to tell 2 concurrent stories. Skipping ahead, the young apprentice Asoka was engaged in a fight with General Grievous (who was rocking a groovy new look courtesy of the latest toy line) Whilst she was hilariously able to jam a box over the droid's head, she simply wasn't up to the task of defeating him alone. Luckily the top right corner of the screen displayed a callout of Anakin waiting idly in a different area- and holding the Y button switched to his perspective while Asoka continued her battle in the circular bubble. Anakin then bravely fought through the hordes of droids using button-mashing saber combos, Gears of War 2 style lightsaber duels and the ability to cut straight through bulkheads.
It was then time to take to the wild black yonder. Space battles still take place in 2D, but as before, the new cinematic camera angle lends it a new sense of scale. Two parallel planes (that can be switched between at will) make it feel like a dramatic space shooter in the Rogue Squadron vein. Several areas allow the player to land, get out and seamlessly engage in ground combat in order to unlock new areas, which is a huge improvement on the clunky puzzles of its predecessors.
As a massive Star Wars geek, I couldn't help but ask about where the new hub would be set. The new level selection hub takes place on the bridge of a Venator Class starship (basically a clone Star Destoyer). Responding to the clunky mission selection offered by the Mos Eisley Cantina, missions appear directly in front of the player for easy access. More excitingly, the Venator isn't a static hub. Since it's a warship, it can be piloted from system to system in order to conquer the galaxy as well as explore for new blueprints and canisters!
My time with Lego Star Wars III had come to an end... but seeing that I was visibly crestfallen at having to put the controller down, Ricks dropped the bombshell. Apparently Lego Star Wars III will feature enormous battles with literally hundreds of units on the screen, with players able to control and command any one of them. Controlling walkers and mechs will let us “crunch battalions” beneath our feet- and we'll be able to use our hard-earned studs to call in powerful reinforcements. Excited? Not half.
Put simply, Lego Star Wars III is a bold and brash new take on the Lego universe that seems set to revitalise the entire franchise. Star Wars purists might still balk at the new setting; but let me assure you cynics, the new features, upgraded graphics and epic battles will more than make up for it.