It's good! No, really!
Reposted from my site:
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Lord, not another Lego game! Talk about a stagnating franchises!" Hear me out, here. When Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars was announced, I too met it with skepticism. The last game, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga was a good game, if a little dated. My fear was that Lego Star Wars III was going to be like Lego Indiana Jones 2, with Traveler's Tales essentially re-releasing the first game with a couple new levels and the narrative for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It wasn't until I played the demo that I found myself intrigued. Lego Star Wars III is not be based on the prequels, but instead on the animated cartoon airing on Cartoon Network. It sounded like a fresh idea and, better yet, it meant that I didn't have to play another Hoth level.
After spending a significant amount of time with the game, I can say that I'm incredibly impressed with it. Everything about the game, from the mechanics to the in-game visuals is a significant leap from any other Lego game Traveler's Tales has ever developed. L ego Star Wars III truly feels like a "next-gen" Lego title and it makes me think that if Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga looked and played as good as this does, it could be incredible.
Instead of playing through sequences from the Star Wars prequels, each level is designed after an episode from seasons one and two of The Clone Wars. If you've watched the show, levels will be immediately familiar, but it's approachable to those who haven't. The game is broken up into two campaigns and after the Prologue, you are given the option to chase after Asajj Ventress or General Grievous. As with previous Lego Star Wars games, you can move between campaigns at any time and there's no pressure to complete an entire campaign before tackling the other. Once you have played through a level's story mode, you'll unlock free mode, which lets you play through the level with any character which is useful in collecting hidden items and hard to reach studs. Nothing new here, really. In between levels, you'll hang out in the game's hub world, a Republic Assault ship. Unlike the Mos Eisley cantina or Dex's Diner on Coruscant, you don't have access to the entire ship at the start. Exploration is earned by collecting a number of gold Lego bricks (gained by finishing levels and completing minikits). Collect enough blocks and you'll access areas and game features, such as the Build Your Hero customizable minifig room.
Let's talk about why The Clone Wars is the perfect Star Wars property for this type of Lego game. With Complete Saga, Traveler's Tales had to design a series of levels based on the high points of each Star Wars movie. Often times, it felt as if a few sequences had to be padded out a bit because there just wasn't enough "game" to them. With The Clones Wars, they had about twenty four different standalone episodes and story arcs to work with. Now that I think about it, the length of an average level is almost as long as an episode from the show. I can't properly express it in words, but it all just feels "right."
Technically speaking, Lego Star Wars III is amazing. You're no longer confined to fighting small groups of enemies in mostly tight corridors. Many levels are big and expansive and because the game is centered around the largest galactic conflict since the fall of the Old Republic, you'll get to participate in some fun, large scale battles. The Geonosis prologue is a perfect example. When the Clone army arrives, chaos reigns as thirty to forty enemies and NPCs fill the screen at once, all trying to kill each other. One might expect frame rate issues with these larger battles, but Traveler's Tales built the game on a much beefier engine and everything runs very smoothly. Having so many enemies on screen does come with a caveat: it makes certain parts of the game noticeably more difficult, especially if you're trying to gain a True Jedi status. Blaster fire comes fast and furious and if you're not paying attention, you'll find yourself dying/losing studs quite a bit. Item collection seems significantly trickier as minifig pieces harder to spot. The only other issue I experienced was that certain puzzle solutions are not readily apparent in a few places. However, these are small, niggling issues in the grand scheme of things.
Graphically, the game is gorgeous and takes full advantage of the current gen machines. The game features a mixture of visual aesthetics, as a large number of in-game models and locations are rendered very much like the show while playable characters and environmental objects are rendered in Lego pieces. This proved to be a little jarring at first (looking at an Acklay with Lego legs grafted onto an organic body seemed strange at first), but I quickly got over it - especially since this isn't something new. Perhaps it is just more noticeable? Something needs to be said for the animations of the in-game characters. Movements are smoother, flashier and feel as if a significant amount of time was spent making these toys emote. It all just looks great.
One of my favorite little details in the game is the ability to switch between two sets of characters. The constant switching back and forth between heroes is a part of Star Wars you never really see in most games based on the franchise. Almost every Star Wars film has a sequence in which the group of heroes get separated and have to fight their own battles. For certain levels, the game will prompt you to hold down the Y button in order to switch. When this happens, a small circular viewer will show up in the top right hand corner of the screen, showing the other two heroes (controlled by AI) fighting off enemies in real time. Holding down Y for a few seconds will initiate a Star Wars-style transition wipe to the second set of heroes who are then placed under your control. It's a really cool effect.
The game pulls the television show's soundtrack for the in-game music, which is nice considering that I don't have to hear the same recycled John Williams pieces over and over (although the game still uses the Podrace Victory music for the end level stat screen). Traveler's Tales brought in nearly all the major voice actors/actresses from the show to do in-game voices, which is a strange move because there is no dialog just a series of grunts, laughter, wailing, and other non-verbal noises. I guess these guys and gals must be under contract to be available for anything related to Star Wars?
If there is anything to take away from all this, its that the game is good. It hardly feels like a lazy cash-in as Lego Star Wars III has made significant and meaningful improvements in every department, blowing previous Lego titles out of the water. It's made me excited about Lego-based video games again after experiencing a slump between Complete Saga and Lego Harry Potter. Both fans of Star Wars and Lego games should make an effort to play this title. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.