LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars
If you've played any of Traveller's Tales' licensed LEGO games, whether it's Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter, or Indiana Jones, you know what to expect from LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars' gameplay. Any pre-assembled LEGO object you come across can be smacked until it crumbles into basic building blocks, raining multicolored collectible studs onto the floor. Most unassembled LEGO blocks found in a level can be pieced together to create an object or vehicle that will likely grant access to a new area. Foes that are shot or whacked explode into a mess of body parts, and may drop a red heart that will replenish your health. At any point, a second player can jump in or drop out of play. After completing the game, you can re-enter levels with all of the different character classes to hunt down 10 well-hidden minikits. And of course, at one point your character will be asked to ride a lawnmower, an elephant, or some kind of hilarious vehicle that never should exist in the Star Wars universe.
Even with this familiar framework in place, Traveller's Tales has added to the formula to such a degree that it feels like a completely new experience. This is the first LEGO game that doesn't feel like a holdover from the previous console generation. New technology allows for hundreds of characters to occupy the screen at once. Rather than just destroying two or three battle droids at a time with a saber throw or well-placed rocket, you'll now have the chance to obliterate dozens at a stroke by running them over with a speeder bike or an unruly Geonosis coliseum beast. The true scale of a Star Wars battle is captured in this game, and the power Traveller's Tales places into your hand is electrifying.
The new technology also allows levels to seamlessly expand from tight corridor-based gunfights to outer space ship-against-ship warfare. Cooperative players also don't have to worry about being tethered onto one screen. If one player wants to explore more of a ship while the other player takes flight to wage war against a capital ship, he or she can do so. The new split-screen system allows players to do what they want, and recognizes when they are in the same frame by converting to a singular view. As is the case with all LEGO games, this one is best played with a friend at your side.
Cooperative tactics are especially useful for the game's new RTS battles. Base building, resource management, and carefully plotted strategies are all a part of the mix, but in execution, the RTS elements are light, and so easy to comprehend that even non-gamers should figure them out in a few minutes. In addition to crushing the opposing forces (which could be the Republic or Separatists, depending on who you choose) the goal of the RTS levels is to secure territories. With each occupied territory, new building options become available. You can build a wide variety of vehicles (all of which can be controlled), as well as troops (which you can order to attack specific targets), shield generators, torpedo stations, and should the victory conditions call for it, an escape pod. All of the vehicles control exceptionally well and offer varying tactical strengths. The one problem that these levels run into is the AI almost comes across as pacifistic. They'll destroy approaching vehicles and will throw up a shield, but they never push back or rally to protect their bases. The true nemesis ends up being the clock. Early in the game, before the stud multiplier and invincibility red bricks can be purchased, completing a stage in a set amount of time can be difficult. The RTS levels are abundant, and a great addition to Traveller's Tales' well-worn LEGO gameplay. In co-op games, targeting can also be a bit problematic due to the lack of camera control offered to the players.
Although the game begins with Attack of the Clones' Battle of Geonosis, which was likely included solely to show off the ability to throw hundreds of battle droids on screen at once, all of the other levels are based on the first two seasons of The Clone Wars television series. With such a large selection of stories to choose from, the game offers a high level of variety in its levels and conflicts within them. The one constant overlapping in most levels is the boss. Count Dooku, General Grievous, and Asajj Ventress are confronted multiple times, and are the cornerstone of big Jedi versus Sith throwdowns. Like all LEGO games, the boss fights boil down to figuring out what technique works and repeating it until the foe falls, but at least this time around the battles unfold through multiple phases and stages.
If you are a completionist who wants to unlock every character, complete every bounty hunter mission, and secure every gold brick, be prepared to invest at least 40 hours of your life into this game. It's a long ride, but not all of those hours will go directly into gameplay. Figuring out what you should do next or how to unlock a new challenge often boils down to searching every nook and cranny in the hub world, which is not unlike trying to find a needle in a haystack. I was still making game-changing revelations in my 23rd hour. Never once, however, was I bored. Almost every accomplishment rewards you with a new playable character, of which there are 114 in total. Most of these characters are yanked from the Clone Wars, but you’ll also unlock familiar faces from the prequel and classic trilogies.
Even with so much of the gameplay clinging to the formula Traveller’s Tales created for its first LEGO game, The Clone Wars offers a vastly different experience that captures the best of both of the LEGO and Star Wars licenses. It’s easily the best LEGO game to date.