Full-fledged videogame adaptations of the actual Star Wars films have been few and far between. Apart from the Super Star Wars series on SNES – and some best forgotten prequel trilogy tie-ins – most game developers have preferred to tackle the expanded universe of the long-running science fiction franchise. The results have either focused on spin-off stories – like The Force Unleashed – or have concentrated on one specific gameplay aspect, such as the vehicle centric Rogue Squadron series.
This, strangely, leaves the Lego Star Wars series as the most authentic movie adaptations there have been. It’s something of a surprise considering their less than serious tone – never mind the fact they are also based on Lego.
During GDC week we went hands-on with the latest game in the series: LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens and spoke to Tim Wileman, associate producer at TT Games. It was immediately clear that despite the humorous tone of the games, maintaining that sense of authenticity is a key objective for the development team.
“When we set out to make the game, top of the list was to make an authentic experience and to do the source material justice,” says Wileman. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done in terms of the look and the feel and even down to some of the smaller details, like the cinematography and using the voice stems from the film.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens covers the events of the movie but also offers levels that fill in some of the gaps between it and its chronological predecessor, Return of the Jedi. For example, one level – of the 11 in the game – sees players using Han Solo and Chewbacca to capture the Rathtars that feature in the recent film.
“We worked very closely with Lucasarts and it was fantastic collaboration,” says Wileman. “They understand our games and we understand their sensitivities around the film. We were lucky enough be given access to materials prior to launch and they had a big say in the look of the game, of course.”
The attention to detail is evident throughout, from the subtle animations of the characters and environmental design to the sound effects and dialogue, which features some sparkling new additions from the film’s leads.
“We were lucky in that all of the major talent has come in and recorded lines,” explains Wileman. “People like John Boyega, he’s an absolute dream to work with, and Daisy Ridley who was so enthusiastic. They bring a lot of energy to the game and in recording these extra lines, give us a lot more scope in how we approach the story mode and side-quests.”
In addition to the main leads, the game also includes over 200 characters to unlock and control from the wider Star Wars universe.
“The team put a lot of time and effort into bringing all these characters to life. They all have unique personalities and we want them to affect the game,” Wileman says.
The level of polish and evident love for the source material elevates a game which otherwise adheres to the traditional Lego template. It contains all the usual elements of family friendly platforming, puzzling, building and collecting. And, as you would expect, co-op play remains core to the experience.
“We feel our games work best with co-op. The games are designed that way so the players can work co-operatively to solve puzzles but also branch off and do their own thing. We’ve also got free-play as well, so you can play these levels over and over again and discover hidden areas. It’s packed with lots of cool Star Wars content.”
So far, so LEGO Star Wars. So what else is new? One aspect is the new Multi-Build mechanic.
“We’ve thought about the tactility of Lego and how kids interact with it,” says Wileman. “If you give them a bunch of Lego bricks they’re going to build a load of different objects out of the same pieces.”
This translates to using the same Lego pieces to construct different puzzle-solving items. It’s a simple but effective twist that adds a new layer to the game and will give younger minds something to chew on.
Also introduced is a new cover-based combat mechanic that replicates the stop-and-pop blaster battles of the films.
“Taking cover under a hail of blaster-fire is something that would only fit in the Star Wars universe,” says Wileman. “Obviously The Force Awakens is more blaster focused, so it works really well.“
Given the game’s side-on camera perspective the blaster battles are a treat and seeing enemies build their own cover – and even turrets – on the fly is wonderful to watch.
The game is also unafraid of pilfering elements from other games and adapting them to fit with the Lego Star Wars universe. BB-8 – for example – does his best audition piece for Metroid Prime: Junior by rolling around and charging up generators to access new areas.
The biggest change to the standard Lego formula comes in the shape of a fully revamped flight mode – now much improved in comparison to 2011’s Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. Flight gameplay is now fully 3D – rather than on a fixed plane – with the camera positioned behind the craft. It’s a frenetic mode that bears more than a passing resemblance to Star Fox 64, particularly with its range of ship manoeuvres and in its equivalent of that game’s All-Range mode.
“Those comparisons are right,” Wileman admits. “I wouldn’t say we are inspired by any particular game but we wanted to create these new features to work well and feel natural. We pulled out all the stops to bring genuinely fresh and new ideas to this game. I think fans will appreciate the work and attention to detail that’s gone into these new features.”
The final game will feature 40 playable vehicles, including old favourites like the Millennium Falcon and new additions, such as Kylo Ren’s shuttle.
And, of course, the series’ trademark humour remains ever-present. One highlight in our demo was a brief cut-scene featuring a glimpse of Kylo Ren’s bedroom tribute to Darth Vader. Like the best jokes in TT’s games it manages to be both very funny, yet true to the character.
“Sometimes it will be quite subtle. A wink, or a nod, or a look, and sometimes it will be more slapstick. It’s about looking at a scene and analysing it on its own merits.”
The result is a game that iterates nicely on previous games in the series and, somehow, feels just as legitimate a Star Wars experience as EA’s Star Wars Battlefront. If you have a family of younglings it’s unlikely the game will disappoint. And if you are an older Star Wars enthusiast you’ll find much to enjoy in the attention to detail and deft humour.
After all, at one point I got to build and wear a Gonk droid suit. And if you’re Star Wars fan you really can’t ask for more than that.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii U, PC, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on 28th June 2016.