It's always great when a game exceeds your expectations. Traveler’s Tales has always done good things with the Lego Star Wars series of games and I expected them to keep the quality consistent. However, because this iteration is not based on the beloved film series (beloved being debatable when it comes to a few episodes), I did not think the game would suck players in as much as its predecessors. I was completely wrong. Lego Star Wars III is without a doubt the best game in the series. Actually, not being constricted to the plot of the movies allowed the developers to stretch their imagination and come up with some of the most fun quasi-platformer/action adventure gameplay of any title in a while.
As the title suggests, Lego Star Wars III takes place during the Clone Wars. The story begins at the end of Attack of the Clones when the Republic forces free Obi Wan, Anakin, and Padme from the arena. The first level requires you to tame wild beasts and use your Force powers to usher your allies to safety while in the midst of a giant droid army. From there the game presents three separate storylines each following the Republic’s campaign to track down General Grievous, Asajj Ventress, and Count Dooku. You can play these stories in any order you wish.
Fundamentally, the game follows the same formula. Up to two players can cooperate to fight enemies, solve puzzles, and gather as many collectibles as they possibly can. For the most part, you will be playing as Jedi characters - Obi-Wan and Anakin mostly - but other character types are much more fun and interesting to play as than before. There are several different types of Clone troopers with varying special abilities that are put to good use in the course of the adventure. For instance, some Storm Troopers are able to command entire squadrons to focus their fire on a single target, which comes in handy in taking down armored enemies. The more than one hundred playable characters to unlock is nothing new, but they have never felt so fully actualized and unique before.
Vehicles are prevalent during gameplay. You commandeer everything from a RX-200 Tank to speederbikes. A few missions take place during dogfights in space. These segments control well against a spectacular backdrop of space warfare. You sometimes land to attack enemies and complete objectives on foot before returning to flight. During on-foot missions you operate some pretty awesome and sometimes massive vehicles capable of stomping on anything in your way.
The difficulty is about the same as other Lego games. Death is not a real deterrence, just a small inconvenience that causes you to lose some studs you collected. The enemy AI is pretty lacking, especially when more enemies appear onscreen. Despite occasional hints from Yoda, not knowing what to do is the most difficult and frustrating part of an otherwise easy game. It is not that the puzzles are difficult, but that they can be hard to identify which is why blasting everything onscreen works so well in learning what you can and cannot interact with. For example, to destroy certain structures requires the use of a special explosive that can only be used after picking them up while in a vehicle. I spent several frustrated minutes running around as Jar-Jar - JAR-JAR - before I was able to figure out what to do.
The game livens up the action by drawing from games such as God of War in the way you finish off some enemies and large boss battles (a Lego God of War sounds adorable when I think about it). You have cool abilities such as throwing lightsabers at multiple enemies and using them to cut openings through solid walls. At certain points, the levels will diverge into two separate sections that you can switch between with the press of a button. No matter which section of the level you choose to play there will still be two characters to control and you will ultimately have to complete both sections to complete the level.
A new RTS element blends in well with the rest of the game. In this style of play, you maintain control of a single character, running around attacking the same as always but you also have to build up your units and take over opposing bases. You need to purchase things like Storm Trooper battalions and several different types of cannons to fortify your forces. The goal is to control every base on the map by destroying all of the enemy buildings at each base and replacing them with your own. It actually works better than expected. The one problem is that the computer opponents are not aggressive competition - they neither build nor capture anything. These missions typically last longer than the others do, sometimes frustratingly so.
After completing the story missions, you are able to play through the assault missions as either the Republic or Separatist factions. This is where the RTS aspect becomes a more significant presence. Here you have a range of different objectives such as destroying a command center or building an escape pod. There are also a few restrictions you have to adhere to during these missions such as a time limit and the number of bases you are allowed to capture.
Then there are the space missions where you venture to the space above different planets and destroy a target. These missions tend to last only one or two minutes but are fun in their own right and offer more chance to earn studs and gold bricks.
The graphics have seen a sizeable improvement from the last Lego Star Wars game. The lighting is fantastic and the sense of atmosphere is impeccable. Things are constantly moving around, exploding, and reacting to your actions. Jedi masters all run and attack with different animations. The Lego characters sport more facial details than before. There are times when literally hundreds of foes will occupy the battlefield without any hit on the performance. You also come across a number of monsters that are not quite fully Lego-made but feel even more convincing because of it. All of the explosions look great to boot.
The sound is strong as well. As is common with Star Wars, the music is wonderful. The Lego characters are not quite silent, during cutscenes they speak in verbal exclamations similar to simlish from the Sims. Sounds of light sabers buzzing, space ships flying, blasters blasting, and of course, Lego blocks falling come through quite clearly. Different weapons and vehicles all have a distinct sound to boot. Best of all no “Sky Guy”, “Snips” or any other terrible banter from the popular and acclaimed Clone Wars TV show are present here.
As noted, the story follows several adventures in the Clone Wars. Even though the famous film saga does not inspire the cutscenes, it is easy enough to discern what is going on after the scrolling wall of text before each mission. The pantomiming and sense of physical comedy are as enjoyable as before, though there are bits when the joke wears a tad thin and you would rather just jump into the game. None of the storylines come to a definitive conclusion because the Clone Wars ends in Episode III, so your entire struggle does seem a bit pointless.
The value of Lego Star Wars III is better than expected. In total, there are 22 traditional story missions, a few of which are hidden. Levels take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour to complete, depending on what type of mission it is. Completing the story, depending on your pace, is at least a six-hour experience but most likely a little longer than that. You have a decent sized hub to explore; the brig of a massive Command Ship. There are multiple levels within the ship that open up as you collect more gold bricks. Each new area has fun new surprises to tinker with, such as creating your own Lego character by mixing parts of existing characters or flying your collection of vehicles. Other extras include an Arcade mode and the aforementioned Space and Assault missions. The point is that you can inundate yourself with many hours of Lego Star Wars goodness depending on how committed you are to completing everything.
Lego Star Wars III is an excellent game that a very wide audience can appreciate. The game corrects a number of the series’ past shortcomings and incorporates features from different genres that greatly enhance the gameplay. The game can be played alone, but half the fun comes from cooperating with a friend, reveling in the toy-like wonder of inhabiting the Lego Star Wars universe.