I've generally enjoyed the LEGO series from developer Traveller's Tales, even if my interest waned a bit after LEGO Batman. The LEGO Indiana Jones titles did little for me, and repackaging the two LEGO Star Wars titles into one game was sort of a bummer. When LEGO Harry Potter was released, though, I started to fall in love with the series once again. Harry Potter was a pretty refined LEGO experience, offering up a very cool hub location in the form of Hogwarts Castle that you could explore outside of the story-based missions. There was lots of hidden stuff to uncover, tons of unlockable characters, and some of the best puzzles the game series has seen. Thankfully, LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars feels really similar, so if you're a fan of the license, you'll absolutely have a blast with this title.
LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars follows the story line of the animated Cartoon Network series of the same name. The game picks up during the events of "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," during the Geonosis battle within their Coliseum. You start off with control of Padme Amidala, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. This opening chapter introduces you to the basic mechanics of gameplay, which includes series staples like building objects out of scattered, hopping LEGO blocks and using a throw ability to target objects from far away. It also introduces new players to the concept that each character has unique abilities, whether that's the Jedi ability to pick up objects using the Force or the regular human ability to target hooks with chains and pull them for various effects. This title also shows off some graphical upgrades; the Coliseum is a pretty large place, and there's a lot of stuff simultaneously happening on-screen. The Clone Wars touts the ability to have over 200 moving objects on-screen at once, and it's used to showcase some large-scale battles later in the game.
Once you finish this introductory level, you're introduced to the hub world, which is the Republic cruiser called the Resolute. At first, you have limited access on the Resolute, with a lot of areas blocked off until you've completed enough story missions. As you open up some of these areas, you'll gain access to new game types, new characters, red LEGO cheat bricks and other surprises. The Resolute lacks the overall wow factor of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter game, but it also outclasses what served as hub areas in the previous LEGO titles. You can spend a fair amount of time uncovering the secrets on the Resolute, and it certainly gives you a lot to check out once you've finished the main story mode.
The plot is taken from the first two seasons of "The Clone Wars" cartoons and features a number of fan-favorite episodes, like one of my favorites, "Duel of the Droids." For those who have yet to delve into "The Clone Wars" series, I'd highly suggest doing so before playing the game. Most people have seen the original film trilogy and even the prequel trilogy by this point, but a lot of the humor in this title is going to fall flat if you don't have some appreciation for the source material. Since the LEGO games are all about humorous retellings of the source material, I'm not sure why you'd even think about picking up this title without some working knowledge of the stories. Of course, the gameplay is still great, but the humor and inside jokes are definitely some of the game's bigger draws.
Some things have been omitted (I suppose a few episodes would've made for a pretty dull video game), and the stories are divided up by the lead villain for each tale. You'll be chasing down Count Dooku, General Grievous and Asajj Ventress, each with about six levels to explore. You can tackle these villains in any order or you can choose to mix it up. For instance, once you're at the Resolute, you can access a central computer to go on the story missions. From there, you can tackle Asajj for a couple of missions, switch gears to Grievous for a few, and then move into Dooku's set of levels. There's no specific need or reason to tackle them in order, as the story lines are stand-alone events and don't intersect with one another. Once you finish a story line, you'll even get a set of stand-alone credits, just like you did for finishing each year in LEGO Harry Potter.
The Clone Wars tosses some new elements into the LEGO gameplay staple, so this isn't simply a cash-in for Star Wars fans. The biggest addition, and perhaps the most appropriate, is the new real-time strategy battles that are similar in fashion to your favorite RTS PC games. During these segments, or stages, you'll have a minimap that shows the locations of enemy bases as well as your bases. LEGO studs that you pick up act as currency, and while you still retain direct control over one character as you do in most missions, you can move that character to your base and put down different structures, such as barracks from which to spawn Clone Troopers, or you can build landing pads for vehicles. You can even create large cannons to fire on nearby enemy bases or shields to prevent enemies from shooting your constructs.
The goal of these sections is generally to wipe out all the opposing bases on the map, and as you clear an enemy base of all structures, you can then take over that base by installing your own buildings. However, certain enemy structures will be either silver or gold, which means they can't be taken down by traditional firepower. Gold structures require concentrated fire from a number of units, and you're typically given control of a Clone Trooper that has a radio attached to his helmet. He can control large squads of Clone Troopers, which are spawned from barracks you control, and direct their fire to specific structures. Silver buildings or equipment can only be destroyed by explosive blasts, usually requiring you to fire one of your cannons to destroy them or use one of the vehicles at your disposal.
These RTS sections are a whole lot of fun and make a great deal of sense in the war-heavy environment of "The Clone Wars" series. There's even a side mode that requires you to control every system in the game, and you can either choose to play as the Separatists or the Republic. It's a very cool addition that is easily one of my favorite things about the game.
Another addition to the gameplay comes from the ability to switch control between two characters at great distances. Different story missions will split up your team of characters, and you'll have a small window that's akin to a picture-in-picture display that allows you some limited view of what's going on for a character in a different area. You can switch between these characters by holding down the Triangle button, and these sequences usually involve puzzle-solving to remove an obstacle for one group and then switching control to do the same for the other group of characters. This isn't a huge addition to the game by any means, but it's nice to see that you're no longer limited to switching control between characters that are only within close proximity.
Overall, I really enjoyed LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. Even if you're not a huge fan of the LEGO titles, it's hard to deny that Traveller's Tales has managed to refine the formula of what makes these games work. Toss in the standard co-op mode, which is always a lot of fun, and you've got a great time-waster on your hands here. There's so much stuff to unlock (the character roster is incredible), and the gameplay keeps getting better every time a new game pops up. I look forward to Traveller's Tales next offering, and I hope they continue to make LEGO titles for years to come, especially if they maintain the same quality as this release.
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