There's no doubt TT Games were delighted with the reception of Episode VII as it hit cinemas in December of last year. It really gave fans what they wanted by going a bit old school, and it offered a great mix of new characters and threats while bringing back plenty of old faces. Having seen it a couple of times we can only applaud J.J. Abrams for being able to deliver what was sorely lacking in the prequels (not that they're all terrible, but...).
Now the time has come for the customary Lego take on The Force Awakens.
We actually saw the same presentation twice (during GDC and at a separate event post-GDC) to fully digest what they'd been up to with Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And as it turns out they've been busy. Very busy.
Associate producer Tim Wileman jokingly started his presentation by saying that every time they present a new Lego title they were met with the same question - "What's new?". And so he came prepared the way any proper video game producer comes prepared - with some powerpoint slides. Now that may sound a bit boring, but rest assured it was kept brief. There are three major areas or features that TT Games have focused on.
The most important one that honestly feels like it should have been brought in years ago is "multi-builds". Instead of solving puzzles by breaking stuff and simply pressing one button to reassemble the bricks into something new and useful, you'll now have a choice of what to build. In some cases this is simply window dressing, setting up two builds that both progress the story. But in other places these choices set up slightly more complex puzzles where different builds are chained together. It's not necessarily cerebral, but at least it means you'll have to activate your brain a little.
The Millennium Falcon will be called into action and the game will feature an extended chase scene on Jakku as Finn and Rey make their way off the planet. It's an example of the freedom afforded the developers as they are able to craft a game first without the need to worry about things like how many Tie Fighters it was that actually chased Finn and Rey. Flight sections are vastly improved and movement is now far less restricted. There are action-packed chase scenes down "corridors" that then lead to more open and free arenas where you can fly around as you please. In total there are 40 vehicles and creatures to ride in the game and that includes miniature versions of some iconic ships using a very limited amount of blocks. Kylo Ren's shuttle was also mentioned and surely Poe Dameron's X-Wing will be in there. There will be five hubs to explore in the game, and one of these is Starkiller base, so we imagine that some of these are rather large. You'll be able to use certain vehicles and beasts in these hubs as well as far as we gathered.
The third new feature in addition to multi-builds and the vastly improved flight scenes is something called Blaster Battles. We were not able to see this part of the game in action during the presentation, but essentially this is a chance for TT to bring more intense and populated scenes into the game. Basically you'll sit behind cover and you'll be be able to pick off stormtroopers while keeping your head down, as well as build turrets to help fend them off. The AI will also build things, which makes this something that could be described as a shooting gallery with some tower defence elements thrown in for good measure. Again, this was only described to us, so we're not entirely sure how these scenes play out and just how fleshed out they are.
As the game only covers one movie (whereas previous Lego titles had more fiction to pull from), TT Games has created seven new story levels in addition to the 11 that are based on scenes from the movie. Interestingly, these include episodes such as how Han and Chewie happened to be hauling Rathtars. And while it's not strictly canon (none of the Lego games are for obvious reasons), it has all been approved by Lucasfilm.
As you'd expect the game features a wealth of playable and unlockable characters. In fact there's more than 200 in the game. This means you'll see pretty much every imaginable character from The Force Awakens, but also lots of characters from the old trilogies (potentially even Jar Jar Binks, although TT Games would neither confirm nor deny his inclusion). We were also promised "surprises" which we can only assume refers to slightly more obscure Star Wars characters - the Clone Wars and Rebels spring to mind - but we'd also love to see some older video game characters brought back in Lego form.
There's a great deal of humour here, and some of it made even jaded journalists such as ourselves laugh. If you recall the scene in the movie where Kylo Ren apologises to his grandfather's old face mask for getting pulled towards the light side it's replicated here. The game uses the same dialogue as the movie itself (though it has been expanded in certain places), but here as the camera pulls out from Kylo Ren and Vader's mask it reveals the room of a teenage boy filled Vader toys and memorabilia.
Another neat thing that goes some way to showing the attention to detail employed is BB8. The iconic rolling droid is not just a key character who is able to ride beasts and drive vehicles like all others, you can use his size to get into areas that other characters can't reach. When you move him across the sands of Jakku he leaves a trail behind, and writer Graham Goring even showed us a small little Easter egg where there is an incomplete game of tic tac toe in the sand and if you finish it using BB8 you unlock bonus studs.
If you're wondering about that one certain scene that's a bit dark, it will be handled with the usual Lego touch. You won't see anyone dying here. They will instead simply be quietly removed from the story.
We're not quite sure just how many times TT Games went on to say that this was their best game ever during the session, but having played the game and seen what they're up to there's really little reason to doubt them at this point. And to be perfectly honest, we're more than happy to once again see them gently (and sometimes not so gently) poking fun at a movie we love.