The surprise hit of 2005 returns for more brick-blasting battles and sci-fi spoofing in LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. As the title suggests, the storyline focuses on the first three films in the Star Wars saga. Players will choose from a variety of LEGOized characters as they attempt to end the Galactic Empire's tyrannical reign. The lighthearted action is still designed for players of all ages and abilities, but there is now more to see and do. New character-specific special moves are available, from Leia's head-knocking slaps to Obi-Wan's helmet-spinning use of the Force to confuse his attackers.
As players progress through familiar movie scenes in the story mode, they can unlock more than 50 characters and even mix-and-match individual parts and accessories to create custom hybrids for use in the "free play" mode. Also new is the ability to build vehicles such as landspeeders, AT-STs, and speeder bikes, or to ride creatures like tauntauns and banthas. The original's cooperative play option returns with a revamped camera and more team-oriented challenges to overcome. As a special bonus, owners of the first game can unlock 54 additional characters for free play, expanding the roster to include Darth Maul and other fan favorites.
How could any fan of the original Star Wars trilogy not completely adore LEGO Star Wars II? It's hard to fathom. Loosely recreating Episodes IV - VI in virtual LEGOs and played for laughs, it's one of the funniest games I've ever played, and, with co-op play, it's the rare game that parents and kids can play together without either getting bored. While it's fairly easy, there's enough "stuff" to do to keep you occupied for a while, and despite some minor technical issues with the PC version, it's one of the easiest recommendations I've ever had to make.
The fun starts right off the bat with the royal treatment given to Star Wars' opening scene: the rebel cruiser being chased down by a Imperial Star Destroyer, recreated in full LEGO glory with John Williams' classic score playing in the background. The game plays fast and loose with the story, adding a healthy dose of slapstick, and the cutscenes are worth the price of admission on their own, from the revised portrayal of Leia and Han's budding romance to the hysterical manner in which Vader reveals his family secrets to Luke.
The gameplay is pretty simple action-adventure fare: you'll control one of a group two or more characters and navigate your way through scenes from the movies: Luke, Han and Chewbacca fight Stormtroopers as they attempt to rescue Leia aboard the Death Star; Luke chases Darth Vader through the corridors of Cloud City in Empire's climactic battle; the entire gang fights through the forests of Endor attempting to lower the shield generator. The combat is as simple as it gets: one button does everything, from punching at close range, to firing Han and Chewie's blasters at long range, and swinging Luke and Ben's lightsabers. The game auto-targets, so all you have to do is get in aim in a general direction, mash the attack button, and things will usually turn out right. Death is non-existent: if your character runs out of health, he'll simply lose a few of the tokens he's picked up and respawn in the same spot.
There are also several levels that focus on vehicle combat: There's the final Death Star run from Star Wars, the Millennium Falcon asteroid chase from Empire, and Luke and Leia's speeder bike chase through the forests of Endor in Return of the Jedi. The controls here are equally simple: one button fires your weapons, another allows you to do a quick flip and reverse direction. It's worth noting that I used a wired Xbox 360 controller for the entire game, and, with the exception of some poor on-screen tooltips (how is anyone supposed to know what button "JOYSTICK 6" refers to?), the controls are flawless.
In fact, the only thing that can really halt your progress through the game are the various puzzles, of which there are plenty. You'll quickly get into the habit of smashing everything in sight, as you'll often reveal piles of LEGOs that, with the push of a button, can be built into useful items to climb on or blow up. You'll build a ramp to access a box of AT-AT parts, which you can then use to blow up a force field generator and gain access to the next area, etc. The puzzles are never that hard, but they're usually creative and cleverly placed within the settings. At times, when you're pushing gears and building makeshift bridges and using cranes to carry druids from one area to another, it almost feels like you're playing Half-Life Lite, which I say as a compliment.
Once you've finished running through the "story" mode for all three movies (which took me about seven hours), LEGO Star Wars II contains a multitude of features that encourage replaying levels over and over. In "free" play, you can switch characters at will, which means secret items and areas on the initial levels that required Force powers or bounty hunters to reach suddenly become accessible. There's a hub area in the Mos Eisley cantina where you can mix and match your own strange LEGO Star Wars characters, and you're shown a running percentage of how much of the game you've completed (after finishing Story mode, I was still only at 32%). And of course, it would be a disservice not to mention the co-op mode: there's no Internet play, but two players can work as a team and control two of the on-screen characters, making it a perfect game to play with your kids (or parents, or girlfriend, or whoever).
On the PC, LEGO Star Wars II looks absolutely gorgeous. It's mind-boggling that graphically cutting-edge games like Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. shipped without proper widescreen modes, and yet LEGO Star Wars II supports resolutions up to 1920x1200. Our testing was done at the highest resolution with 4x antialiasing, and the framerate never skipped a beat, despite lots of explosions and all sorts of reflective surfaces. In fact, the only drawback with our PC testing was that we had problems with the installation (which was done with a retail copy); we ultimately had to copy the contents of our CD to our hard drive to install. (LucasArts has since posted a patch to resolve the issue, which can be found at its support site.
It's understandable that some people might have skipped the first LEGO Star Wars, especially being based on the lesser of the George Lucas trilogies. There's no excuse this time. The gameplay may be simple, but that doesn't stop LEGO Star Wars II from being a unique, entertaining diversion from start to finish. It's great to see that LucasArts and Traveller's Tales didn't skimp on the PC version.
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