The Lego franchise of games has always had its share of issues, like bad camera, iffy controls, and even some bugs, but on the whole the games have consistently provided easygoing fun suitable for any type of gamer. Those afflicted with gaming OCD had plenty of things to find, unlock, and collect, and everyone else could just have a blast running around and breaking things. You'd think, after so many Lego games, that Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars would follow that same formula, and technically, you'd be right. But something, somewhere went horribly wrong and instead of getting another lighthearted romp, we ended up with a frustrating, muddled mess.
Your first warning that something isn't quite right with Clone Wars occurs during the game's very first level, set in the arena on Geonosis. The epic Jedi fight from Episode II serves as the setting, with the level replicating various events from that scene (minus Padme's conveniently ripped shirt). To kill one of the creatures set loose in the arena, you must take control of Padme, then hit B to restrain the creature. Switch control to a Jedi and hit X to slash the monster with your light saber. Then switch back to Padme and do it all over again. And again. And again. This bland repetition sets the tone for the rest of the game; if you do something once in Clone Wars, you can expect to do it another three, four, or five times. It's not so terrible if you're playing co-operatively, but if you're on your own, it quickly becomes a tedious chore. Sadly - or perhaps fittingly - this pattern repeats itself over and over again as you work your way through the three different story arcs that comprise the game.
Even when Clone Wars does have a good idea, such as the game's RTS-like sequences where your aim is to take over enemy bases, then construct your own cannons, barracks, and air support stations, it ruins them by driving them into the ground. Based on the math, you'd think that blowing up six buildings would be twice as fun as blowing up three, but the addition of extra targets doesn't make the levels more interesting, just longer. Needing rapid-fire weapons to take down a satellite instead of explosive weapons isn't an intriguing twist on the mission. It's unimaginative busywork.
Clone Wars's controls don't help ease the frustration or tedium, either. The camera is remarkably gifted at showing you exactly what you don't need to see, especially in single-player, which leads to many Death By Thing Off-Screen situations. As a Jedi, you may be powerful enough to lift things with just your mind, but you're apparently not powerful enough to actually aim them with any kind of accuracy, a real treat when you're trying to assemble a droid piece by piece. Driving land-based vehicles works fairly well, and is actually fun in the game's RTS-esque segments, but once you start flying in space, you just sort of have to wish your craft in the right direction. I'm sure there is some sort of connection between what you do on the controller and how the spaceship moves, and I'm just as sure that it is no way related to pitch, yaw, left, right, or any kind of navigational directionality currently known to man.
I only spent about five hours with Lego Clone Wars, because I literally could not bear to play any more than that. It was one of the most aggressively un-fun experiences I've had with a game in a very long time. There were glimpses of the charm and delight I've come to associate with a Lego game, but bad decisions kept getting in the way. Lego games traditionally require several play-throughs in order to collect every last googaw, but you still can haul in a fair amount during your first run. In Clone Wars, it felt like every minikit I spotted was locked away somewhere I wouldn't be able to reach it until I'd unlocked a lot more characters; every level was teeming with things I couldn't collect or destroy because I didn't have access to the right droid, sith, or separatist. Creating an incentive to replay is fine, but denying the player all sense of discovery is a fast way to turn exploration into dispirited frustration.
The one thing that Clone Wars gets exactly right is the humor that the Lego franchise is known for. The cut scenes are genuinely funny, poking fun at the Star Wars movies and the oh-so-serious nature of the space opera. (Lego Anakin Skywalker is a lot more endearing than his flesh-and-blood counterpart, that's for sure.) There are plenty of chuckles to be had, and all Star Wars fans will appreciate touches like sound effects and music pulled right from the movies.
Bottom Line: Lego Clone Wars nails the Lego look and sense of humor, but completely fails when it comes to evoking the lighthearted fun the series is known for. Surprisingly difficult and repetitious, it seems to be working against the player as hard as it can.
Recommendation: If you're a die-hard fan of The Clone Wars cartoon, you may get enough enjoyment out of the game's attention to detail to make this worth your while. Otherwise, just play one of the other Lego Star Wars games. You'll have far more fun.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Game: Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: March 22nd, 2011
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, PSP, DS, 3DS, Wii
Available from: Amazon (Xbox 360), Amazon (PC), Amazon (PS3)