LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars Preview
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2011-02-24 Xbox 360 Action/Adventure E10 (Everyone 10+) LucasArts

This week, LucasArts proudly announced the release of a 360 demo of their upcoming LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, which will be hitting store shelves late next month. Being a fan of not only Star Wars, but also the first two LEGO games in the franchise, I jumped into the demo immediately and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

While it's easy to scoff at the release of yet another LEGO video game based on, well... anything, this installment in the Star Wars franchise seems to take itself more seriously than its predecessors. Not to be mistaken for egotism, the game's silent cutscenes still offered humor, but the environments and gameplay mechanics included here are far more mature than we're used to.

The biggest example of this is in the background environments, which are downright beautiful. Fire crackles and looks incredibly realistic, the floors and other metal objects glisten and shine, and all of this combines to help the interactive items stand out more than they ever have before, as they retain their LEGO construction appearance. Whereas everything in the LEGO Star Wars universe used to look constructed from blocks, here, only bits and pieces do, and while it took me a moment to get used to the change, I greatly appreciated the boost in graphics once the short acclimation period was over.

In terms of the overall gameplay, there are few additions here that change things up. First, for Jedi characters, the lightsaber can now be used as a makeshift boomerang. Hold a button, line up your cross-hair and let go to see the lightsaber fly across gaps or just long distances to hit enemies that are sniping you from afar, or to destroy explosive canisters without being caught in the blast yourself. This mechanic seems to work well, and you can even line up for a two or three hit combo, depending on how many enemies are within close proximity to your initial aiming reticule.

Another addition sees Jedi characters using the Force to manipulate the environment in ways not before seen. Instead of having a multitude of bouncing LEGO blocks that must be put together by holding the B button, the frequency of these instances seem cut drastically, as you are now able to simply hold the B button and lift completed objects, moving them (sometimes in a 360 degree circle) around yourself and into their proper location. You can pick up pipes and repair a water leak, for instance, without having to build the pipes – you simply pick them up and put them where they belong, all while using the Force. You can even use this method to pick up R2-D2 and Force push him to areas his hovering ability won’t let him reach on his own.

Two final additions worth noting are the ability to use your lightsaber as a knife, stabbing through metal to cut doors and the like, and the ability to use the Force on explosive canisters, picking them up and easily flinging them at faraway enemies thanks to auto-aim.

This isn't to say that the game looks entirely ready for release, however, as there are a couple of issues that I hope are being addressed, the most important of these being the AI of your inactive teammates (another being the slow speed at which you move objects with the Force). While anyone who has played a LEGO title will know that you can freely switch between at least two teammates at once, utilizing their own particular skill sets when needed, here, your inactive partners seem to be rather confused, walking randomly about the landscape, ignoring surrounding enemies (when applicable) or simply walking straight into walls. I had to backtrack to find my partners on numerous occasions, because I needed R2 to open a lock and he hadn't followed me, or to use Anakin to move a platform with the Force, as just two examples. It's not a deal-breaker entirely, but I definitely hope it's fixed in the final product.

LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars has a scheduled release date of March 22 on the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PSP, and PC. We hope to bring you a 360 review of the game at launch, so check back with us then.