DISCLAIMER! I've only played through the first couple of levels so far, so it's probably best to consider this an extended preview more than a full-on review. If my thoughts on the game change significantly as I keep playing, I'll update this post accordingly. On an unrelated note, how badass is Lego Lando up there? The answer: Pretty badass.
"Well, this is a clusterfuck," my girlfriend grumbled during the introductory level of Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. Which was a weird thing to hear, because 1) It's a Star Wars game, and 2) It's a Lego game, and 3) Usually the word "clusterfuck" doesn't accompany either of those things. But it's not like it was unjustified. Let me explain.
So far, one of the chief attributes of the Lego Star Wars games—much like the Lego Indiana Jones games, the Lego Harry Potter games, and the Lego Golden Girls games—has been their accessibility. Like Legos themselves, these games are easy and fun to pick up and play with, no manual required. Thanks to the Lego games' cartoony aesthetic, it's usually easy to see what's going on, easy to figure out what to do, and easy to run around and have some cheery nostalgia.
Which leads us back to that jarring-but-fitting "clusterfuck" comment: That was muttered as she and I hacked our way, co-op style, though the game's opening level, which takes place during the massive droid battle on Geonosis from Episode II. In a pretty impressive feat of next-gen computational prowess, roughly 18 billion characters are rendered onscreen at once during this level, streaming in from doorways and running around and shooting lasers and attacking. This screenshot shows about a quarter of how busy it gets; in reality, this stage can end up looking like nothing more than a big pile of squirming, tiny robots. A clusterfuck, in other words—which means good luck keeping an eye on your character, let alone trying to figure out what you'll need to do in order to make the level end.
Right off the bat, Clone Wars feels more complex than previous Lego games, which in theory, is fine, and maybe even welcome. Problem is, this isn't a challenging or organic sort of complexity, it's just chaotic: Even in just the first few levels, the series' trademark light puzzling has been replaced with vague objectives and inscrutable progress barriers. When combined with the series' still-floaty controls, so far this game feels appropriate for all ages, but intuitive to nobody.
Aside from those too-frequent choke-points, though, I should note that Clone Wars still delivers the two things the Lego games do best: 1) The opportunity to run around smashing stuff, gleefully reducing everything around you to little more than bouncing, scattering, exploding plastic bricks, and 2) the chance to build cool stuff using those same bricks. When you aren't overwhelmed by the chaos onscreen, or stuck trying to figure out what you're supposed to do next, Clone Wars works just as well as all the other Lego games. That's a good thing.
Another good thing: This game's pretty. The other Lego games have looked fine, sure, but Clone Wars—at least on my Xbox 360, I can't speak for the other versions—is a marked improvement, with bright, colorful levels full of impressive textures. This game's characters are as shiny, cubist, and goofy as ever, but the planets and ships they're tromping around on and in look a whole lot better than ever before.
See? Pretty! But, y'know, then you'll get stuck again.
These games should be intuitive and low-key, busy but cheerfully so; during at least a few key stages so far, Lego Clone Wars has missed those marks. I've enjoyed the Lego games enough in the past that I'm gonna keep soldiering through this one, and I'll update if it starts to feel any less clunky. But so far, Lego Clone Wars—while hardly the disappointment that was another recent Star Wars title—doesn't live up to its promise. It does, however, have a badass Lego Lando, which I guess should probably count for something.