the writings of a mind

Genre: RTS / Puzzle
Big Word: Plastic
Strap: Clunk, click, with every brick

Lego is fabulous. That has to be established from the very start. But Lego computer games, so far, have been anything but fabulous. The rot began with Lego Creator (PCG 71, 45%) and Lego Loco (PCG 71, 18%), then later Lego Racers (PCG 76, 45%). A dismal parade of cash-in titles adding little to the gaming world, other than little plastic bobbles upon everything. Now, it’s been a few months, and Lego are trying their rounded plastic hands at your friend and mine, the RTS.

While not trying to become the greatest RTS of all time, what Lego: Rock Raiders is trying to do, is to make a strategy game that opens up the genre for children, and in that it succeeds.

The concept is typical, perhaps even unoriginal – a Lego spaceship and its crew are sucked into a wormhole, and spewed out into in another galaxy. It seems certain crystals are required to power the ship for the journey home, so they head off to a planet that seems to contain some.

The game is played in a series of underground missions, each involving particular tasks that are clearly explained at the start. You will always have to set up base, and start mining the walls for ore and crystals, which are used for constructing new buildings, and upgrading and training your men. Tasks are relatively simple – discover the missing men, find five crystals, etc, etc – and a helpful Lego chap will remind you of what needs doing along the way.

It is incredibly easy to get into, with eight training levels completely removing the need to wade through the hefty manual. They teach you all you need to know at the start, and anything more complicated that comes up later is explained as and when.

It has many little features that really add to the experience. You can Dungeon Keeper-style "possess" any of your men, and run around in their body with a first person perspective, which has no real purpose, but is lots of fun. It also has some remarkably good drum and bass, which does strike as rather a strange choice, but a welcome one.

However, there are some pitfalls, mostly in the design of the engine. While it all looks pleasant enough (the cut scenes are just fantastic), things will start to slow down once your base gets to a reasonable size. And it often completely grinds to a halt, dumping you back to your desktop. With no save option within levels, this can become very aggravating.

It is perhaps a mite too simple. Kids aren’t stupid – in fact, they are generally better at gaming than most adults, so things may play out a little too repetitively, and certainly too slowly. But despite this, and despite it being aimed at 8+, it does become a genuinely engrossing game. Until it crashes again.

Margin Notes:

One of the most enjoyable nuances of the game is the faithfulness towards Lego. When your guys use walkie-talkies, they use those little black ones they always had when you were a kid. The railings are the same as you remember. And the men even have those holes in the backs of their legs. Blissful.

 Taken as what it is, a game for kids, Lego: RR hits a lot more than it misses.


Tech Specs:

Publisher: Lego Media
Developer: Data Design
Price: £35
Minimum System: P200, 32Mb RAM, 3D card (4 Mb), 200 Mb HD space
Recommended: P350, 3D card (32 Mb), 64Mb RAM
Multi-player: No
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