It's probably safe to say that Star Wars fans - or at least, those of a certain age - were a little bit disappointed when they found out which Play Set would come bundled with the Star Wars infused Disney Infinity 3.0, Disney's latest (and rather good) toys to life game. While we knew two story driven, co-op Star Wars adventure "Play Sets" were scheduled for release around launch, the news that the retail release of the game would be bundled with Twilight of the Republic - an adventure set during the events of episodes 1-3 - was a bit of a disappointment. To coin a phrase, it was as if millions of voices cried out, and were silenced all at once. Still, our fears were somewhat misplaced, as it turned out the bundled Twilight of the Republic Play Set was actually pretty damn good, and there'd only be a few short months before we could get our hands on Rise Against the Empire, a Play Set that took in the events of the good films (IV - VI). And as it turns out, it was well worth the wait.
You'll probably know how the story goes here. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away", Rise Against the Empire lets you join up with the Rebel Alliance, as you play through some of the most memorable moments in Star Wars history. From the Death Star trench run, to the battle of Hoth, the assault on Endor and the eventual destruction of the Death Star 2, this is a tale that's probably best seen as being a "best of" - although admittedly, a bit of a hazy "best of", as some of the events don't exactly happen as they do in the film. A "best of" as seen through (now) old man Han Solo's memory then, perhaps.
As with the Twilight of the Republic Play Set, Rise Against the Empire is a co-op adventure that blends together three very different types of gameplay. There's vehicle based sections, like the battle of Hoth; hub worlds, where you can complete quests and side quests for characters; and space sections, that let you travel from one planet to the next, shooting down a few Tie Fighters as you go. The Play Set itself includes a Death Star shaped Play Set piece (which when placed on the Disney Infinity base, lets you access the game), and two characters - Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, letting you play in split-screen co-op straight out of the box.
Much as was the case with Twilight of the Republic, it's the hub worlds that provide most of the fun here, providing a bustling space to explore. With so much stuff to do, it's certainly where you'll be spending most of your time. Getting the formula almost perfectly right, these hub worlds offer a great mix of exploration, experimentation and collectables that'll suck you in for hours.
There are three hub worlds on offer here - Tatooine, Hoth and Endor, with each having its own collection of folk that need help, things to do, and collectibles for you to collect. Your quest begins on Tatooine, where you're tasked with doing jobs for the townsfolk in order to earn enough credits to get the Millennium Falcon back from Jabba the Hutt's right hand man, Bib Fortuna, who's impounded it. Whether you're rounding up the Mos Eisley cantina band, or hunting womp rats in your T-16 Skyhopper, there's plenty of ways to earn money. On Hoth, your time will mostly be spent preparing the base for a potential (inevitable) attack, and showing new recruits the ropes, while on Endor, you'll get to hijack AT-STs, and send Ewoks in disguise to spy on the imperials by firing them out of a giant catapult. And any game that lets you strap a tow cable to a Bantha, and hurl it around the world is good in our books.
Of course, there's much more to do here than simply performing menial tasks for ungrateful citizens. Each of the hub worlds also lets you build a kind of rudimentary base, by buying various buildings from a protocol droid who's set up shop. All you need to do is shell out some credits, and you'll be given a piece which you can plonk down on one of the allocated squares. While the buildings don't do too much (there's no strategy here or anything - you just build the buildings you want), they do provide a good source of vehicles and land animals, coughing up your chosen mount at the touch of a button.
And there's collectibles galore to be hunted, too. Spread across all three hub worlds (and a few levels, like the Death Star) are 100 mynocks (the sucker-mouthed birds that latch on to the Millennium Falcon in the Empire Strikes Back) that can be shot down, while 15 blue holocron cubes are waiting to be found, unlocking concept art once you grab them. Perhaps the most useful of all the collectibles, though, are the "Champion Coins". Hidden throughout each of the hub worlds, there's a Champion Coin for every Star Wars figure, and collecting the coin lets you play as that character in game. Any Star Wars character can play in this Play Set, regardless of whether it makes "sense" in Star Wars canon terms - so Darth Maul can slay Darth Vader, and Ahsoka Tano can negotiate with Jabba the Hutt, so these are well worth hunting down if you plan on collecting plenty of figures.
Every now and then, you'll come across a character with an exclamation mark above their head, which signifies they have an important mission for you, and be flung into a memorable moment from the film. Whether you're infiltrating the Death Star and disabling the tractor beams, doing the trench run itself, or taking part in the battle of Hoth, tripping up AT-ATs with Snowspeeders, these bigger "missions" offer more of an in-depth challenge, and more varied gameplay. As you might expect, though, things don't stay entirely accurate here either - in fact, the battle of Hoth has been given a toy-themed make over. Now, tripping up AT-ATs isn't the only way to stop them - you can also shoot their armour off with a blaster, climb up their leg, and pull their batteries out to send them crashing to the ground. It's still easier if you just fly round their legs in a Snowspeeder, mind.
That said, tripping up AT-Ats arguably isn't as easy as it should be. When circling AT-ATs, you have a certain (invisible) area you have to stay within - it's no good just making your tow cable go round their legs, as if you go too tight, or stray too far away from the walker, your tow cable with flash red, and then disintegrate. Instead, you have to stay perfectly within this invisible area - which is easier said than done. While there's a handy pop up on screen showing you whether you need to move left or right, the whole thing can be more than a little bit disorienting, and all it really does is make things more awkward than they need to be - which is a bit of a bummer on one of the most memorable moments in the Star Wars films.
There are a few other issues with the flying sections, too. With its younger age group in mind, the developers have tried to simplify the flight sections by offering you a pretty limited control scheme, although we can't quite place our finger on what they've actually done. In practice, it feels like you aren't so much in control of your ship, so much as offering hints about where you might want it to go - rather than pitching steeply upwards if you push your stick forwards, your X-Wing (or whatever) will simply slowly start to move vertically upwards instead. It's strange to explain, and a change that can take a bit of getting used to in game.
That said, there's more than enough great stuff in here to make up for the few downers, too, and plenty of times you'll end up having more fun than you probably really should be. One of the unintentional highlights so far was the evacuation of Echo Base on Hoth. With probe droids having landed, you only have a few minutes to round up the evacuees, and load them into the Rebel transporter that's waiting to go. Luckily enough, said rebel transporter has a handy spinning flap built into the side of it - and as you can chuck people from quite some distance, it'd almost be rude not to see if you can pelt the evacuees through the flap from a few hundred feet away...
With another 5-6 hours of Disney Infinity goodness on offer here (more if you want to 100% the game, and find all the collectibles), and loads of quests to be completed, there's plenty of reasons to pick this up. Every bit as strong as the Play Set that comes bundled with the game, Disney Infinity 3.0 really does prove that when it comes to Disney, it's third time lucky. If you're looking for a co-op Star Wars game this Christmas, forget about Battlefront - Disney Infinity 3.0: Rise Against the Empire wins hands down.