Game: LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Developer: Traveller’s tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Windows PC and PS Vita (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
With the news that LEGO and TT Games are working on a LEGO Lord of the Rings game, it seems almost as though no popular franchise will be safe from those little mini-figures. Star Wars and Harry Potter have also received hugely successful LEGO makeovers, but Pirates of the Caribbean fared less favourably.
The LEGO Batman license obviously had some legs to it, as we now have a sequel, four years on from the first game. In a shrewd piece of marketing, the release of this game has also arrived during the run-up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises in cinemas worldwide. Does it manage to step out of the shadow of its more serious sibling; especially due to the fact it now comes with added DC Super Heroes?
STORY: This is all fairly standard comic-book stuff, and certainly doesn’t take any pointers from the realism and grit of the aforementioned Christopher Nolan feature films. We join Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor attending the Gotham City “Man of the Year” award ceremony. Inevitably, The Joker interrupts this joyous affair, accompanied by the usual suspects such as The Penguin, The Riddler and Poison Ivy. Wayne manages to slip away and successfully defeat this entourage whilst in the guise of Batman, but as in all good comics, the walls of a prison cannot hold a super villain for long, and The Joker teams up to form a menacing Super-Villain duo with Lex Luthor. This is where Batman and Robin realise that they cannot tackle this problem alone, and enlist the help of several members of the Justice League to help save Gotham.
You could have written all of this by yourself, and the plot-line definitely won’t win any awards, but it is the interplay between the characters and the little LEGO in-jokes that really make the title entertaining. Jokes are played upon many standard comic book conventions, and the simmering friendship-by-association between Superman and Batman is a particularly amusing one, with Superman constantly oblivious to the grumblings and jealousy of Batman. The conversations between both friends and enemies are very funny, and the comic timing is actually quite impressive; especially considering that the actors are basically blocks of LEGO. What is happening in the plot isn’t likely to amaze anyone, but the way in which it is all strung together and carried off provides constant entertainment.
GRAPHICS: Not very much can be said of the graphics aside from the fact that the game is built on the same engine that has been used for almost every other LEGO licensed game that came before it. Obviously, there is a slight refinement of the graphical resolutions, with the sprites certainly looking smoother than in the original LEGO Batman, but none of this will be ground-breaking stuff and the game appears more or less the same as you would expect, all the way from the characters to the Head-up-Display. It must be said that one slight disappointment is the fact that the team have tended to use non-LEGO shapes and models for some of the larger buildings and trees that appear in the game, and this is slightly jarring between the two art styles, but it is something that isn’t likely to bother many gamers; especially those who are fans of the series anyway.
SOUND: Sound design is one area in which the game has had a radical change from earlier LEGO titles. For the first time in any of the titles from TT Games, all of the speaking mini-figures in the game are fully-voiced. Of course, they don’t exactly chat like crazy throughout the game, but when in cut-scenes and the like, all the speech is performed by voice actors. Now when I first heard this news, I must say that I was more than a little dubious. I had always thought that a lot of the charm in the LEGO games came from the almost Buster Keaton-like silent movie atmosphere and acting created by the mute characters. There was a definite charm in the way that the developers managed to tell these famous stories through mime with such flair, complete with the exaggerated expressions of the faces of the mini-figures providing some of the funniest moments.
However, after a couple of cutscenes, all of my doubts were quickly erased. The voice actors for all of the characters are almost universally well-acted and well-suited to their roles. Batman comes across as surly, whilst Robin is a bit bumbling and goofy. Their back and forth dialogue is particularly witty, with some great lines based around the conventional Batman and Robin relationship. Then when Superman comes into things, with his confident and well-meaning manner, things get even better, what with Batman resenting all of his help and Robin frantically trying to impress him. This just gives you an idea of the potential that the addition of voices presents, and I could see this becoming a regular feature in future LEGO games.
I should also mention that the game is packed full of the original music from the old Batman and Superman films – by Danny Elfman and John Williams respectively - so the music is all of a very high quality. Due to them using such great and iconic film music, this really adds a rousing and exciting element to the game, making you feel like you really are playing as your favourite super heroes.
GAMEPLAY: I won’t spend time going over the main gameplay mechanics, as by now most gamers will know how a LEGO game works. Batman is no different and gamers will jump and punch their way through levels destroying items made up of LEGO blocks and collecting coins for their kitty. Batman elements such as the Batmobile and Robin’s Motorbike are added to allow players to move around quickly and the Batarang and Bat-Rope gadgets are at your disposal for hitting enemies and switches from afar or for reaching hard-to-reach places. Batman and Robin also each have a variety of different-powered suits, which you must utilise cleverly to by-pass certain obstructions and solve puzzles. For instance, only Batman’s Electric suit can walkover live power lines, and only Robin’s Hazard suit can put out fires. This could become long-winded, switching back and forth between suits – but generally the suit you need for a puzzle will be found somewhere nearby, which alleviates the issue.
Like the games that came before, there is a hub world between stages. It was the Cantina in Star Wars and Hogwarts in Harry Potter, but in this instalment, rather than just stick to a relatively small area such as the Batcave, your hub is a far more open world. You can roam around a fully realised Gotham City. It is so big in fact, that it becomes somewhat easy to get lost throughout the city. This is where is becomes handy to make use of the in-game map (complete with markers and radar) and Bat Terminals dotted around the city where you can spawn new vehicles that can get you around the city more quickly. It would be nicer if there was the option to fast travel between stages, as this would help the story move along at a swifter pace, but sometimes it is nice to be able to take a break from the progress and explore Gotham, looking for secret items and Easter Eggs, for instance.
As with many of the games which came before it, there remains an annoying camera. Sometimes the angle at which the action plays out can be very irritating and simply refuse to show you the angle you really want. There is no option to rotate the camera as you play, so you simply have to make do with what you are given. In co-op mode particularly this can really hinder your progress, especially when the two players separate and the screen splits down the middle, swirling around between horizontal and vertical at its own whim depending on what it thinks it the best option at the time; whether you do or not.
There is another feature that has been added, which does add to the variety and excitement in the game though. There are quite a number of action levels where you might be piloting the Batmobile, Batwing or Bat-Boat, for instance, where you are chasing your enemies through the streets, skies or waterways of Gotham. These play out almost like first-person shooters, with the player controlling a targeting retina and moving automatically along an on-rails path, shooting at moving targets ahead of them. This isn’t terribly inventive stuff, but by having these short sequences sprinkled between the regular LEGO-style stages, the pace is heightened and some extra excitement is thrown into the mix; and these are thankfully never really long enough to become tiring.
MULTIPLAYER: This game features the same drop-in, drop-out multiplayer that has featured across all of the LEGO games so far, but I would say that there are more co-operative puzzles that either require two characters to perform actions at the same time, or for players to utilise a variety of character skills one after another, than in any of the other previous games. This does mean that when playing alone, the switching constantly between one character and another can get a little tedious, but in turn it creates a more involving and fun two-player game, where both players can be doing something useful or exploiting their own special skills to good effect. It can be very satisfying when a complex co-op puzzle is executed successfully, and I might put my neck out a little to say that this could well be the best multiplayer experience of any LEGO title.
LONGEVITY: As with all of the games in the series, as well as there being many levels to play through first time around, there are a great number of minor objectives and secrets to uncover. There are the usual Red and Gold bricks to collect, as well as the mini-kit components that have been found in almost all of the LEGO games. Then you can also try to collect enough coins to get 100%, or Superhero ranking in each stage. A new addition for Batman 2 is the citizen in peril secret. For this, there will be a civilian hidden somewhere in the level, who is being attacked by goons, rescue them and you will gain the bonus brick. However, these are sometimes well hidden or will require a specific character skill in order to be attainable. These secret items are also all scattered around the Gotham City map, and being able to track them all down will take quite some time. Trying to gain 100% in this game will give you many hours of gameplay.
VERDICT: My expectations were low for this game, I had felt that the LEGO adaptations of titles were becoming a little stale and very repetitive. However, changes such as the addition of voices and an emphasis on the relationship between the main characters in the game makes the title feel very fresh. The basic game mechanics remain undeniably similar, but certain tweaks and slight changes do improve the experience and make the game stand out from those that came before. The fact that the Batman and DC Super Hero universe is so dense with interesting and popular characters of course makes this easier, but even for those that don’t know much about the world of DC, the game is enjoyably and genuinely funny. The Dark Knight Returns, and he returns with a bang.