LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes Review
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360
The LEGO series of games, from developer Traveller’s Tales, treads a fine line between the adult and children’s gaming markets, and often toes the line in a deft fashion. Earlier games in the series, such as those based on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie franchises, attracted adults with a healthy dose of nostalgia and gently mocking, yet loving, humour. Children, on the other hand, were also entranced by humour, but that of a more slapstick variety, as well as the accessible gameplay and a chance to see stuff fall apart.
More recent games in the series that have been based on properties such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the animated Clone Wars series have seemingly aimed Traveller’s Tales’ sights more towards a market of children than adults. It’s strange, then, that LEGO Batman 2 is quite possibly the darkest and least child-friendly entry in the series to date. It’s not that all of a sudden blood and gore splatter the screen, or that the plastic minifigures start spewing profanities, but rather in the bleak atmosphere that is offered.
The game partially takes its cue from the 60’s television adaptation of Batman, with Robin’s vehicles and equipment in particular being given a liberal dose of bright colour. Even some of the suits that our titular hero is given to wear bring with them a slight whiff of ‘Bat Shark Repellent’. It’s in the setting of Gotham that the bleakness resides. Never depicted as a happy place, Gotham here is presented as a city where it constantly rains, architecture is grandiose, yet aging, and any sense of colour represents danger – be it chemical, explosive or some other deadly substance. Gotham has never been welcoming, but seeing characters based off of children’s toys (usually a symbol of joy) running to and fro screaming in terror hits slightly harder than expected. Perhaps the moment that most terrified my inner child was a sequence where the Joker attempts to pull Batman apart brick by brick. Try explaining that faux dismemberment to a five-year-old.
The open-world setting of Gotham is perhaps the biggest change that LEGO Batman 2 has to offer the series, and it comes across as a mixed-bag of decent ideas and novice execution. The first issue you will discover when attempting to access the larger world of Gotham City is the loading times required to boot up the city. On average I found myself waiting at least thirty seconds to begin gameplay, and whilst this may be understandable when initially loading the city, it is required between each level as well, which can get increasingly frustrating during an extended play session.
LEGO games have offered hub worlds before, though these are often limited in size and merely provide a way to jump from one level to another. LEGO Batman 2 uses the Batcave as a cross-level hub, but places it within the larger setting of Gotham, an area which is just as important as the levels themselves if you wish to fully complete the game. The city offers up Gold Bricks (the ultimate objective of the game), unlockable characters and vehicles, and a variety of boss fights against both major and minor DC Universe villains. There’s plenty to do, but getting around is almost more trouble than the rewards are worth. The map and compass are useful to a point, but for gamers used to the navigation systems of Assassin’s Creed or GTA IV, finding a specific item is often a case of being guided to the general area and then being left to stagger blindly until you happen upon it. It doesn’t help that plenty of items are located atop skyscrapers, and the map offers up no information on the height of your objectives. Even finding your way to the story missions is a pain. A bread-crumb trail is offered, à la Fable, but it veers off at such tight angles that it is almost impossible to follow without taking a number of wrong turns. A simple arrow at the top of the screen would have performed the duty to a much more accurate degree.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of city-wide navigation, however, is the fact that items in the city seem to pop up only when you’re directly on top of them. The buildings and basic city framework can be seen from almost any distance, which makes standing on top of Wayne Tower and viewing the city beneath you quite a sight. Instead, it’s the LEGO pieces which are hard to see, as these are seemingly layered on top of the city’s foundations. The pop-up isn’t limited to the open-world parts of the game, though, with some story missions suffering from texture pop-in, and there were even a few examples of items refusing to disappear following their destruction, such as television screens.
The story-based levels are largely par for the course for the LEGO series, offering up a selection of action, character-specific puzzles and secret areas that can’t be accessed until a second playthrough, when extra characters are unlocked. The levels seem longer than in previous games, though, and the number of studs (read: coins) required for completion is set much higher than players might be used to. The variety of settings is welcome, with a number of Gotham landmarks represented, and even a visit to Metropolis is included. This ambition may have pushed the engine a little too far however, as a section with giant robots in the LexCorp headquarters froze the game completely and required a hard reset of the system.
The addition of voice-acting to the game is the second big change to the LEGO franchise, and whilst initially disconcerting, it quickly becomes apparent that having your characters able to speak adds a great deal to the story, especially when the narrative is original and not based on movies that people are already familiar with. The voice-acting, which may not be as high-calibre as that of Arkham City, is serviceable, and the use of established voice actors, such as Nolan North (Uncharted), Clancy Brown (Superman/Batman: Public Enemies) and Steven Blum (Call of Duty) makes the addition enjoyable overall. The only issue I found, and this may be merely a personal gripe, was the overuse of Alfred as a game guide, whose level of annoyance-inducement with his polite coughing and uttering of “One more thing, sir” almost reaches that of Navi in Ocarina of Time. Thankfully, he can be turned off, although this isn’t widely advertised.
The storyline of LEGO Batman 2 is a well-balanced mix of Batman/DC mythology and LEGO series humour, although the subtitle could have been changed from DC Super Heroes to The Adventures of Batman and Superman, as these are pretty much the two characters you will use through the course of the story. There are plenty of other characters available, but come the end of the story, you will have only unlocked about five of them. The rest can be unlocked through various open-world means, and though they offer good fan-service and are well-visualized, most only provide a slightly different variety of the powers already available to Batman or Superman.
The one thing missing from LEGO Batman 2, and all LEGO games to date, is online co-op. The LEGO franchise seems like a no-brainer for online co-op, particularly when you consider the number of games currently published with at least some form of online component. Split-screen co-op is included, and works better than earlier titles in the series by not locking both players to a single screen, but any excuse to get away from the single-player’s terrible AI would be a breath of fresh air. I lost count of the number of times that my AI “partner” screwed me over in LEGO Batman 2, either by nonsensically dropping to a ledge I was about to grab, forcing me to my doom, or blocking my character into a corner. At least if a fellow human player did this, I could lambast him/her for being a jerk.
Overall, LEGO Batman 2 is another solid release for Traveller’s Tales and the LEGO franchise. Fans of Batman and DC comics will find much to entertain them, and the gameplay is as simple and accessible as gamers have come to expect from the series. The atmosphere is noticeably darker than previous LEGO games, however, and for this reason I’d suggest playing through it yourself first to check for suitability if you’re planning to let young children loose on it. There are some technical issues, some of which are new to the series, and some which are more familiar (and still frustrating), but overall LEGO Batman 2 shows us that with a little bit of affection, Batman doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.
Final score: 3.75 out of 5
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