July 11, 2012
Someone has to clean up Gotham and that someone has always been Batman, aided and abetted by Robin, or Nightwing, or Batgirl, or Azrael. Generally someone is helping him out, OK? Anyway, it's safe to say that sometimes the mean streets of Gotham may throw up the odd challenge that even Batman is not fully equipped to deal with – not that he's ever likely to admit it. So who does the Dark Knight call upon? Well, probably no one, but that doesn’t stop his buddies from helping out anyway. Enter, Superman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and so on – DC Super Heroes one and all (or the Justice League in reality, come on, we all know they are the Justice League). So when Lex Luthor decides to go on a villainous rampage with a few other dastardly chums it is time for an all out hero versus villain brawl. In LEGO form, yay!
The beauty of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is that it focuses on being a canny adventure first and a traditional LEGO title second. With the standard array of secret-laden levels, a huge roster of playable characters and the usual delightful charm, it's a tour de force of what has made the LEGO series so special. Built around an impressive and expansive Gotham City, which you can roam freely when not partaking in one of the fifteen regular missions, this is a title that draws upon all of the wonderful backstory and characters on offer from the DC stable.
The whole thing kicks off when Lex Luthor loses out on that coveted ‘Man of the Year’ award to Bruce Wayne (spoiler alert: he’s actually Batman too). Understandably miffed, he decides to take matters into his own hands when the Joker and a posse of Arkham’s finest gatecrash the swanky shindig. Busting the nefarious bunch out of jail after they're taken down by the Caped Crusader, Luthor decides to take them out on the town replete with a range of destructive weapons. Not one to sit idly by while his town is under threat, Batman steps into the breach and attempts to curtail the potential destruction.
What starts out as a regular jaunt for Batman and Robin soon flexes its muscles just when it seems like he may be outmatched. Cue the entrance of the Man of Steel to help out in a perfectly pitched scene that encapsulates all that is great about both the LEGO and comic book genres. As Robin fawns over his idol, while Superman himself utters cookie cutter clichés, Batman merely retreats to his vehicle in a huff spurning all offers of assistance. It’s a perfect example of how the addition of voicework has brought the game forward in leaps and bounds. Many people feared that part of the iconic nature of LEGO games came from their mute representations and that by putting voices in, some of the magic might be lost. Nothing could be further from the truth however, and every cutscene is full of sharp wit and knowing winks.
Indeed the presentation is never anything less than top notch, with the whole of Gotham recreated in a beautiful mixture of its traditional gothic architecture and those blocky creations that we do so love to destroy. At times you feel that the creation may have been a bit more ambitious than it should have been, as occasional graphical issues come to the fore. A bit of pop-up here, a few odd textures there, but thankfully nothing that is liable to distract or frustrate you for long. There can also be a few moments when the camera can be more of a nemesis than Luthor himself, especially in splitscreen co-op, but with a bit of patience it never feels too damaging and is certainly better handled than in the last few titles.
Once you step into levels, things become much more tightly scripted as you push forward with the Caped Crusader to stop the variety of villains that line your path. At the start you have the Boy Wonder by your side and a variety of suits to grant you the special abilities needed to solve the variety of traps and puzzles throughout. When the Man of Steel is introduced it feels almost game breaking, as he possesses almost all of Batman’s abilities not to mention that trademark invulnerability. Luckily the plot introduces elements of the decidedly green crystalline nature to keep him from being too destructive. Not to mention watching Superman face plant into the pavement after attempting flight is likely to keep you entertained for far longer than it should have any right to. The puzzles are varied enough so that no one character feels underused, and the gradual involvement of the heroes roster helps keep things interesting.
The tired old vehicular sections are kept to more of a minimum as well, and reduced mainly to on-rails shooting sections during the story missions. These areas feel far more entertaining and enjoyable than the old equivalents, even though they may at first glance seem like an overly simplistic step backwards. Instead they provide the perfect opportunity to simply blast your foes aside and break up some of the lengthier, but no less entertaining, on-foot arenas.
The clever weaving of the standalone stages into the bedrock of Gotham itself is superbly done, as you have to race from location to location in order to thwart the bad guys' schemes. Should you want a bit more freedom though, the game is perfectly set up to allow it, with Gotham City proving to be the perfect playground for would-be superheroes. Roaming the streets on-foot, in a range of vehicles or even soaring through the sky, affords you a range of activities. Activating computers linked to the Batcave opens up the locations of criminal elements to defeat and unlock, plus you can scan the local vicinity with a handy radar to highlight the locations of any number of goodies for you to track down, from series regular red and gold bricks, to hidden vehicles and citizens to rescue. At times it almost feels like there is too much to do, but then you spot another minigame lurking off in the distance and go barreling towards it ready for another fun challenge.
As ever the whole experience can be enjoyed in co-op which leads to the usual merry competition of snagging those elusive studs and pretending you threw a Batarang at your partner by mistake – honest. It also makes traversing such a vast landscape all the more enjoyable and snagging the requisite achievements a little bit easier. Unfortunately the achievements on offer are the one part of the game that show a surprising lack of invention, if truth be told, with the developers choosing the same old repertoire to flesh out the points on offer. Grab all the hidden bricks, max out the stud counter and complete the story levels – so far so expected. Would a few more leftfield ideas really have gone amiss in an environment designed for so much adventure?
On the whole though, it's almost impossible to fault the latest LEGO title too much. Sure it may boil down to the same ideal as its predecessors in that you bash apart bricks and collect all the studs that fly out, but the presentation and invention on offer never stops being effortlessly fun. It may be a case of having seen it all before, but LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is certainly a highpoint for the franchise in terms of lush graphics, pitch perfect storytelling and an almost effortless dedication to the source material. Batman is at the top of his game right now across a number of mediums and, even when presented with delightful humour, he brings a sense of gravitas and conviction to his adventures. Prepare to tackle Gotham and its denizens with a smile on your face, and one that has nothing to do with Joker brand toxins.
The biggest sacrilege in LEGO games, adding voices, is actually a masterstroke with some splendid voicework acting as the perfect foil to the soaring Batman themes.
Wonderfully realised characters come to life amid beautiful backdrops and the mean streets of Gotham. At times the ambition and scope of the hub area are the game's undoing however, with some ragged textures and graphical pop-up taking place.
Smash all the blocks, smash all the goons and have a fine time doing it. The on-rails vehicle sections are a welcome diversion, as are Batman’s super-powered friends. It may seem overly familiar to LEGO fans but the inventiveness of the levels and the myriad of hidden items and mini-games keep things fresh.
Just when it looked like the LEGO series had peaked and, whisper it, might be on the downward slope this game manages to breathe new life into the series. It may well be down to the top-notch characters at your disposal, but this is a well-crafted yarn that still offers a perfect amount of freedom.
A decent enough list but one that is becoming all too familiar to LEGO players by now, as getting all of the bricks, characters and the fabled 100% completion has been a series staple for some time. It would be nice to see a bit of the inventiveness present in the game applied to the points scoring shenanigans too.
LEGO Batman 2 is the best LEGO title to date and one that uses all of the source material on offer to wonderful effect. Tightly constructed levels interplay brilliantly with the freedom of roaming the Gotham streets and that usual attitude of snagging all the studs, bricks and characters has never been so alluring. LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes isn’t just an immensely fun game, it’s a funny one as well, and one that never gets tired of having the last laugh.