Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Lego Batman 2 (Xbox 360)

We love Lego. And we love Batman. We even almost love Superman even though he’s kind of a dick sometimes. So when you mix together all these things that we love and turn that lusty love-cocktail into a much anticipated videogame then it should be a surefire, super-studded, bat-punch to the pleasure centre. There’s definitely fun to be had. But will you climax?

Lego Batman 2 is a fun, humourous, mostly successful action/puzzle game which is only hindered by its own ambition. With a gazillion Lego games already under the utility belt, I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure to innovate. And this game certainly is ambitious with a large host of characters and the addition of a giant sandbox to bury yourself in. But these extra features come at a cost and Lego Batman 2 is not without its compromises.

To find out what worked and what didn’t... join me after the jump!

A sequel to 2008’s hit Lego Batman, the ante is seriously upped as Superman and fellow Justice Leaguers are thrown into the mix. You see, bald despot Lex Luthor has teamed up with howling maniac prankster The Joker and developed a kryptonite powered ray gun that will destroy black bricks. Who uses a lot of black bricks in his “wonderful toys”? Batman, of course, and it's going to take all his blocky detective ingenuity to solve this one. Add in the extra problem of an arrogant Superman continually butting in and stealing the scene (much to the delight of a hero-worshipping Robin) and the dark, disgruntled and brooding Batman has a lot on his plate.

These conflicts are brought to vivid life by a host of familiar voice actors, this being the first Lego game to be fully voiced and scripted. It adds a lot and the cut-scene dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny at times. Robin: “If Superman hadn’t saved us we would have broken our legs”. Batman: (Grimly) “We’ve broken our legs before.” Robin: “Yeah... But I didn’t like it.” I’m paraphrasing...

So that part is great and the size of the world has greatly increased as well. There’s fifteen regular missions which will be familiar in structure to anyone who has played a Lego game before (collect studs and unlock collectibles along the way) but each level here is huge and consists of multiple phases and environments. The Gotham City backdrops are grand and expansive and you’ll often find yourself piloting a vehicle to take down an oversized threat. It’s fun and the story zips along in an engaging way.

The other half of the gameplay revolves around Gotham City itself. A huge open world city has been built (much like what we saw in Arkham City) and this acts as your hub between levels. You can simply navigate through to your next objective (following a trail of transparent studs) or you can endlessly explore. And there’s plenty to be found. You can run obstacle courses to unlock gold bricks (which will allow character unlocks later), you can save citizens in peril, and you can locate and defeat 20 plus bosses who are haunting iconic Gotham locales.

For example, defeat the Penguin at the Gotham Zoo or Man-Bat at the Gotham Cathederal. Not everything is available at once - you will need to use certain character abilities to access certain bosses - but once you do manage to take them down you will have the option to buy them as a playable character. But be warned.... most cost a whole lot of studs. The big name characters will cost the equivalent of an hour or so of gameplay. And they’re not just Batman villains. Expect to find some sinister faces from Superman, Green Lantern and the Flash’s history as well.

I’d also like to take a brief moment to praise the music. From Elfman’s original Batman theme to William’s iconic Superman theme there’s no shortage of killer orchestration to set the mood. The themes switch seamlessly depending on which character you’re playing and it is an absolute delight. Despite being a humourous game with a Lego twist, it’s still delightfully atmospheric.

So this all sounds pretty good, right? And it is for the most part. But there are a few missed opportunities that stop it from being perfect.

The allure of playing as the Justice League is huge, but it’s not as big a part of the main story as the trailers may have led you to believe. You’ll spend the vast majority of the game playing as Batman and Robin, and from about a third to half of the way in, Superman. The rest of the League show up very late in the game and almost as an afterthought. When they do arrive you have a lot of characters to choose from and it can actually get quite chaotic and confusing. I would have rather have been eased into them gradually so that I could get to know how they played during quiter moments.

And as this is a Batcentric game, don’t expect to play these characters in their own environs. A Green Lantern level on Oa? Not happening. Wonder Woman on Lesbian Island? Don’t even think about it. This just isn’t that game. I think it could have been but it’s limited by the hub world of Gotham. The open world is an interesting idea (especially for a Lego game) but it keeps the whole story very grounded. I kind of wish that it had been traded in for more varied levels that explored the potential of the additional characters.

Speaking of which, there’s not a great deal of fun to be had with the other superheroes. Superman is definitely a novelty with his flight, heat vision, and ice breath, but once you get to the likes of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Flash there’s not a huge amount of variety that makes them especially fun to play. The issue is that you’re not choosing your character roster based on how fun they are, but rather carefully choosing characters by abilities, purely to unlock secrets and simply progress. Green Lantern, for example, can build green glowing Lego objects that no one else can. It will help you access some restricted areas but is not especially fun in itself.

The same goes for the villains you unlock. If you recall, when I pre-ordered I also got an exclusive villain pack of: Black Adam, Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Black Manta and Bizarro. Grodd seems to have no additional powers, Cold does everything Ice Suit Robin can, Black Manta just has Superman’s heat vision, Bizarro is the exact same as Superman, and Black Adam (the best of the five) is Superman who fires electricity instead of heat. It’s a novelty if you’re a comic aficionado but there’s little value beyond that.

And as fun as flight sounds, Superman controls like shit. He’s great for broad brushstrokes - if you want to zoom from one end of the city to the other then he’s perfect, but his precision maneuvers are unwieldy and constantly crippled by the sluggish camera. There’s nothing worse than spying a gold brick on top of a building and simply not being able to fly up there. The same button that gives you altitude can also turbo boost you forward and you turn incredibly slowly. It’s frustrating beyond belief and it’s sad that they couldn’t find a better solution.

And for me, on the 360, this game is really glitchy. It’s crashed on me at least three times and needed a hard restart which is frustrating considering the sparseness of save points. I’ve also had characters fall into spaces they’re clearly not supposed to be on occasion and this has also led me to restart the level. The worst example of this was Robin falling onto a lower level that we’re not even supposed to be able to see and sliding around on his arse like a dog with an itch. Was this game rushed? I don’t recall similar problems with previous Lego games.

All criticisms aside, I have to admit that despite any faults I was still compelled to complete story mode. And that’s a lot more than can be said for a lot of other games I own. In fact, with time being my most valuable commodity at the moment, that’s probably about the highest compliment I can give a game. In terms of unlocking everything I’m still only at around 25% but I keep exploring, working my way around the various bosses and replaying the story levels in “free play” mode. And there are plenty of rewards for the adventurous. I recently had a chuckle when I got to play as Superman riding a polar bear around the zoo.

So it’s a mixed bag. A game that should be perfect but with one too many issues to be a classic. Still, if you enjoy the Lego games you should give it a look!

1 comment:

  1. I unlocked Vicki Vale and using her, road a Gorilla from Gotham Zoo to Wayne Tower and climbed to the top, receiving an Achievement for my efforts! Fun!!

    But yeah I totally agree with the downside as well. Flash is awesome EXCEPT he is super hard to control. Green Lantern is almost useless without even a range attack...Superman's great but flying can be frustrating, etc.

    Joker is really fun to play though! Tromp through the carnival playing games with Joker and Harley Quinn and it's a joy to behold :)