Since lending its talents to a Star Wars spin-off way back in 2005, developer Traveller’s Tales has been pulled from pillar to post whilst pumping out one game after another, the studio’s name firmly tied to the iconic LEGO license.
Just as Treyarch and Infinity Ward have built their empire around sublime online first person shooters, so has TT and its unique puzzle/platforming formula, having partnered with a range of colossal film titles including Star Wars, Pirates of the Carribean, Harry Potter, and even Indiana Jones. You see, as many will protest rather unashamedly, the studio’s seven-year run of LEGO tie-ins hasn’t just catered for movie-going youngsters, but for casual and even hardcore gamers too.[drop2]However, as we know all too well in the video game industry, time is the biggest adversary of any annualised franchise. No matter how bulletproof a game design may seem the first time around, stretching the same tightly formed web of game mechanics becomes harder with every passing year. Despite giving fans a variety of settings and characters to interact with, the series has started to stagnate somewhat over the past few years.
Looking to combat this growing sense of fatigue, Traveller’s Tales has made a few noticeable changes with LEGO Batman 2. It may not be a complete re-thinking of the tested block-based blueprint, yet a few innovations here and there has kept the series afloat, and could even foreshadow a bold new direction for TT in the years to come.
Unlike Pirates, Star Wars, or Harry Potter, in LEGO Batman 2 there is no film script to rinse or poke fun at. Instead, the game builds its own story from scratch, keeping with the humorous vibe that permeates all LEGO titles whilst respecting the firm boundaries of DC’s timeless comic book universe.
Without pre-existing material to lean on, Traveller’s Tales has adopted a new approach to the way conducts narrative: voice acting. For those who’ve been on board with the LEGO spin-offs since day one it may feel a tad out of place at first, but it soon grows on you. With a voice cast consisting of industry stalwarts such as Brian Bloom, Nolan North, Steve Blum and Troy Baker on board the game is packed with talent and it really shows.
The story itself really isn’t notable. Upon losing out to Bruce Wayne in a “Man of the Year” award, Lex Luthor allies with The Joker in order to teach Gotham City a lesson, and further his bid to become the president. It’s your typical super villain team-up scenario without a plot twist or revelation in sight.
Utilitarian would be an ideal word for it; neither bad nor good, though serving as a platform in order for players to explore a number of locations. With that said, the dynamic between Batman, Robin and Superman plays out in a self-aware fashion which will have comic/game enthusiasts nodding in appreciation.
Staged across fifteen standalone chapters, LEGO Batman 2 is near enough exactly what you would expect. Using your intellect and a variety of character-exclusive abilities, players will build and break their way through dozens of cleverly-constructed challenges. There are combat and platforming sequences as well, though they only serve to galvanise the game’s puzzle-driven core.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about LEGO Batman’s cluster of on-rail missions. However, despite having a tendency to dampen even the most well-rounded video games, these stages are, luckily, short and sweet, and can be a nice diversion in between heavy sessions of head-scratching and puzzle solving, so it’s not all bad.
Fans will be pleased to hear that the character-swapping mechanic has also been altered somewhat, with the inclusion of suits. Strategically scattered throughout each mission, these power-ups allow characters to completely reformat their attributes. For instance, where there are glass objects, Batman will need to swap into the Bat Suit to proceed, similarly Robin has to slip into his Magnetic costume in order to scale certain surfaces and manipulate metal objects.
That’s not all LEGO Batman 2 has to offer though; for the first time, players will also be able to traverse a sprawling open world. Comparing it to the likes of Liberty City, Tamriel, or Red Dead’s Frontier would be pointless, not to mention unfair.
This is clearly a simple attempt to expand the fiction and add even more replay value. Whilst Gotham may not have an intricate pedestrian system or radiant quests, it does have a great multitude of collectibles including red bricks, civilians in peril, boss battles, and the series staple: gold bricks.
In truth, the game’s open world feels a bit too barren in places, and could have done with a downsize as well as a more intricate mini-map. With that said, it’s great to see Traveller’s Tales thinking outside the original LEGO template, and hopefully the studio will pursue open world integration in future titles.
As one would naturally assume, DC Super Heroes is without doubt the best-looking LEGO game to date. Improved lighting and textures really help merge the LEGO universe with Gotham’s gloomy backdrop, even more so when exploring the game’s open world.
Unlike the very first LEGO Star Wars, which tried to rebuild every aspect using the LEGO aesthetic, in Batman 2 only the characters and a smattering of interactive objects are done this way. Environments are much more lifelike, given even more authenticity thanks to the game’s weather effects, yet still retaining the series’ unique, slightly cartoon-ish veneer.
- Solid gameplay, enhanced with a roster of over 50 characters.
- At least 20 hours of content for completionists to blitz through.
- Voice work helps to sell the game’s smart humour.
- The inclusion of an open world, stuffed with dozens of collectibles.
- Intrusive loading times after acquiring gold bricks/switching characters in free play.
- Superman aside, the game’s cast of other DC heroes only feature briefly.
- A handful of awkward puzzles.
- Split-screen causes noticeable frame rate issues, can also induce major headaches.
If you were hoping for a dramatic departure from previous LEGO games then you should have called off the search a long time ago. Traveller’s Tales has been conservative in its approach to game design for years now and, despite a few glimmers of innovation, it doesn’t seem as though change is coming. Then again, why should it?
LEGO Batman 2 may have suffered from the series’ collective fatigue in a few places, yet still stands as one of the best, most enriching puzzle platformers to grace home consoles.