Lego Batman 2 review: Old ideas marry new ambition
19th Jun 2012 | 10:00
With the rate Lego tie-ins are churned out, you'd presume they're like most entry-level games - designed with the least effort possible to extract the most amount of pocket money from your children. You'd be wrong. Since 2005's okay-ish Lego Star Wars the games have, quite simply, got better.
In fact, we've had twelve ever-improving takes on monster franchises die-casting the universes of Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean in that blocky form. Why the repeat performance? Because they're moulded with care, and someone's noticed. That's clear from the opening moments of Lego Batman 2: DC Heroes, now open-world and fully voiced.
Joker's up to his old tricks, inviting a rogue's gallery to party-crash Bruce Wayne's rather egotistical 'Billionaire Philanthropist of the Year' awards because, well, comic mischief and all that. With the help of DC's Justice League in a campaign featuring Superman, Black Canary, Aquaman, Nightwing and an impressive seventy-strong roster, fifty of them playable, you'll thwart a Lex Luthor/Joker double act. The stars of the show, though, are the Dynamic Duo.
Batman and Robin's co-op moves are central, and while a real life splitscreen buddy isn't required, those going solo will constantly see a flashing 'Connect Controller' hint in the upper right corner that was probably put in to upset shy people. It's playable either way though, letting loners instantly switch characters to tackle player-specific sections. For instance, characters can change into costumes and utilise power-ups. To fool a soldier at a checkpoint, Batman throws on spec ops gear and uses its invisibility. Robin, meanwhile, is partial to blue spandex, which enables pole-swinging platforming and the ability to summon a giant hamster ball as an enemy-squasher.
Characters aren't tethered to each other. Later, when levels turn from linear to open-world, the screen splits to let co-op partners go their own way. Computer-controlled characters, however, will follow you like a hungry puppy, acting as mobile extra life platforms (when you die, simply switch to the person more alive than you) and puzzle-solvers. Companion AI is smarter, but the optimum team, of course, is two humans - preferably parent and child.
Friends and families fresh off any Lego game in the past decade will be at home here. Puzzles are reassuringly familiar: you'll hold a button and watch structures rebuild before your eyes, or double jump across a chasm, or use Batman's grapple hook to swing and zoom. It's the definition of undemanding, even mild peril offset by the fact death lasts half a second and sees you exploding into brightly coloured studs with a satisfying tumble.
It's a Lego game after all then, but there are bright ideas. The rain-slicked streets of Gotham's permanently midnight sandbox is a maze of familiar sights - smash up a plastic giraffe at Gotham Zoo, raise a few issues at city hall, climb to the peak of Wayne Enterprises or take a breather at the Batcave where you can replay missions, scan for more, or fast travel to specific locations (think Assassin's Creed's aqueducts).
It's a world big enough for vehicles like the Batmobile and Batwing, giving this the largest scale of any Lego tie-in to date. Roaring around, as fire from the exhaust ripples the air, is a thrill comparable to Saints Row's Specter hover bike, even if it lacks the creative spark of that particular free roam.
QUICK AS A FLASH
As well as vehicles you can take different characters for a spin. In one seamless move, you can dispatch foes with Wonder Woman's tiara, conjure a giant glowing hammer as Green Lantern, laser-vision the place up as Superman (John Williams' iconic score even kicks in when he takes to the sky), then use Flash to dash off, a glowing red and yellow trail in your wake.
It's a nerd's dream, and makes you wonder why Traveller's Tales didn't just go the whole way with one big superhero collaboration spread over various mid-sized hubs. This instead is Batman's tale, the heroes eclectic but the villains fresh from Arkham Asylum, each giving good in boss fights (Harley's and Killer Croc's are highlights).
The real triumph here, though, is the care, the attention to detail. The visuals are surprisingly sharp, motion blur, depth of field and dynamic shadows giving this a near photorealistic sense of place. One level sees hundreds of Gotham citizens fleeing Two-Face across reflective marble floors. Batman's cape even has cloth physics.
The audio too merits praise. Expressive mimes of past entries, previously limited to grunts and slapstick, are given vocal chords for the first time ever. Bioshock Infinite's Booker DeWitt, Troy Baker, voices Batman (he did Two-Face in Arkham City), and the DC Animated Universe's Clancy Brown reprises his role as Lex Luthor, while John DiMaggio, Jennifer Hale and Claudia Black swell an impressive cast. All this over a score mixing Danny Elfman's 1989 theme with original music.
In the end, then, it's a Lego game as you've come to expect - not deep, demanding or particularly complex, but applying charm with Kryptonite effectiveness through dozens of fully playable, fully voiced superheroes and a puzzle-packed open world.