The Lego game series represent one of the greatest success stories in recent years. Almost one year ago I submitted a review for the rather spiffing Lego Marvel Superheroes and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is the third release since this. In fact, only Ubisoft with their bi-monthly releases of the Assassins Creed franchise have been able to keep up with the furious pace of developer Travellers’ Tales. The fact I still find these games as charming and compulsive as ever is testament to the quality of the workmanship on display.
The fact I still find these games as charming and compulsive as ever is testament to the quality of the workmanship on display.
As the sub-title title suggests, Lego Batman 3 broadens the canvas from Gotham out to a galactic scale, specifically the home planets of the various Lantern corps. What are the Lanterns corps you ask? Are they socially responsible older types who tend to the nations street lights using jet-packs constructed from old Stannah Stairlifts in their spare time?….
…Nope, in the wider DC comic’s mythos they represent a series of interstellar armies or police forces, each of whom wield a different colour light, powered by and representing different emotional aspects. The most famous corps would be The Green Lanterns (powered by the green light of will), who you may have tried to forget given the shambolic nature of the Ryan Reynolds film a few years ago. Some are good, some are evil, but at its core it’s an interesting idea. These corps powers are used for ill by evil galactic collector Brainiac who uses them to shrink worlds and cities down and catalogue them. The Justice League, led by Batman (natch) have to stop him.
In some ways the story doesn’t matter, it’s really just the framework to hang the games cartoon action and rudimentary puzzles off but even so it’s nice to see them make good use of a wider roster of DC characters both well-known and more obscure than that Bulgarian folk band who play instruments make from their desiccated pubic hair (ahem Miss Manhunter or Kid Flash anyone?).
The key to the Lego games (and perhaps the secret of their perennially good sales) is their appealing structure. The puzzles are easy enough that a sharp minded young’un can deal with them but aren’t so easy that the older players fall asleep due to boredom. Plus if you do get bored or can’t figure the puzzles, there are hints available or drop in, drop out coop to engage in or worst case you can just run round smashing things with a big smile on your face.
Typically familiarity breeds contempt but Lego seems to be one of the exceptions, possible due to its inherent lack of ‘Just change the historical period and the lead characters name and that’ll do for next years effort’ cynicism which infects many franchises now. Basically despite the template being nearly identical, the structure of the game and it’s relatively samey puzzles never grate, they still feel inventive and enjoyable. Pair this with the games liberal dose of silly, all-ages humour and you have a great game.
Basically despite the template being nearly identical, the structure of the game and it’s relatively samey puzzles never grate, they still feel inventive and enjoyable.
Making a game with a demographic as wide as the an ironed out elephant is a tricky line to walk, as the makers of a million failed family games such as Ben 10s Homework Panic !or Muppets Rectal Terror 7 have all discovered, so credit where’s credits due to the developers.
The main story takes around 12 hours to polish off and this doesn’t count the freeplay element which unlocks when the levels have been individually finished. Freeplay allows you to play any story level again but swap between characters, which opens up new areas and new rewards. It’s a quality way of encouraging multiple play-throughs.
Topping this off are the side missions and Easter eggs which are dotted around the levels main game hubs of the Batcave, the Hall of Justice and The Watchtower. The hidden Adam West style 60’s Batman level is especially fun and a really great inclusion, especially to those of us who grew up watching reruns of this on Channel 4.
Graphically Lego Batman 3 (played on Xbox-One) isn’t really any vast improvement over the previous generation but it’s not an ugly game by any means. I’d argue it’s easier to make say…an Uncharted game look visually swish as you have lots of nice textures and environments to replicate, but making 1 inch plastic figures running around a funhouse punching boulders till they spill buttons as aesthetically sparking is tricky as the ceiling for Lego graphics fidelity seems to have been breached years ago. I suppose I’d also argue that it’s less important for a Lego game to look great as AAA shooters as looks weren’t ever really the appeal of the game.
What about downsides? Well there’s not many but it’s not a perfect game by a long chalk. The camera in split screen is often maddening, as you have to choose between a dynamic camera mode which spins around like your head after eight pints of real ale, or a static mode which often strands you on the edge of a screen or obscures the current objective. Plus, the save system is still woefully inadequate and belongs in coffin at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, not allowing you to start from a saved checkpoint if you, (like me) return to the watchtower by mistake. However neither issue is particularly game-breaking.
The overall game is consistent with the high standards of the previous efforts and this sits somewhere above last year’s Marvel Superheroes and a mote below Lego Batman 2. It also gains points for not (unlike LB2), making Green Lantern the worst character in the game (Ryan Reynolds aside, GL is a great character, seriously read some of the recent comics).
The overall game is consistent with the high standards of the previous efforts
Lego Batman 3 is very much businesses as usual, so take of that what you will. However whilst many franchises are being creatively driven into the ground and suffering more fatigue than a diabetic triathlete, the Lego games side-step this by the ideas rule book and just letting their imagination run-riot. It’s a playable, fun, family friendly game with enough teeth to please a (much) older gamer too. It may be nuts-and-bolts but damn it those nuts taste good.