Friday, June 29, 2012

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (PS3, 360, Wii) Review

I am quite the fan of the Batman nineties animated series. It is what sold me on the character of the dark knight. That version will always be the one that I envy most. LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes recently released in North America. I have the review for the console iterations, based off the PlayStation 3 build.

I get by with a little help from my [super]friends.

The LEGO brand of games has been spread across various properties such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Even an upcoming LEGO Lord of the Rings title is in the works. The basic foundation of the LEGO franchise has remained the same throughout the numerous brands developer Traveler's Tales has worked on. However, with their latest LEGO offering, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, two new elements are making their long awaited premiere: an open world to explore and full voice acting. Does this dark knight rise?

After crossing one another's path at a Gotham City Man of the Year Awards ceremony, Lex Luthor and the Joker have a match made in criminal heaven after Luthor busts Joker and the seemingly entirety of Arkham Asylum out of captivity. Luthor has an all-new invention, a deconstructor gun, able to pull apart objects and people brick by brick. Enter Batman and Robin. The streets of Gotham are in a state of anarchy with a cavalcade of villains and thugs running rampant, terrorizing innocent civilians. It's up to Batman, Robin, and perhaps some outside assistance to wrangle all of the criminals back to Arkham and more importantly put a stop to Lex Luthor and Joker's joint caper. The trademark humor that the LEGO games are known for shines especially through the addition of voices. Pre-level segments like Gotham City News and tone of voice does wonders for the plot. The sense of humor is superb.

Batman and the boy wonder, together again.
While Gotham City has some parts that are free to explore early in the game, you are at the mercy of following the story. The city doesn't entirely open up for full travel until you have beaten the final chapter. That said, the story mode isn't incredibly long. Missions vary in length. Some can take up to 45 minutes when you're breaking, bashing, and destroying everything possible, while others can take as little time as 15 minutes.

If you have a played even one LEGO game in the past, the gameplay of LEGO Batman 2 should be familiar to you. That isn't to say nothing has changed. Nonetheless, you roll through levels, beating enemies and solving puzzles to advance. Generally the best plan on action is to aimlessly punch, kick, and slam around, destroying as many objects as possible as not only is the best way to get some serious amounts of studs, the currency of the LEGO series, but it's usually the way to move on. Some breakable objects reveal LEGO pieces that can be built into specific objects such as switches, staircases, buttons, pads, and so forth. At the start of LEGO Batman 2, you just have Batman and his trusty sidekick Robin to work with. You can change between the two characters at any time. By the end of the story, you get more heroes to work with, such as Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg. You can even play as a myriad of villains as well.

Each character has their own usefulness in each level and around Gotham City. Batman can pull certain switches with his grappling hook as well as use particular pads to transform his suit. He has four varieties: his normal suit, his power suit which can shoot missiles to blow up silver LEGO objects, his electricity suit which allows him to saunter through high voltage areas and pull otherwise shocking switches, and his bat suit which gives him the power to soar across gaps and use a sonar gun to break certain blocks. Conversely, Robin has his own line suits. Meanwhile, heroes like Superman can blow up with gold LEGO objects with his heat vision, freeze water with his icy breath, and fly for unlimited periods of time. When you unlock Free Play mode (after beating a given story mission), you can switch between any character you like instead of just using the characters the story dictates you to use.

Though Batman doesn't often like Superman's
help, even he is forced to admit he appreciates it.
Even after the fifteen chapters of the LEGO Batman 2's story are completed, you still haven't even seen half of the game. Gotham City is full of secrets and surprises, places to go, people to see, and civilians to save. There are thirty-five innocents (there are fifty citizens to save in all, but fifteen of those are in the story missions; one per mission) that unfortunately wound up at the wrong place at the wrong time and need your saving. Some are encased in a block of ice, needing someone with heat vision to thaw them; some are inside some of Poison Ivy's plant specimens; some are surrounded by goons in a no-win situation. Case in point: it is your duty to assist them, and they will make it worth your while through giving you a gold brick.

Gold bricks are the most important collectible in LEGO Batman 2. There are a total of 250 of those babies to collect. You automatically get one after completing each story chapter, but you have to earn the rest through multiple means. Gathering enough studs to reach Super Hero mode in each chapter, gathering all ten Mini-Kits in each chapter, saving helpless denizens in each chapter and around town, and coming across hidden gold blocks around Gotham are all methods to collect gold bricks. Another thing to collect are Mini-Kits-- ten in each level-- and when all ten have been gathered in a given mission, a new vehicle is available for use in Gotham City. Mini-Kits are hidden remarkably well generally.

Take the Batmobile and one of many 
other rides out for a spin.
You might be thinking that with so much to find in Gotham that it's an impossible task to track everything down while keeping one's bearings. Well, to assist you, around the city are numerous terminals which are easy to pick out from way above as each terminal is encompassed by a tall pillar of light, piercing into the skies. A red light means a terminal hasn't yet been activated while a blue light signifies just the opposite. Most terminals can be accessed without problem, but some have locks around them that can only be broken off via heat vision or can only be assembled by The Flash. Not only do turning on terminals allow you to scan the nearby area for any secrets, but it also reveals the location of one of the runaway villains. Heading to the location, defeating the enemy in combat, and paying a varying amount of studs enables you to play as that character in Free Play mode.

As I said, beating the actual story mode won't take an extended amount of time. That notwithstanding, completing LEGO Batman 2 100% is an entirely different story. There's the 250 gold bricks to obtain, the fifty citizens to save, the 150 Mini-Kits to find, and 20 cheat-unlocking red bricks. These cheats are things like invincibility, stud multipliers, extra health, among other bonuses. Thankfully, cheats can be used without consequence. They won't ruin your chances for achievements, trophies, or more importantly, the ability to reach 100%. (And that's a relief since one of the achievements is having more than one billion studs on you at one time.) Completing LEGO Batman 2 isn't much of a difficulty other than requiring at least 20-30 hours of time as dying in the game just means you respawn. Some might dislike the ease of challenge in this title, but for a game for everybody, I can understand why the developer wanted the frustration level to be relatively low.

Superman can literally stare a hole right through you.
That said, there are still moments of frustration. Missing jumps because of an awkward camera angle; countless glitches such as game freezes and moments where the game prematurely calls forth an event before it is time for it, meaning you have to restart the level from a checkpoint or worse the beginning; and the flight controls of Superman and Green Lantern being absolutely wonky are some of the objections I have to LEGO Batman 2, especially the latter. It's next to impossible to fly with any semblance of precision. The technical issues can at least be patched, and they happen so rarely that I wasn't bothered too badly by them.

The presentation of this game is by far the best the LEGO series of titles has seen. The levels are highly detailed with loads of breakable objects. The environments are quite creative and eye-catching. Gotham City is a true treasure with its impressive architecture and various locales like Ace Chemicals, the Gotham Zoo, Arkham Asylum, Wayne Manor, and the Botanical Gardens, even when there is blatant pop-in and slowdown. The way the buildings shimmer as they are coated with droplets of rain is mighty marvelous. Not all is well, however. The GPS "breadcrumbs" that show you the path to your next destination in Gotham City are the same size as the studs strewn about the city, making them hard to see. And speaking of things that are hard to see, the compass is full of unnecessary icons. When you set a marker on the map to help you find a location, it is constantly covered by other icons that get in the way of the marker.

"Hiya, Bats. Care for a hug?"
For the first time in a LEGO game full featured voice acting is present. Leading the cast is the return of Clancy Brown (Highlander, The Shawshank Redempion, Starship Troopers) as Lex Luthor, a role he has played for over a dozen years. The rest of the cast is well rounded and fit their parts excellently. If you are a fan of Danny Elfman's Batman movie score and John Williams' Superman movie theme, you will find lots to love with the soundtrack of LEGO Batman 2. Nothing makes you feel more like a hero than soaring around Gotham City with bombastic fanfares blaring.

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes adds some new elements to the franchise to help it avoid feeling like the same-old same-old. The open world is like the whole game-- it isn't perfect. There's a whole slew of technical issues and weird design decisions, but Gotham City feels like what I'd imagine a comic book world to feel like. The story missions are about as fun as you can expect from the LEGO series. That is to say that they are a blast. They are ones you will need to play through at least twice to fully collect everything. LEGO Batman 2 is a recommended pickup for any fan of the dark knight, fan of the LEGO series, and/or fan of games for everyone. Play alone or with a friend, now you too can save Gotham from the edge of madness.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.25/10]

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