Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

            I’ve always loved the Lego games.  They’ve just been fun to play from the very beginning.  Of course, the main problem has always been the stagnation.  While each game has its own quirks, very rarely do they break formula.  Lego Batman 2 doesn’t change things up too much, but what it does change is pretty big.
            This is only the second Lego game with an original story (the other one being the first Lego Batman).  Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown, reprising his role from Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League) breaks Joker (Christopher Smith) out of jail to help him rig the presidential election.  It’s up to Batman (Troy Baker) and Superman (Travis Willingham) to team up and stop them.  The first major change for the series is, as indicated, the fact that all the characters have actual voices now, not just grunts.  Not only does this feel natural and help with the story, but it’s clear that Traveller’s Tales haven’t lost any of what they’ve learned about pantomime.  If they don’t need to have the characters talking, they don’t have them talk.  Most importantly, this carries over to gameplay.  The characters don’t suddenly have 3 stock phrases they keep shouting out, they’re entirely silent, letting you focus on beating up bad guys and the environment.
            I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the core gameplay of the game, since it is very similar to…every other Lego game.  You run through the levels, solve simple puzzles, and collect lots of studs.  It’s a case of not fixing what’s not broken.  The major feature of the gameplay here over the other games is the suit system.  Batman and Robin have four suits each that they can use in the levels.  In story mode, it works well for the puzzles.  One great instance has Batman running above in one suit while Robin is below in his suit, each of them doing things that let the other proceed.  In freeplay mode…it’s a hassle.  Just because it’s so much fun to choose a character like Superman where he shouldn’t be and fly over the entire level, skipping all the puzzles, and then find out that you need to have gotten Batman in his suit at the start.  Suits don’t save if you change characters, so you have to play things the way the game wants.  Part of the fun of freeplay has always been getting to play by your rules for a while, and this just takes it away.
            Let me talk about playing as Superman here.  Because it’s awesome.  Developers have struggled with Superman, mainly because he’s so powerful.  After all, the game would be too easy if you were invincible and didn’t even flinch when bad guys punch you.  So what did Traveller’s Tales do?  Make you invincible and you don’t even flinch when bad guys punch you.  It’s a Lego game, so it’s not like it really changes the difficulty that much.  And that means you get that feeling of power.  Superman even gets all his main abilities.  He has heat vision, freeze breath, flying, X-ray vision, super-strength, and even super-speed when he’s building things.  And it’s just cool the first time you’re in Gotham City, you take off to start flying, and John Williams’ Superman theme starts playing.
            You’re going to spend a lot of time in Gotham City.  The other main change of the game is that, instead of having a standard little hub level where you access the levels, Gotham City is a full open world with villains to fight, characters and vehicles to find and unlock, and a ton of gold bricks to get.  Seriously, you can’t walk 5 feet without stumbling over a building to climb with a shiny gold brick at the top.  And the open world turns into a playground with the more things you unlock.  With 70 characters featuring the Justice League and plenty of Batman villains (along with a handful of other characters’ villains), it’s just fun to explore and do stuff.  I personally enjoy playing as The Flash, getting the Batmobile, and then firing the guns nonstop as I run down civilians.  There’s always been a catharsis to the destruction you enact in the Lego games, and combining that with a punishment-free open world is just fantastic.  If I suddenly decide I want to turn into Hush and ride a gorilla over people visiting the Gotham Zoo, the game just says “Go for it!”
           Unfortunately, the open world is also the source of most of the game’s problems.  For one, the map is terrible.  It shows all the gold bricks, red bricks, anything you’d want to find in the world.  But it does this by having you press a button and showing them on the map for a second until they fade.  There’s a lot of constantly going back to the map, and there’s no dedicated map button.  You also can’t zoom in on it at all.  It’s at a fixed view the entire time.  Flying is also frustrating.  If you just want to get somewhere, it’s fine.  If you’re actually trying to land on top of a specific building, there’s a lot of trying to get it just right, since the only way you can move forward in mid-air is by pressing A.  In the actual levels, you fly up and down with A and move around with the control stick, which works fine.  There’s just a lack of precision in Gotham.  And this combines with a camera that’s amateur work.  Rather than the normal fixed camera, there’s a more standard third-person camera.  But you can’t invert the look directions, and it likes to give you terrible angles.  Too often did I end up with a great view of Superman’s cape and nothing else.
            Despite the open world’s problems, this is easily one of the best Lego games yet.  The idea of the open world works fine, the character selection is great, and there’s just a lot of stuff to do.  Getting 100% will take some time, and even once that’s done, it will always be nice to have the option to come back and just explore.

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