Wot I Think: Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

By John Walker on June 27th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

This is a double act the movies are crying out for.

And still they come. With Lego Lord Of The Rings coming shortly, and Lego Harry Potter 2 only just gone, the incessant supply of block-breaking cuteness has just delivered us Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. It should more properly have been called Lego Batman & Superman, really. Is that a good thing? Shine a giant J into the sky and I’ll tell you Wot I Think. (And this time avoid telling you about how he fancies Lego Harley Quinn.)

It probably shouldn’t come as any surprise that Traveller’s Tales’ thirteenth Lego-based game is absolutely brilliant. What should come as a surprise is that they’ve actually, finally, responded to some of the criticisms the last twelve have received and made some changes. Not too many changes mind – they’ve not gone mad.

One thing that’s not changed is not making a sensible attempt to keep things clear. This has to be the most opaque game they’ve ever made, two completely different game styles entwined, with a mad muddle of menus, options and things to do. As the series have gone one, the hubs between the levels have grown increasingly complex, with the Harry Potter games ingeniously blending the hub and the levels together in a seamless fashion. I think something similar was aimed for in Lego Batman 2, but it’s a blurry old thing. Both halves are fantastic – it’s just figuring out how they’re meant to fit together, and why they openly contradict each other, that’s a bit odd. But it’s about the only weakness in yet another sublime, family-orientated action adventure.

The story levels are much as you’d expect if you’re familiar with the series. If you’re not, you play either one or two player, smashing levels into their constituent Lego parts, collecting… everything, punching occasional enemies, and solving simple puzzles to progress. And as ever, you can switch back and forth between both present characters if you’re soloing. And of course, you can return to any level in Free Play mode once it’s complete, letting you switch in even more characters with other special abilities, and collect all the stuff you missed. All present and correct, and while some levels go on slightly too long, they’re as smash-happy and kleptomania-inducing as ever before.

Betwixt these is the entirety of Gotham City, vast acres of the place accessible to explore from pretty early on, which ends up feeling like a lite version of a Lego Grand Theft Auto. With multiple special vehicles, along with any you jump into on the street, you can hurtle around the streets at a ludicrous pace, mowing down pedestrians, and shooting at everything in sight. It’s so enormously counter-intuitive to do as Batman, Robin, Superman, or any of the heroes on offer that it just becomes brilliant, like a hero losing his mind, snapping, and taking revenge on all he fights to save. Except, well, it doesn’t actually have any impact on the game, beyond making it an awful lot more fun to get from one mission location to the next.

The city is worth exploring too. It’s ludicrously jam-packed with bonuses to find, secret areas to discover, and enormous skyscrapers to scale using characters’ unique abilities. You can lose hours just to this, what really is just incidental to the game itself, and yet absolutely superbly crafted and implemented. There’s an entire funfair to explore, with gold bricks as prizes for completing the many mini-games found inside. There are citizens in trouble, trapped in various situations for you to trace down and rescue. There are enemy vehicles to buy for collected tokens, then drive around using for mayhem. There’s a zoo to break into, then ride the lions into the streets and maul citizens. No, really. And there’s a ton more I’ve not found yet, because like all their games, it’s bloody enormous.

The story, the real core of the game, begins predictably enough. An outbreak at Arkham Asylum releases all of Batman’s familiar enemies, scattering them about the city and letting them cause their mayhem. However, their freedom came via a name not usually associated with Gotham – Lex Luthor. The baldy baddy is running for President, and wants the Joker’s evil gas to help him convince citizens to vote for him. In return, the Joker wants access to Luthor’s krypton-powered weapon that’s capable of disintegrating black Lego objects, which of course is most of Batbloke’s aresnal.

And as I mentioned above, this means Superman shows up. And this is the source of the game’s best moments. Batman can’t stand Superman, while Robin is in awe of him, offering some fantastic cutscenes. And in fairness to Batman, Superman really is a bit of a dick. All of this being revealed in perhaps the strangest change – the Lego characters talk English. It threw me at first. They’re meant to “Mmmmff mmfff MMMMMFF”! Not chat! But while I think it means there’s slightly less physical comedy in the cutscenes as a result, it pays off with some really lovely jokes. Especially the regular news bulletins, that take friendly digs at DC, the comics, and even Arkham City.

Adding Superman as a regularly played character obviously introduces a couple of issues. Firstly, he’s invincible. Secondly, he’s Superman, so surely can do anything? While the first holds, the second does not, and they’ve struck a great balance. You’re basically invincible in the Lego games anyway, just suffering a token penalty (pun so very intended) and instantly respawned exactly where you died. So Supes being invulnerable doesn’t change much. Also, he’s as limited as most characters in the Lego games, capable of breaking golden objects, but not silver, blue, etc. Batman and Robin still have the suits from the previous game, made accessible at key points in levels, giving them special abilities for solving specific puzzles (and not giving them to ensure there’s a reason to go back in Free Play). Oh, and of course Superman can fly.

They’ve handled that one rather smartly too. He can fly, and therefore yes, he can often traverse obstacles or ignore challenges by going straight past them. But he’s always paired up with someone who can’t. So sure, you can fly him over to the other side, but you still have to figure out how to get Batman there too. Oftentimes, it’s embracing Supes’ ability to do this that helps solve the puzzles. And pleasingly the flying is absolutely brilliantly implemented, incredibly fun to do. In the missions.

Outside of the missions, flying Superman is a horrendous, tedious mess. Which is just damned weird. Rather than free-flying, he has to be directed by an unwieldy and utterly broken system of following a reticule that he either ignores or ignores. Aiming for a particular spot, to collect something only he can reach, is miserable. He suddenly swoops in the opposite direction, the camera spinning around madly, and JUST WHAT ON EARTH ARE THEY DOING? They have it working!

Talking of which, finally – finally – they’ve added a reverse for vehicles. Previously everything drove like a broken bumper car, flailing around with their odd, odd choice of just one control – a stick for directions and nothing else. And now! Now cars, between levels, are controlled properly! Using a 360 pad as is my wont, right trigger for accelerate, left for brake/reverse. And it’s great. You can charge about, handbrake turn, and properly enjoy yourself… So why, Traveller’s Tales, WHY is it still broken in missions?! Incredibly confusingly, there you still move forward with the directions stick, but reverse with one of the face buttons. Buh? Having two contradictory control mechanisms for the same vehicles/characters in the same game is pretty damned special.

There’s yet another contradictory improvement/failing. One of the most frequent complaints about the series has been the inability to control the camera to provide a sensible vantage point for aiming jumps. While a few games ago a rather perfunctory option to slightly nudge the camera was added, it remains a frustration here. Er, unless you’re in the hub city, where you have full control and it’s brilliant.

It’s like two separate teams worked on either part, and weren’t allowed to talk to each other until they were stitched together. This would also explain why it’s so damned confusing trying to figure out the gaps between missions, and the menus that sometimes let you cross them.

I’ve no idea how far through I am. I’ve been playing for two days, and from the enemies I’ve yet to fight, and the heroes I’ve yet to meet, there must be so much more here. It is perhaps the most generous gaming series, and Lego Batman 2 embraces this fully.

It’s almost a shame that it carries the sequel moniker, because while Lego Batman was a decent game, it wasn’t one of the series’ best. This is. This is a massively bigger and more elaborate game, that’s as much about Superman and Luther as it is Batman and the Joker. I have no doubt that the reason this isn’t Lego DC Heroes is because Lego Batman is the best selling of any of the games, even beating the Lego Star Wars titles.

No, it doesn’t dramatically change how the missions themselves work. Things are mixed up with boss fights and flying sections, but not unlike we’ve seen before. And the levels themselves are mostly repeating the main gimmicks of the series, and those specifically of the previous Batman game. Except with Superman. But they do this so well, and they do this so engagingly, that it never seems to grow tiring. From the animations to the absolutely stunning score, the detail is – as ever from this team – mindblowing.

Oh, the PC port is as lazy as ever. No options for windowed mode, no options for anti-aliasing, meaning it looks unnecessarily jaggedy (I’m a wrong idiot, and missed the separate menu option for this), and all the usual nonsense of save slots and agonisingly long saves every time you collect a golden brick. But it plays fine despite all this. The stupid, stupid contradictions between the two game modes remain both a complete mystery, and a pain in the arse, but they’re the one downside to yet another adorable, compelling, often funny adventure.

Lego Batman 2 is out now, and there’s a demo here.

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45 Comments »

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  1. wccrawford says:

    The horrible flying controls in the city, and the sometimes-horrible vehicle controls are definitely the worst points.

    I enjoyed the game, but not as much as I expected to. I think HP 5-7 is still the best one so far. I’m looking forward to LoTR and the WiiU ones to see how they stack up.

  2. arioch says:

    Nice review thanks…

    Does it have online co-op?

    • Sidion says:

      Sadly no. Only local coop. Still definitely an awesome game.

      I’d say if you’re even slightly interested to grab it. You wont be disappointed.

  3. unangbangkay says:

    I don’t know what build you played, but my Steam version has options for anti-aliasing, though limited to a simple toggle. Not that it’s worth the HUGE performance hit (I lost something like 15 fps just turning it on). And playing it at anything above standard console resolutions pretty much eliminates the jaggies.

    • Ragnar says:

      If you’re on an Nvidia card, couldn’t you just enable FXAA in the latest drivers and have it do the AA for you with a negligible performance hit?

  4. Ravelle says:

    The game has Edge FSAA to smooth your edges if you’re bothered by it. And long saves when collecting a golden brick? Didn’t have that problem at all.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Al__S says:

    There was definitely a “Reverse” control for vehicles in Lego Indy 2, pretty sure it was there in 1 as well, and I’m pretty sure it was there in Batman 1 as well. And in Harry 2. And Lego 3, possibly 2.

    I think it may have been porrly labelled, but it existed.

  6. GreatGreyBeast says:

    Wait… “absolutely stunning score”? All the previous games simply take music from the associated movie. Where does this get its music from? Or does it actually have original music?

    • Schadenfreude says:

      It’s pretty much Danny Elfman’s score from the Burton Batman movies, but when you take to the sky as Superman the John William’s theme kicks in.

      Which is glorious.

      • GallonOfAlan says:

        Yeah – hammering along over the sea towards the sunset as Superman, low enough to leave a trail of spray, with that score going is great.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Serious question (and at the risk of wandering outside of RPS’s remit): Given that this PC port is a bit rubbish, would this be one best enjoyed on the console boxes?

    • John Walker says:

      I would say get it on 360 if it’s as cheap as PC (£20).

    • Fiddler says:

      Heretic.

    • Ragnar says:

      The PC port is certainly a bit rubbish, but that still means it plays as well as, if not better, than the console version. The resolution is higher, and you can force AA through the drivers, and the console isn’t going to save any faster.

      That said, if your PC is in the office and consoles are in the living room, it comes to a matter of preference for how you’d prefer to play. For me, split-screen co-op is better on the couch. If you’ve got an HTPC, then you’re better off using that.

  8. marlowespade says:

    You forgot to mention the terrible, terrible split-screen wonkiness when playing co-op. That spinning, hellish dervish of a divider makes the game unplayable in sections.

    • mechabuddha says:

      That terrible, split screen wonkiness is actually a huge improvement over the old system, where both players had to be on the same screen. I think it would have worked a bit better if it remained directional as in the Harry Potter games, rather than having player 1 ending up on the upper half regardless of location in the level.

    • Gnoupi says:

      It’s a bit annoying at times, but not as much as the city parts in coop. Driving in a city you don’t know with your screen cut in half vertically is rather frustrating.

      Compared to this, I really prefer the dynamic split screen from the missions.

    • GallonOfAlan says:

      Yeah – go back and play anything before the first LEGO Batman – two players fighting the camera was *way* more annoying. I think the splitscreen is a bit over-sensitive in this though – it kicks in during missions when a bit of judicious pulling back would have worked better.

  9. afarrell says:

    I’ve no idea how far through I am

    Huh, this actually sounds like one of the biggest changes – previously there was a completion percentage when you load a game at the start, and at the save after every level.

    • wccrawford says:

      The percentage is still there. But there’s no way to know how far through the story you are, until it’s over. I actually found myself looking it up in forums, just so I’d have some idea.

    • John Walker says:

      Certainly, but if you’ve ever finished the story of a Lego game, you’ll know it will only report around 40%. Not a useful measure.

      • afarrell says:

        Ah right, but the (a) point of Lego games is surely that you’re not done when you finish the story!

  10. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    BATLEGO

  11. Demiath says:

    The PC port may be lazy in ways that I admittedly often have difficulty discerning. Thankfully, though, the game looks unexpectedly amazing in NVIDIA 3D Vision, which really highlights the contradictory smoothness in those supposedly crude Lego characters (especially during close-ups and cutscenes) as well as make various environmental effects such as lighting, shadows on surfaces etc. stand out all a lot more.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Hypocee says:

    They’ve handled that one rather smartly too. He can fly, and therefore yes, he can often traverse obstacles or ignore challenges by going straight past them. But he’s always paired up with someone who can’t. So sure, you can fly him over to the other side, but you still have to figure out how to get Batman there too.

    If only Superman had hands, he could grab for example a Bat-belt. :P

    http://cowshell.com/buffalog/2011/09/02/a-little-6-panel-batgirlsupergirl-comic/

  13. Calabi says:

    Its annoying in places. There’s levels where you cant see what you are doing, I managed to get Robin stuck with no way out. I wished they’d come up with something better with the puzzles, there not really puzzles just busy work(how convaluted can we make this for the player).

    But it is good though.

  14. wodin says:

    First LEGO game I’ve played, great fun, good voice acting…love the way Batman isn’t keen on Supermans goody image. I remember reading a Batman comic where Superman was hire to kill the Bat vigilante, he battered him bad enough that he couldn’t be the bat again and went into retirement but never killed him, though he made out he had.

    I also like the nods to Arkham Asylum and City. Infact I’m enjoying this more than those games…terrible aren’t I. I do prefer gritty dark knight batman in the comics and films but I like this lego batman aswell. I like Asylum but found City to be a bombardment of quests all at the same time yet it didn’t have that big a story, felt like they threw everything at you in the first hour or so in City.

    So I say LEGO BATMAN 2 is the best Batman game. Fact. Though the controls are a pain in the backside.

  15. HorzaEdeo says:

    Of course, now I want Lego Grand Theft Auto.

    • aerozol says:

      Holy mother of god. Want.

    • RogB says:

      ive got some good news, and some bad news…

    • GallonOfAlan says:

      Never happen. A large part of the audience for these is kids playing co-op with parents. In fact, I’m sort of surprised at LEGO LOTR.

    • RogB says:

      (ahem) click.. the link.

      • GallonOfAlan says:

        I did click the link – I don’t think there’ll be too much running over prostitutes, eastern European drugs gangs and the like in that.

  16. Sidion says:

    You know what confuses me?

    How has it taken THIS long for Comic book super-heroes to get an open world game? And why does it have to be lego? Am I the only person who see’s this game has a blast yet goes, “Wow this would totally work just as well without it being lego based.”

    • Premium User Badge

      Matchstick says:

      I’m guessing we’re not counting the Spiderman 2 & 3 games or last years Arkham City then ?

      But being more serious for a moment, when you start putting the most powerful characters (Superman, Hulk, Green Lantern etc) into a game that at least looks like it’s taking itself seriously you have an immense problem because unless you artifically depower or otherwise hobble the characters you end up with the player breaking immersion by wondering why they can’t just fly over this wall or smash down this door.

      Gameplay, even in an open world game, seems to me to require structure and when you are playing a character who could, quite literally move the planet into a new orbit if he felt like it, all bets are off.

      So that’s why in serious games you’ll tend to see characters who only have limited powers or rely on gadgets, both of which have definable limits that the gameplay can be built around.

      But in a game that doesn’t take itself seriously like Lego Batman 2 (I laughed my socks of at the Arkham City dig in the newscast) it’s nowhere near as jarring to limit what characters can do as it’s not “real” (or as real as something based on comic books characters can get) so you can include any character with any kind of artificial restrictions without shaking the players immersion.

      TL;DR: Powerful superheroes don’t work in serious games.

      • Hilden2000 says:

        You forgot Hulk Ultimate Destruction, which was for all intents and purposes an open world game, and was the skeleton that Prototype from the same studio built itself off of. And it was GLORIOUS.

        • Premium User Badge

          Matchstick says:

          I’m afraid I never played that one and in fact I really don’t know anything about it (- I’m guessing there wasn’t a PC version ?)

          How did they manage the Hulks powers in it ? – He should be able to smash pretty much anything out of his way and leap over anything that can’t be smashed.

          • Hilden2000 says:

            Check and check, Hulk could barrel through almost any obstacle in his way or leap (and I mean LEAP) or wall run over it, and regularly engaged in fights ranging from ground troops with tanks to helicopters to massive two legged mecha, not to mention classic Hulk villains such as the Abomination.

            You could even tear cars apart to form makeshift boxing gloves to hit even harder as well as surf on vehicles through the streets, and unlike games of today it was overflowing with extras and unlockables such as the Mr Fixit/Grey Hulk who wore his signature powder blue suit AND had his own recorded dialogue.

          • PopeJamal says:

            According to Wikipedia: PS2, Xbox, and Game Cube only.
            :(

    • belgand says:

      Eh, inFamous felt, to me, like it would possibly have been even better if they’d instead made it as a Spider-Man game. Even most of his powers made a lot more sense that way rather than as somehow electricity-based.

  17. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    @Hilden2000 – for some reason the comment system doesn’t want to let me reply to you directly…

    If they did manage to allow you the freedom to use your powers like that without breaking the actual gameplay I’m extremely impressed and I’ll have to see if I can find a copy.

    Thanks for the info :)

  18. GallonOfAlan says:

    I don’t know about the PC version but the pad triggers work the same way in missions as they do in the city hub, for forward and reverse in vehicles.

    As someone who has played all the LEGO games to death with the kids, we did find this one a bit easier than previous outings – for example the 6x multiplier brick is only 300,000 studs. You can get that many by spending 10 minutes building and smashing the Green Lantern items around the wider city streets. Once you have the 6x you’re away – it’s just locating the red bricks via the map scan function and buying them.

    The missions proper are way longer but we burned through them in story mode in about two sessions.

    The compass is not great, the map needs to be zoomable and it’s quite hard to find things on it sometimes.

    Also – I notice that Gotham appears briefly and is visible but not accessible on the horizon. The main menu also has a store option. Could this be the first one with DLC ?

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