I am in two minds about Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. It is a phenomenally dense and ridiculous playground of Traveller's Tales at their finest. And it's a buggy, opaque and disjointed mess of haphazard controls and direction. And I've no idea which one is right. It's me. Or it's me.
Where to go after TT's last Lego triumph, Marvel Super Heroes? They built an entire Manhattan for that one, packed it with enough minigames and sidequests to beat any Ubisoft game, and that was just the sideshow to an extensive and convoluted plot weaving in dozens and dozens of Marvel characters. People who started it in 2013 are probably still playing it.
And indeed they're probably still being frustrated by the litany of bugs and stupid crappy mistakes that litter all of these Lego creations, bugs that aren't fixed from one game to the next, and that ensure every one of TT's games is spoilt by a terrible camera, contradictory controls, and poor flagging of what should be done next all over the levels.
Where next? Bigger, more ridiculous - that's exactly what anyone would want from them. So, once you've played through quite a lengthy - far too lengthy, bewilderingly so, leaving you confused as to whether you're playing an open world game at all - opening few hours, you're finally given the free run of, well, everywhere.
Alongside Manhattan present day, there's a whole other Manhattan Noir, with sepia-tones and old-timey heroes, as well as a futuristic Nueva York, let alone the Hydra Empire. And the Old West. And Wakanda. And a Medieval England, next door. And I mustn't forget Egypt, Hala, Xandar, Sakaar... None is as big as the previous game's city alone - they haven't gone that mad - but due to the evil machinations of one Kang, key Marvel cities from across time (oh, Asgard!) and space have been collected together in another dimension, along with all the heroes and villains who reside there. And it's called Chronopolis. It's an absolutely brilliant way to portray the far broader world(s) of Marvel.
It's also exactly the same plot as Saints Row IV. Unashamedly so! They even have Kang's omnipotent voice echoing throughout the cities, a deep sonorous tone uncannily like that of Zinyak's, SRIV's alien protagonist who recreates an entire city and its population elsewhere. Come on.
Things begin with the Guardians Of The Galaxy, I was expecting the familiar re-treading of a movie moment with Lego silliness. Instead, I got a whole new Guardians mini-story, with laughs throughout. Gosh. Then, jumping back to Earth, the setting in a happily united Avengers mansion made me realise this wasn't going to let the ongoing events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) trouble it beyond providing character inspiration. So Thor's had his haircut (in fact, the game has some quite huge Ragnarok spoilers, so beware), and Groot is a sapling, for instance, but the Avengers are still one big happy family - and one big happy family.
The Wasp is immediately a played character, despite her introductory movie - Ant Man 2 - not having been released yet. As indeed is Captain Marvel. She Hulk is there. Some of Giant Man makes a cameo... This is the complete world of characters introduced in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 1 and many more, now operating with far more narrative joining them together. ("Oh John, you big silly," I hear you utter, all the time, awake or asleep, please just stop, "Did a coconut fall out of a tree and hit you on the head? The comics, John. They're from the comics." Yes, of course, but also no. But also yes. This game really does take its inspirations from the MCU, character design/attitude-wise, whenever it's possible. But at the same time, there's a sense of assurance that you read the books too, that you already know who She Hulk is, and that she works as a big green lawyer in her day job. Or that Capt. Marvel and Ms. Marvel are two different people now. (It had completely passed me by that a new Ms Marvel stepped into the name-shoes in 2013.))
Indeed, it makes almost no effort to introduce anyone! There are some desultory cards on the pause menu that gives each a paragraph of dull text and a first comic appearance date, but beyond this no one is introduced nor explained. For those without an extensive Marvel history, they'll often be left bemused. Which likely includes the children to whom the game is primarily aimed.
So it's great that Gwenpool is not only in there, but as a fairly key character in one of the Avengers Mansion rooms, but it's just the worst that a character only invented in 2015 doesn't get a cursory introduction.
Hold down B when playing as Star-Lord for no reason, and he'll put on his Walkman and listen to something from the Guardians soundtrack. Mr Blue Sky perhaps. It serves no function, but it's emblematic of the level of detail on offer here, betwixt the grand scale city exploration and side-quests, and extensive missions with a fixed roster of characters.
But you really can't help wish a little of the time that went into cramming the game with so many microscopic treats could perhaps have gone into fixing ANY of the issues that have plagued this series for over a decade. Cack-handed, almost unusable vehicle controls. Awful clipping problems. Multiple actions assigned to the same button, the game ignoring its own on-screen prompts to trigger the wrong one. And with that, no internal consistency for how different characters control. A fixed camera in missions making jumps and balancing often a real chore. And cruddy, frustrating combat. All of these complaints could be levelled at any of the Lego franchise, and this one just as much as any before. Which just isn't good enough.
It is, however, an awful lot better than the increasingly lacklustre entries we've seen in recent times since the release of the last Marvel Super Heroes, in fact. Mediocre releases like Lego City Undercover, Lego The Hobbit, Lego Batman 3, and Lego Marvel's Avengers, as well as the truly bloody awful Lego Worlds and The Lego Movie Videogame, have seen the series in the doldrums, with the exception of The Force Awakens, for a good four years. This definitely marks TT's reemergence, back to the best we've seen from the franchise.
But the best we've seen, over four years ago, just doesn't seem good enough. Where's the evolution? The big step forward? That non-italicised idiot is only celebrating this game because it's not as bad as it's been for a while. It's funny in places, definitely, and there's unquestionably vast amounts to do, of which neither of our conflicting voices has gotten deep into, but it's just more of the same. At a certain point, over a decade since the Lego Star Wars games blew us away, shouldn't we be expecting a lot more?
But it's still super-fun! The emphasis has shifted away from the Fantastic 4, and I've yet to spot any X-Men except in cheeky disguises (I saw you, Magneto), so I wonder if the film rights to characters not even Disney can secure, despite owning Marvel, has had an impact here. But this makes perfect sense, since the MCU has developed quite so much since 2013, and perhaps more importantly, occasionally been rather good (Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy 1 and 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming) rather than just okay (all the rest). The Avenger focus here, albeit one that draws from the far larger pool of the comics, makes a lot of sense. And with The Wasp, Black Panther and Captain Marvel playing key roles, it quite neatly makes us more familiar with characters from the films to come.
But previously there seemed to have been some degree of effort to get decent-sounding voice-a-likes for the Lego games - to the point where you'd even check the credits to be certain some Hollywood A-lister hadn't contributed. (They hadn't.) But not so now. The voice work is all fine, but it's really like they haven't even tried an impression for characters like Iron Man and Star-Lord, and so on. Thor is passable, but beyond that, it's all a bit 'store brand version'. It also seems a that a lot of opportunities for gags were missed here, like giving Dr Strange an outrageously poor American accent, for instance.
Oh, and the bugs. It's crashed to desktop a few times for me, losing progress. And the clipping has proved really irritating with vehicles. Worse, I've had characters become incapable of moving mid-level, following me around on their own, but when I take control being frozen to the spot. Bugs are nothing new for TT games, of course, but this is concerning still.
Although, the bugginess offered an extraordinarily meta moment. I tried to start a mission by jumping Spidey through a rip in reality, at which point the game promptly closed to desktop. It felt like I'd succeeded.
I've not gotten a long way into the game, despite plugging away at it for a couple of days. There is a vast amount here, and a lot of it is very fun. And often very funny. But I'm concerned about the bugginess, and I'm really disappointed by the lack of progress for the franchise. Yet despite this, if you want a new Lego game to sit down and play with your kids, or indeed by yourself, then this is the one you've been waiting for since 2013. I'll grudgingly concede to this, especially after wasting my money on the actually unplayable Lego Worlds on Switch, about which I'm still furious.
I really am in two minds. I want to keep playing, but I want to give up because of the flaws and familiarity. I want to recommend it, and I want to warn people off it. Still, we can both agree that it's excellent that MODOK's in it.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is out now on Windows for £25/$40/30€ via Steam.