When it comes to sequels, Batman seems to have a knack for outdoing himself. It happened with the 2008 film, The Dark Knight, as well as with last year’s smash hit videogame, Batman Arkham City, and believe it or not he’s done it again with Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes. Not only is it better than the original but it is also perhaps the best licensed Lego videogame to-date. Top notch production values and rich open world gameplay makes this a thoroughly enjoyable experience for the masses.
The story begins with Lex Luthor taking a break from his Presidential campaign to attend a Man of the Year ceremony in Gotham City. His primary competition for the award is of course none other than Bruce Wayne, who just so happens to emerge victorious. However, the award ceremony comes to a halt when Joker and other notable villains of Gotham’s underworld crash the party. Batman and Robin jump into action to round up their foes before they cause too much damage and succeed in returning them to Arkham Asylum. However, things take a turn for the worse when a vengeful Lex Luthor decides to spring Joker out of jail to help him with a diabolical plot to take down Batman and Superman while ensuring his Presidential victory.
The story mode is essentially divided into three parts. The first section sees the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin trying to round up the usual cadre of Batman villains. Superman joins the festivities about halfway through as he and Batman continue the fight for justice. It's not until the penultimate level that other Justice League members show up to help. The introduction of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and The Flash during the game’s most exciting moments is an excellent way to cap off what was already a strong campaign.
Gameplay is the standard Lego mix of platforming, button-mashing combat, and puzzle solving. Batman and Robin share the same basic moves that allow them to throw Batarangs and latch onto ledges. The two characters differentiate from one another by putting on their own specialty suits, such as Batman’s Power Suit or Robin’s Acrobat attire. Taking advantage of their special abilities forms a significant portion of the gameplay. For example, Robin may need to use his Hazard Suit to clean up toxic chemicals to make the levels traversable for allies, or Batman may need to use his Electricity Suit to absorb and redistribute high voltages of energy to open doors and activate machinery. There are also a number of on-rail vehicle sections throughout the campaign that are not as exciting to play as the accompanying onscreen action might suggest; racing through the streets of Gotham while firing shots at a giant mechanized Joker feels pretty epic until you realize that all you're doing is aiming a reticule and holding down the fire button.
Superman adds even greater variety to the gameplay. He is, of course, impervious to damage, which doesn’t really matter much considering the penalty for death is always minimal in Lego games. Superman can also shoot lasers from his eyes, which can be utilised for combat or to destroy special gold bricks. He can also freeze things with his breath, which has the effect of changing flowing water into scalable ice. Lastly, he also possesses super strength and ability to fly, the controls for which feel really natural. Despite his superior super powers, the level design is balanced to take advantage of Superman only when appropriate so that the other characters feel just as vital.
The biggest change that separates Lego Batman 2 from previous Lego games is the addition of full voice acting. Each previous Lego game has featured silent characters and relied mostly on pantomime and physical comedy to convey the narrative. That worked well for those games but the added dialogue absolutely trumps it once you get over the initial shock of hearing the plastic toys communicate verbally. There is still plenty in the way of physical comedy, but most of the humor is found in the snappy dialogue. All of the voice actors embody their roles quite well, with the voices of Batman and Lex Luthor topping the bill.
The story resembles a rather enjoyable crossover special of the Batman animated series. Batman stays true to his serious and self-reliant persona and through this adventure must learn to accept the help of his super friends. Batman and Superman have great odd couple moments together that parallel the strange relationship between The Joker and Lex Luthor. The game is replete with great sequences sure to please fans of the universe. Each level is preceded by a news report that amusingly conveys the escalating sense of panic taking hold of Gotham and sneaks in a few clever references attentive fans should appreciate.
Lego Batman 2 also looks exceptional, save for a few issues with pop-in. The character models are standard Lego fare but the world they inhabit is a marvelous recreation of Gotham City. The camera pans and swings dramatically through the streets of Gotham which frequently seems beleaguered by rainy nights. Landmarks like the Batcave and Arkham Asylum are rendered in amazing detail. Lego Batman 2 also marks the first time you are allowed to explore an open world in one of these licensed games. You can cruise through the streets of Gotham in the Batmobile, Robin’s motorcycle, or any one of Batman’s other vehicles to fight crime or collect items and characters.
This open world is central to the game’s appeal. As enjoyable as the story mode is, the 15 levels took me only eight hours to complete. The majority of my time was spent replaying levels and scouring the streets of Gotham to find the 250 Gold Bricks found in the game. The open world elements aren’t perfect; the map can be finicky and imprecise in showing you where to go, even though red bricks are supposed to alert you to the position of boss fights and hidden characters. Gotham is also a bit on the small side for an open world, though it is a huge improvement over the limited hub areas featured in previous games. It can also be annoying to try for a gold brick using a character such as Wonder Woman and then find out it's only accessible using one of Batman’s special suits.
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is another strong videogame outing for the caped crusader. Traveler’s Tales fall back on many of the standard Lego videogame tropes, but they use them to great effect in a game that is as cute as it is approachable.
This review is based on a review copy of Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes for the PlayStation 3, provided by the publisher.