LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes from Traveller’s Tales and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment brings open world gameplay and a fully voice-acted story to the long-running LEGO series for the first time, giving it a much needed injection of freshness.
You can unlock and play as more than 40 DC Comics characters and there are hundreds of collectables to uncover, however the basic formula and engine are starting to show their age, which causes the game to become a bit of a slog and creates some needlessly frustrating gameplay moments.
The plot of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes revolves around The Joker helping Lex Luthor to rig the presidential election after he is bested by Bruce Wayne at the annual “Man of the Year” awards.
The story is told across 15 levels, which stay true to the formula laid out by the original LEGO Star Wars back in 2005. You assume control of Batman, Robin, Superman, along with a few of their allies and traverse levels peppered with light puzzle solving and boss fights using various suits and superpowers, all while destroying tons of objects that yield Studs, the LEGO series’ basic currency.
The gameplay is rarely any sort of challenge and usually comes down to a “smash everything then move on” formula. There are also a few rail shooting segments and levels thrown in to break things up a bit. The story will take you anywhere from six to ten hours to finish, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the overall completion percentage.
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes literally has over 500 collectables to obtain, including defeatable boss characters like Catwoman and purchasable characters found at gates throughout the city. There are 50 playable characters in all, with 10 more available through DLC and a further 10 slots for custom-made characters. Unfortunately, many of these are generic goons or relatively useless characters like Commissioner Gordon and Vicki Vale.
250 Gold Bricks are the game’s main collectible and obtained through means such as amassing a certain amounts of studs in a level, rescuing citizens in peril, completing vehicle-based challenges or finding each level’s set of ten Mini Kits.
Collecting all 150 Mini Kits will require you to play through each story level at least twice and sometimes the use of a half dozen different characters. Thankfully when revisiting a level in Free Play mode, you can swap to any unlocked character on the fly, though any suit currently equipped by Batman or Robin will be removed.
There are also Gold Bricks scattered throughout Gotham City, and while some are fun to seek out thanks to elaborate platforming puzzles that often require the use of multiple suits or powers, most can be had through simple and repetitive acts like smashing a set number of objects in the environment.
Another thing that took away from the Gold Brick collection process was the ability to circumvent many of the Batman or Robin-specific courses by simply flying to the brick as Superman and swapping to another character to complete the “puzzle”. There are only a few Batman or Robin-specific actions in the game that aren’t replicated in the abilities of other characters.
By the time I reached about 70% completion, I felt as though I was just going through the motions and tedium really set in. This was alleviated somewhat by unlocking red bricks through a series of simplistic mini games. Red Bricks act as cheats and allow you to do things like become invincible, multiply the amount of Studs you pick up and even locate collectables with ease.
The open world LEGO rendition of Gotham City was a big draw for me, but this ambitious addition that you can explore between levels and after the story is completed does have some drawbacks related to an aging game engine and some poor, often sloppy design decisions.
First and foremost is a problem that’s always appeared in the LEGO series. The camera is often at an awkward angle behind your character, making missed jumps and falling off ledges all to easy. This is exacerbated by set pieces you can fall through and the limitation of merely being able to nudge the camera in most situations, instead of being given full control.
Completing a five to ten minute obstacle course in pursuit of a Gold Brick, only to fall off of a skyscraper because a key wall was haphazardly placed or the camera went jerky was an extremely frustrating experience.
The open world section also suffers from pop-in, frame rate drops, tearing and generally looks muddy and lo-fi compared to the more polished story levels. The streets of Gotham City are filled with erratic-behaving NPCs and for some reason the developers chose to have it raining constantly. I can’t help but feel that the game would run better if these last two elements were toned down.
Both in the open world and in the compartmentalized story levels, I also experienced characters—particularly those that can fly—getting stuck in level geometry or an animation quite often, had the game freeze my Xbox 360 a few times and experienced one of the oddest glitches I’ve ever seen.
When the download of completely unrelated Xbox LIVE Arcade games completed during gameplay, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes would pause itself and tell me that new content for the game was available. It’s bizarre that these types of issues can make it through the QA process of a well-established developer like Traveller’s Tales and they really mar an otherwise winning presentation.
I was afraid that adding voice acting would take away from the light hearted and charming presentation the LEGO games are known for, but in fact the opposite is true. The game’s script is witty and well-written, with generally great delivery from both main and ancillary characters. Character interaction, particularly that between Batman, Robin and Superman and scenes that feature The Joker and Lex Luthor are enjoyable highlights.
The rest of the sound design also fares well, with the familiar LEGO game sound effects being backed by a fantastic score that includes pieces from the Batman and Superman film franchises composed by Danny Elfman and John Williams respectively.
The control scheme for LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is relatively simple and should be accessible to most players capable of using an Xbox 360 (or PlayStation 3) controller. Two face buttons, either tapped or held to toggle are primarily used to do everything from a basic attack, to launching grappling hooks and free selecting characters. One button is dedicated to jump and another is mostly used for building LEGO objects. Use of the triggers and right analog stick are essentially optional is most situations during the story.
You can also traverse Gotham City in myriad of water, air and land-based vehicles. The Water and land vehicles utilize standard gas and brake controls with either triggers or face buttons. Controlling flying vehicles and super heroes took me some getting used to and can feel quite clunky at times.
The addition of free-roaming gameplay and a fully-voiced story help to inject new life into the franchise, but the technical drawbacks of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes are hard to ignore and gamers who have played other LEGO games will likely get the feeling of running on a treadmill by the time they’re halfway through.
Issues aside, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is in many ways the best LEGO game yet and lays the groundwork for future iterations, particularly Lego City: Undercover, a title scheduled to be available at the Wii U launch later in 2012.