If you’ve enjoyed LEGO themed video games but kinda wished the series would venture beyond the confines of George Lucas’s imagination well your in luck. Video game developer Traveler’s Tales, creators of the popular LEGO Star Wars saga and LEGO Indiana Jones, have teamed up with DC Comics to bring you LEGO Batman. The pairing of LEGO bricks and comic book icons seems a match made in heaven (or is it the Hall of Justice?), and since the game’s announcement I’m sure many a gamer has held high hopes for this new LEGO title. Having played the game I’m happy to say that despite a few minor flaws, most of which seem inherent to all LEGO video game titles, LEGO Batman was enjoyable and perhaps my favorite LEGO video game title yet.
LEGO Batman doesn’t follow any of the movies or comic book stories based on the popular DC hero. Instead the game’s story revolves around many well known Batman related villains having escaped Arkham Asylum who then head out into Gotham city to rob banks and wreak general havoc. It’s up to Batman and Robin to set things right and put the bad guys back where they belong.
The game has a total of 30 levels. This breaks down 15 levels playing as the heroes which subsequently, through the course of the game, unlocks 15 levels where you play as the villains. Of course as with all LEGO video games much is built around replayability. Once you’ve completed a level you can go back in Free Play mode and collect more studs so you can unlock additional content, find the special red bricks to unlock enhanced abilities, and find the Mini-Kit Cannisters to...Well build the complete Mini-Kit. Similarly in previous LEGO games many of LEGO Batman’s side tasks and achievements will require you to mix and match various characters, both heroes and villains, in order to accomplish them. All in all the game should provide you with many hours of gameplay even if you’re not an achievement hound. What you’ll like:
According to the game rep I met at X’08 the game engine used in LEGO video games has been rebuilt for LEGO Batman. Additionally the development time on LEGO Batman is the longest of any previous LEGO video game. The enhancements I noticed are slight but definitely there. The non-LEGOized backdrops are much more realistically rendered with enhanced lighting, shading and color. There is also a better sense of depth of field between the action and the environment. I found the game’s animation a little more fluid and varied. LEGO characters never looked so alive.
No light-saber or Force powers but you do get a nifty Baterang that you can use to take out bad guys, get into areas, and destroy random objects to spring forth studs. Holding down the “X” button brings up a cursor that you can move across any highlight objects that are destructible. Let go of the “X” button and off goes the Batarang on a predetermined course. Quite useful for taking out multiple opponents. As well to keep the puzzles interesting there are a number of special suits that our heroes can wear that enable them to accomplish certain tasks. Examples include magnetic boots for Robin and a special glider suit that lets Batman cover distances he otherwise wouldn’t be able to jump to.
The game also has a wide variety of LEGO vehicles you can build and/or drive including the infamous Batmobile, Batboat, and Batwing. Though the available time spent driving them is short lived they’re definitely fun to scoot around in. There are actual levels in the game that require driving and shooting exclusively. For the most part these sections play out well though perhaps not as fun as the regular levels where you spend most your time on foot. It does offer a nice change up though.
Though I enjoyed playing the good guy characters (which also includes the unlockable Nightwing and Batgirl), it’s the large number of bad guys and there special abilities that I think you’ll derive the most fun from. Mr. Freeze can turn people into ice cubes with his freeze gun, the Riddler can take control of civilians by mind control, the Joker has his rather shocking joybuzzer, Clayface has super strength and can throw mud and Catwoman is super agile and has that nasty whip. Allowing you to be one of the many Batman villains and go out on a number of capers was a smart move by Traveler’s Tales and assuredly keeps the game from going stale. Aside from the standard goals found in the hero chapters there is always that excitement of inevitably unlocking more villains and subsequently more gameplay. What you may not like:
It’s not always clear what needs to be accomplished in order to proceed to the next area. The task that needs to be accomplished is often deceptively simple. For example, you know you gotta turn a wheel to shut off a gas main, but how are you to know you gotta jump on top of it in order to do that? Small things like that will have you running around in frustration until you finally figure it out and slap yourself in the head asking yourself “that’s it?”
Though LEGO Batman sports a rebuilt game engine you wouldn’t know that by the games lackluster AI. You can pretty much expect the character you’re not controlling to frequently fall to his or her doom or otherwise do something to facilitate his or her expiration. Not only that but there will be times when the AI doesn’t seem to understand your intention so it just takes off doing what it thinks you want to do, which is a number of times the wrong direction. It’s by no means a game-breaker, just rather annoying at times. Surely a few more lines of code could give the game’s AI at least a semblance of intelligence.
Though significantly improved over past LEGO video games the vertical sync issues are still there. Really, this is by now inexcusable. There is nothing about any LEGO video game that shouldn’t have it flying by smoothly at 30fps, especially considering Traveler’s Tales has just rebuilt the game engine. Again in LEGO Batman the issue isn’t as bad as in past LEGO video games but in my opinion it just shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place. Also as in previous LEGO video games there will be times in LEGO Batman where you'll wish the camera would pan a little farther round than it does. However to the game’s credit the layout of the environment does seem a little more conducive to the game’s limit camera angles. Still you may find yourself falling to your doom and losing precious studs in the process more often than you’d like.
No online co-op. What? Are you kidding? Surely by now this should be a standard feature of LEGO video games. I see no reason why it shouldn’t. Hell the game should have a versus mode, Batman vs Joker for example. Suffice to say, as in previous LEGO games, you’ll have to have a friend over and a second controller to enjoy co-operative play. I can only hope that there will be some downloadable content in the future, extra missions...Maybe a Catwoman level where you gotta steal a giant diamond or something would be tres cool (hint hint).
All in all I found LEGO Batman to be highly enjoyable despite it’s minor flaws. I think Traveler’s Tales did a good job of capturing the DC comic hero (and villain) experience in LEGO Batman. It’s my favorite game of the series so far and I feel it worth the $50 if you are a fan of LEGO video games or Batman or hopefully both.