With each new release, developer Traveller’s Tales takes small, yet progressive, steps to flesh out its perpetually expanding LEGO universe. Like the Dynasty Warriors franchise, most changes seem minimal, oftentimes even illegible, but the continually refined mechanics never cease to entertain. One of the series’ most notable additions was Traveller’s Tales’ foray into sandbox-style gaming with Lego Batman 2 in 2012. The open city significantly expanded replayability and gave the charming little figurines new life. With its breathtaking open world and stupendous amount of content, this year’s LEGO The Hobbit was the developer’s most crowning achievement.
So it comes as a surprise that Traveller’s Tales has nixed one if its biggest features. While the lovable humor and addictive gameplay remain unchanged, the return to more linear level designs is a step backwards. Batman’s new interplanetary adventure sounds great on paper, but ends up feeling smaller in scope despite its far-reaching setting. The semi-open, explorable segments in space aren’t bad, but they can’t compete with Traveller’s Tales’ profound recreation of Gotham in Batman 2. But despite the linearity and lack of breadth, this is still a LEGO game, and everything that makes LEGOs great, still presides.
"But despite the linearity and lack of breadth, this is still a LEGO game, and everything that makes LEGOs great, still presides."
It’s somewhat of a mystery as to why Traveller’s Tales decided to call this their next Batman game. LEGO Justice League may have been a more appropriate title. While the narrative loosely revolves around the caped crusader, many (if not most) levels are played with other characters from DC’s universe. That’s not a complaint by any means. In fact, character variety is what makes the playthrough so exciting. Batman 2 already introduced several playable DC characters, but with the setting shifting to outer space and other Justice League members getting more screen time, this would have been a fantastic opportunity to officially introduce the JLA label.
Confusing titling aside, Traveller’s Tales continues to impress with their storytelling abilities and sense of humor. LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham boasts an engaging narrative that unites both DC villains and heroes in their quest to take down Brainiac, all while enveloped in silly puns and pop culture references. Switching between Batman and Joker on the fly is a blast, and there are enough plot twists and hilarious one-liners to keep the venture entertaining throughout.
"Switching between Batman and Joker on the fly is a blast, and there are enough plot twists and hilarious one-liners to keep the venture entertaining throughout."
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham doesn’t break the tried-and-true gameplay formula, but it’s not trying to either. LEGO games revolve around two main things: destroying LEGO objects and solving puzzles. It’s simple, it’s silly and it’s undeniably fun. As far as character selection goes, the developer has included a whopping 150 playable figurines. Let that sink in for a moment. To sweeten the deal, they’ve added unlockable classic 60’s outfits for the most popular characters. No one can say the LEGO games lack value.
Batman 2 introduced special suits required for solving puzzles and performing special attacks, and Batman 3 takes the concept even further. Nearly every character is equippable with a variety of outfits that significantly impact their skills and powers. Characters like Cyborg and Martian Manhunter can transform into Hulk-sized monstrosities that can destroy everything in their path. Suits can be accessed on the fly with the radial menu, and some require regular recharging to work. They are a great way to keep the action fresh from start to finish. There are also several new mini-games, or rather gameplay diversions, like an entire section paying homage to the popular shooter Resogun. Moments like these are both unexpected and exhilarating.
"Nearly every character is equippable with a variety of outfits that significantly impact their skills and powers."
Since Batman 3 takes place in outer space, an open world environment that's packed with details like in the past few entries isn’t possible. Instead, there are explorable hub-worlds, which are significantly smaller but offer more aesthetic variety. In a way, there are more visual surprises when jumping between planets. A later level, for example, is reminiscent of the Mario Galaxy games in that it’s comprised of spherical shapes that allow characters to approach their enemies from various angles. The variety is certainly welcoming, although it can’t trump the sense of exploration found in previous entries.
The advantage of a more linear structure is having extra horsepower for graphical details. Traveller’s Tales has never been conservative when it comes to cramming levels with destructible objects and impressive set pieces, and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham impresses from the very first opening level. The game is breathtaking. Improved lighting, cleaner edges, sharper textures, smoother animations, Batman 3 is undoubtedly the most stunning LEGO game to date.
It’s hard to fault Traveller’s Tales for trying something different, although removing one of their most dynamic additions to the franchise is disappointing. And yet, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is an absolute blast to play. LEGO games have more heart and personality than most AAA releases could ever accomplish, and the addictive gameplay makes TT’s latest adventure an easy recommendation. LEGO Batman 3 may not be the sequel fans were hoping for, but it’s still a splendid addition to the LEGO universe.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC