GDC 2012 Preview: Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes Does Justice to the League
These days, when you think “Legos” you’re probably thinking of one of those new-fangled video games based on the beloved building blocks rather than the blocks themselves. Considering how popular those tiny foot-destroying toys were, it’s no surprise that the games under the same guise have received the grand treatment, scoring adaptions of high-end film franchises such as Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean. The Lego Batman titles are no different, with the upcoming Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes looking particularly impressive.
While at GDC last week I had the opportunity to see the game in action, and what I saw was a world with more breadth of scope and dearth of content than its predecessor. Always striving for the funnest stuff possible, Warner Bros. Interactive has again succeeding in creating a gold mine of entertainment for both child and adult players.
Developer Traveller’s Tales has sought to change the way in which they tell stories, and in what kind of stories they tell. Perhaps the most notable upgrade from previous Lego titles is the use of voice acting in DC Superheroes. Previous games portrayed communication through gestures and mild non-verbal vocalization, and I was told that over the years children playing the game expressed a desire to hear the characters speak.
Touted as “the biggest, richest most fun environment we have ever created,” the Gotham City of DC Superheroes is enormous. Truly, enormous. The demo I participated in featured a swaggering Superman flying through a gorgeous sepia-tinged environment in a torrential downpour. But this is no simple city of snapped-together bricks. The new Gotham, inspired by Gotham Cities used in previous Batman media (with heavy influence from the comics and old-school Tim Burton films), navigates like an open-world RPG. There are no limits — unless of course you fall in the water — to the amount of content players can see, and with a set this big there are undoubtedly scores of juicy secrets to discover. For the child playing this game, I can see hours of entertainment; just when you think you’ve solved a puzzle and are done for the moment, something new and wonderful catches your eye.
While Gotham sports the traditional Lego mechanics of breaking and building block pieces and collecting gold and silver pieces for currency, the newest incarnation of the fated city is packed with bonuses and new areas to explore that can only be accessed by certain characters. For example, only heroes (or villains, if that is your wont) can fly to rooftops, where treasure or a new suit may be waiting for you. The cast of DC Comics can prowl the streets with new vehicles, on foot, or forsake the ground for air travel.
Lego Batman 2 is just as sweet and fun as its predecessor. The GDC demo introduced the Dynamic Duo deep in combat with the Joker’s minions, whom have helped their boss crash the Gotham City Man of the Year Awards in the city’s theater. With the aid of Robin and his trusty Bat-a-rang, the Caped Crusader took on the villain’s “henchlady,” Harley Quinn. Combat mechanics are still as intuitive and easy to use as they have always been, and with the addition of new suits that grant our heroes special abilities the attack options are limitless.
Suits are found in-game and are built from Legos discovered in hidden places. Each suit grants the wearer – typically Batman or Robin — a unique ability that works in a pinch in certain puzzle-solving situations. For example, Batman’s Sensor Suit is meant to increase stealth, allowing him to sneak through security systems. Robin’s Acrobat Suit makes him more flexible and grants use of a pole that he can attack with or use to surround himself with a giant roller-ball that serves as a key to unlock areas.
Puzzles are clever and challenging without being complicated. The intuitive set up and use of the all-new Gotham City’s massive space reiterates the integrity and fun of Lego Batman 1 and stuffs it with even more fun. Good, clean Lego fun. The game provides a good brain workout for kids and adults of all ages, guiding them through a free open-world and encouraging exploration.
But what really impressed me is the thoughtfulness with which the developers set up the game’s save system. Mid-level saves and check points have been implemented with children and busy parents in mind. Some levels make take longer than expected, and if a child is called to a meal or appointment they can now save quickly or shut down without losing progress. This move towards stress-free game management is sure to ease the tension between gaming children and their parents.
The drag-along co-op has also be dropped in favor of mechanics that allow both players (in local co-op only) to progress at their own particular speed. Single players can switch seamlessly between both members of their party without the game going haywire.
Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes is shaping up to be a charmingly entertaining addition to Lego‘s video game sector, and is set to release later this year on PC, Wii, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.