LEGO Batman 3 is a must-buy for DC superfans.
You'll rarely see a licensed game with this much love and respect for the source material, nor attention to detail. Going beyond Gotham City, hence the title, TT Games have assembled more than 150 characters from throughout nearly eighty years of franchise continuity, all with their trademark skills, gadgets, costumes and personality. Wonder-Woman doesn't just wield her Lasso Of Truth and bracelets, rather her 1970s theme song blares out every time she takes to the skies. DC mainstays like Green Lantern and The Flash rub shoulders with Firefly, the Condiment King, Mister Mxyzptlk, The Green Loontern, Plastic Man and BatCow.
Even Adam West -- The One True Batman -- steals the show with frequent cameos and a bonus stage that could curl Cesar Romero's moustache.
The story is similarly excellent. In stark contrast to DC's own convoluted crossovers and crises, LEGO Batman 3 tells a ripping yarn as the Justice League teams up with legendary villains to defeat Brainiac, who's attempting to steal the Earth's major cities with his shrink ray. Stuffed full of subtle in-jokes, larger-than-life humour, great voice acting and a little LEGO slapstick, all of the cast act in caricatured yet deeply believable ways, at least until a mishap involving the Lantern Rings sees several characters assume hilarious temporary new personalities. It's an absolute riot and arguably worth the price of admission by itself.
A good thing too, because this deep respect and love for the universe carries what is otherwise a disappointingly unambitious LEGO title.
Batman is the biggest problem with LEGO Batman 3, in that TT Games had to break the narrative in order to make him the star of a game about The Justice League. The first few hours are a tedious chore as Batman and Robin scuttle about dull and claustrophobic environments, all while being subjected to a pointless overlong tutorial that introduces 'new' elements at a snail's pace. Sadly, this aggravating prologue serves to highlight a number of major issues that persist throughout the campaign.
LEGO Batman 3's core gameplay is familiar fare: smash stuff, collect studs, hit some goons, collect more studs, do some light platforming, collect even more studs and then set about with some 'puzzles.' By which I of course mean selecting the correct character to either trigger a QTE, destroy a certain scenery element, interact with a context-sensitive object or build something. This pick-up-and-play appeal is still intact, as is the oh-so-addictive amassing of studly riches, but an attempt to diversify the puzzling has actually made the game significantly worse.
See, the DC roster have an delightfully varied arsenal of abilities, from freeze rays to lasers to digging to constructs, while Batman, Robin, Cyborg, The Joker and other less 'super' characters can access a variety of suits with different uses. As such, there's a new range of obstacles to overcome, some of which are rather fun. Magnets allow characters to walk up certain walls, for example, while mind controlling NPCs, constructing items at super-speed, hovering around with jet packs, brawling in giant mech suits or melting barriers with Super Man's laser vision are a great change of pace.
This would have sufficed, but unfortunately TT went too far, resulting in a whole host of contrived, unnecessary and redundant puzzle elements that are at best pointless timewasting filler and at worst deeply confusing. Sometimes you'll have to turn into a sphere to power a particular switch... just because they couldn't think of a more interesting suit. Sometimes you can't put out a flame with the Arctic Suit, and have to use the Shield Suit instead. Just because. A stealth suit has the same functions as the sensor suit, which also has the same functions as an illumination suit (read: lightbulb), but can only be used to reveal certain obstacles. Demolition Suits can destroy silver boxes, but not blue glass. You'll need the sonar suit for that. Just for starters.
Instead of creating some interesting puzzles around strong core abilities, LEGO Batman 3 is crammed full of visually different yet functionally identical and incredibly repetitive obstacles. Coupled with aggravating workflow -- remember which character has the particular suit you need... then switch to them... then switch to the right suit with a menu that takes two seconds to open (it all adds up!)... then finally press B on the panel -- the game often bogs down in busywork rather than making you feel like a hero. The less said about some truly horrendous Tron-inspired platforming sections the better.
Co-op players will be disappointed with what I like to call 'leapfrog' puzzle design. All too often the game focuses on a single character for several minutes at a time, leaving the others (i.e. Player 2!) kicking their heels. Before the roles reverse. Leapfrog, see? One notorious early segment sums this up perfectly, as Player 1 assumes control of Robin with all his gadgets and toys, whereas Player 2 has to make do with Alfred and his sole ability to walk through fire using his tray as a shield. I suppose this section actually works well, because you'll feel like an indentured servant by the end of it.
The combat is also a bit of a letdown, since the more overpowered characters can just destroy everything with lasers or heat vision, while others have to button mash against hordes of surprisingly generic goons who tend to fade into the background. Sometimes you won't even see them until you realise that your party has one member too many! Super-Man, of course, is literally invulnerable and can just sit back and relax. Thankfully superb combat animations manage to put things back on track, as all of the characters really do feel like their comic and filmic counterparts.
I'm delighted to report that LEGO Batman 3 does outgrow its early third, however, and significantly improves once the stakes ramp up. A selection of hub zones from the Watchtower and BatCave to the Halls Of Justice and the different Lantern Worlds all contain a wealth of optional activities to embark on, nooks to explore and exceptional cameos to enjoy. It's a blast to just walk around these locations and drink in the atmosphere, at least, while trying to block out awful and inexplicable narration from Conan O' Brien who assaults your eardrums with noxious constantly-repeated drivel.
While in the hubs and revisting levels in Free Play, you'll really start to appreciate all the different moves and power sets, and how each cast member feels truly unique even when they're just brawling away or performing similar actions.
Later levels also become more creatively interesting, both in terms of challenge and visuals. Highlights include romping through miniaturised famous capitals re-imagined as LEGO sculptures in Europe Against It, which lets you tower over London while smashing bendy buses and phone booths. It's one of the highlights of the entire series bar none. Each Lantern World is visually impressive, introducing more engaging enemies to fight and challenges to overcome. You'll take to the skies and space itself in Resogun-inspired SHMUP sections. Plus, again, that Adam West bonus level is priceless. There's a huge amount of content here, most of which is enjoyable if brainless. Once LEGO Batman 3 hits its stride, you'll be glad you picked it up.
But even then, I can't help but feel that it's a step backwards from LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. Awkwardly-segmented hub zones are no substitute for an open world, as flying characters are unable to really spread their wings and explore beyond a woeful flight ceiling. The support characters lack the instant appeal of Marvel's back catalogue, despite their attention to detail. Conan O'Brian demeans us all, and I personally hate that Warner Bros slaps us around the face with season passes and DLC before you can even start the game. Poor form.
LEGO Batman 3 does enough to be worth buying for DC or annual LEGO fans, but it's clear that the franchise needs to seriously look at reinventing itself... or at least slowing down... to avoid pulling a Guitar Hero. I wonder what could have been if The Hobbit was delayed until after the trilogy concluded, and the full team dedicated themselves to this project for an entire year. Sadly we'll never know.
- Amazing character roster and authentic attention to detail
- Great story, voice acting and personality
- Loads of content and segmented hub zones to explore
- Nananananananananananananananana ADAM WEST!
- Brainless, hyper-repetitive and contrived puzzles with fussy suit mechanics
- Clunky and cumbersome combat broken by overpowered DC heroes
- Sluggish and tiresome opening third, 'leapfrog' puzzle design
- Hateful and inexplicable Conan O'Brien narration demeans us all
The Short Version: LEGO Batman 3's irrepressible love for the universe and amazing attention to detail make for an essential DC experience, but the gameplay feels like a step sideways and even backwards for the LEGO series.
This was the first time I stopped playing a holiday season LEGO game because I'd had enough, not because I'd collected everything. LEGO Batman 3 will do for now, but it's clear that TT Games needs to start thinking seriously about where to go next.
7 - GOOD: Some sites seem to think that the halfway point between 1-10 is 7. This is not the case. It should be noted that 7 is not just a perfectly respectable score, it's a good score. A 7 is not an indication of failure, nor is it the mark of a bad, poor or even average game. These are titles that can be considered very worthwhile, but maybe come with a caveat. Frequently the domain of the well-made-if-rather-conventional brigade.