LEGO Batman 3 promises to go "Beyond Gotham," but TT Games are thinking bigger. Sure, the Justice League's bid to stop Braniac from abducting major cities takes our heroes around the world and even outside Earth's atmosphere, but at its core this is nothing less than a love letter to DC's entire sprawling universe. It's an attempt to cram in characters from throughout the most obscure parts of the canon, comics, Elseworld stories, the films and everything in between; from the snarling antihero we know today to Adam West's legendary 1960's romp.
And Batcow. And The Condiment King. And Mister Mxyzptlk. And... Kevin Smith?!
It's a veritable DC fan's dream crossover, but fans of the LEGO series can also expect some new gameplay features, enjoyable stud-collecting adventures and the gentle yet anarchic humour you'd expect from the Manchester-based studio.
The main storyline sees Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonderwoman, Cyborg and a cavalcade of characters large and small team up to take down Brainiac, who assembles a legion of villains and attempts to 'collect' the Earth by shrinking and stealing its cities. Unfortunately a mix-up involving the lantern rings sees everyone becoming a slave to the different spectra, as The Joker becomes infused by the power of Love, Lex with Compassion, Wonderwoman with Anger and Cyborg with Cowardice.
It's an excuse to deliver some laugh-out-loud moments and whisk us around the world, starting with a trip into space, jaunts around large hub worlds (including the Lantern Corps planets) followed by a tour of European landmarks in the appropriately-named "Europe Against It" mission that TT Games brought to the latest preview session.
Leaving the confines of Gotham is a real breath of fresh air, especially since the real-world locations have been painstakingly designed to look like real LEGO models, not just traditional scenery. The Houses Of Parliament, Leaning Tower Of Piza and Eiffel Tower are all completely out of scale and constructed with LEGO bricks down to the finest detail, making these levels feel like you're actually playing with a toybox rather than a gritty generic videogame that just so happens to throw some studs at you from time to time. The effect is eyecatching and really rather wonderful, especially when twinned with some cheeky jabs at each country we visit.
Gameplay-wise, the tried-and-tested core of stress-free cooperative exploration, brawling, light environmental puzzle solving and collecting all the studs ever is still intact, but with even more effort to make the characters feel more authentic. The Man Of Steel brings X-Ray vision, freeze breath, super strength and flight to the proceedings, with John Williams' classic theme ringing out in the background every time he soars aloft. Wonderwoman wields the Lasso Of Truth, and her own kitschy theme music plays whenever she takes to the air.
Batman and Robin, meanwhile, boast a host of old and new suits, including a Sonar Suit that can shatter new Glass Lego, electricity suit to power up various scenery elements and an Illumination Suit to temporarily bring light to the darkness.
And jetpack-enabled Space Suits, of course, seeing as they'll take to the wild black yonder every now and again.
This versatile mix of superpowers and suits means that the puzzles are more flexible than before, often allowing you to use multiple solutions. When a toxic spill floods the Thames, Superman can fly across the gap and use his laser vision to form a bridge, whereas Robin could walk across the sludge with his Hazard Suit or Batman could power up his Jetpack. It's a nice way of letting co-op partners use their brainpower rather than forcing us to rely on a single 'correct' option, without taxing us too hard.
Naturally we'll also have legions of goons to beat up on, hidden collectibles to grab in future runs and boss battles to partake in, often revolving around constructing and using LEGO models under fire.
Free Play is where the magic happens, though, as we can play with the entire 150+ roster of characters on the fly. TT Games really have gone to town to ensure that they cast as wide a net as possible.
Sure, The Flash, Harley Quinn and Green Lantern show up, but so does Green Loontern, a duck who acquired the Lantern Ring during a dry cleaning accident. Not obscure enough for you? How about Polka-Dot Man, who flies around on a Polka-Dot and fires Polka-Dots at enemies... because that's his thing. Or Condiment King, a one-note character from Batman: The Animated Series who dual-wields ketchup and mustard cannons?
From the enormous Big Figs such as Atrocitus and Frankenstein to the hilarious cameos of Krypto The Superdog and Bat-Cow, every character large or obscure has unique abilities, animations and feels spot-on, while the family-friendly LEGO vibe makes some of the most depraved villains absolutely adorable. Even as more of a Marvel fan myself, I couldn't help but be swept up in TT's obvious love of the DC universe.
The 1960's Batman bonus level deserves special mention. Starring Adam West as both narrator and star, you'll scamper around the Batcave and then throw down on nothing less than a no-holds-barred rogue's gallery of classic villains. Cesar Romero's Joker steals the show, joined by classic renditions of Catwoman, The Riddler and Penguin, as a 1960s diner gets completely trashed in a comically over-the-top orgy of "thunk!" and "pow!" comic callouts.
And yes, there is a can of Shark Repellent Batspray knocking about. Not to mention a comically oversized bomb in a reference to that legendary scene from the movie. Frankly I wish it was the entire game as a lifelong fan of the show.
We've still only seen a tiny proportion of the full game and its DLC packs, but considering the quality of what we played, it's quite possible that LEGO Batman 3 could well match the superb Marvel Super Heroes in terms of scale, scope and fun factor. We'll find out when it releases on November 14th for pretty much everything with a screen and control inputs.