Batman characterises internal struggles made external. The Dark Knight spends his evenings cruising around a Tim Burton wet-dream of a city, mashing vulnerable drug dealers and humble crooks into a fine paste, fuelled by his own sob story. He’s a vigilante crime fighter and a major jerk.
While this duality affords Bruce Wayne a plenitude of fans, it can also make him a bit of a drag to be around. In Lego Batman 2, the cutesy Danish block-maker’s influence and Traveller's Tales’ sense of humour helps to cloak Batman in a more palatable outer shell.
An open world platform puzzler, Lego Batman 2 is a halfway house between Arkham City and The Lost Vikings. The core gameplay involves Batman and his life-partner Robin bashing block-headed bad guys, finding hidden items and solving physical puzzles.
The fighting is a by-the-numbers button mashing affair, jazzed up by some entertaining graphical flourishes to keep things - namely Lego dollars - popping-off on screen. There isn’t much challenge here, except occasionally being cornered and the odd bit of friendly fire, and why this is enabled in singleplayer is simply confusing.
The AI of both the enemies and the uncontrollable second member of the duo is abysmal, falling in line with Traveller’s Tales standard package. This creates an odd conflict: Batman is never really in danger of death but the player can be required to repeat parts of the game as a babysitter for the flakey computer-controller character. Still, it wouldn’t be a Batman game without the ability to senselessly dish out some hurt.
Batman, Robin and a small army of other Justice League heroes are primarily tasked with solving puzzles in a teamwork situation to get to the next iconic villain across the city of Gotham. Puzzles range from the simplistic, such as searching for a switch or level, to multi-character set pieces involving changing between special power suits with unique features.
Suits include an electrically charged onesie that prevents Batman from being shocked to death, and a stealth suit for some Sam Fisher-style escapades. Suitably, Robin has fruitier powers, such as a high-flying acrobat suit and a rather camp hazardous environment suit that harks back to the Adam West era. The suits are unlocked by smashing Gotham’s detritus then re-building the sparkling leftovers into a Hard Rock Café-style display case.
At times, the solutions to puzzles are difficult to see, obscured by moving across multiple screens or having failed to smash the necessary Gotham debris to reveal a new suit. Occasionally a simple task is made much more difficult by the player failing to hit every destructible prop in a room. Other times the slick presentation of the game is let down by odd glitches, such as obvious events failing to trigger. In one instance, a floor-switch refused to fire, resulting in a replay from the last checkpoint - requiring another 15 minutes to be replayed in the hope the game would behave as required.
These are minor gripes. For the most part the problem solving is inventive and fun. Swapping between the two controllable characters on screen to overcome a task with their specific skills is not a new mechanic, but works well nonetheless. While co-operative multiplayer with a nifty split screen effect is available, the design of the game calls for piece-by-piece approach. Having two sets of hands adds little real value.
The game delivers a punchy and entertaining story. Interstitial news reports pepper the main campaign, often making fun of plot-holes or goofs in the Batman canon. The laugh-inducing interactions between Superman and the Dynamic Duo are particularly well executed. Boss characters, henchmen and the aforementioned Justice League crossovers keep the player busy, before even considering the exploration and adventure available in the open world mode. Similar to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series, there are hidden pickups and secret areas galore, perfect to keep achievement hunters satisfied for hours on end.
On the audio/visual spectrum, this game is far from the bleeding edge but has enough character to get a pass. Character voices are sufficient, and the sound effects and music are bog-standard.
The city Batman and friends have at their disposal is capably rendered. Gotham feels alive, and filled with either iconic architecture or destructible Lego brick versions of everyday items. The only major flaw with the presentation of Lego Batman 2 is the camera, which can only be rotated by perhaps 30 degrees. Frequently, a character will become stuck behind an object with no option other than to wriggle blindly around until an exit is found.
Lego Batman 2 is packed with fun DC Universe content, tricky puzzles and compulsive collecting, but it’s let down by the repetitive and often tedious combat mechanics. It’s virtually impossible to fail, making the real challenge one of player interest. Combined with clunky controls, there’s enough wrong to prevent this game from becoming a Lego classic.