Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Review
Whether or not you’ll enjoy a Lego game comes down to four simple questions: Do you like Lego? Do you like franchise XXX? Do you like collecting things? Are you dead inside? Ask us to apply these questions to Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham and we’d answer ‘Yes’, ‘Who doesn’t like Batman?’ ‘Always’ ‘Wha?’ Unsurprisingly, that all means we quite like the latest Lego adventure from Traveller’s Tales.
Whenever we approach a new Lego game the question is always what new ingredients have been added to the tried-and-tested mix, as if it’s a series is in constant demand of reinvention (it’s not). It might disappoint some to hear that, on the surface at least, Beyond Gotham looks like a regression when held up against the superb Marvel Super Heroes and The Hobbit. There’s no open world like Marvel’s New York City or The Hobbit’s Middle-earth, instead the game is more tightly constructed around its narrative and launches players across a series of linear, interesting environments both on Earth and in outer space. But this is a good thing in Gotham’s case.
You won’t notice it at first, as the first couple of stages don’t give a real sense that much has changed at all. Set in the familiar gloom of the Batcave, players roam around doing usual Lego business, smashing up blocks and collecting studs, while completing a series of rudimentary puzzles. But once Batman is launched into orbit, the game really hits a stride. A space-set side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up in the vein of Resogun is a standout mission; the hacking mini-games set in a Tron-like virtual world offering a refreshing change from the standard smash-it-build-it solving of puzzles that permeate the rest of the game. Traveller’s Tales is far from comfortable in letting itself be boxed in by the towering success it has created for itself.
And while the focus is on Batman, it’s far from a Batman game. In fact, it’s more of a Green Lantern story featuring the Justice League prominently, the capes and cowls of which fight alongside a selection of DC villains. But then Green Lantern doesn’t have a very good theme song. He doesn’t even have a very good movie. Therefore, a Batman game it is. A Batman game that might just be the biggest love letter to DC fiction that has ever been committed to gaming.
It helps too that the renewed focus on story and the plot (one that doesn’t rely on existing films) is a real hoot. Lego Batman 2 tentatively introduced the notion of voice acting in Lego games but the sequel is far more confident in its narrative ambitions, not to mention ruddy funny from start to finish.
As in previous games, each playable character has a distinct set of abilities that can be used to fend off waves of plastic goons and solve various puzzles. And while there’s the likes of Batman, Superman, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Cyborg, thrown together with Joker, Lex Luthor, and, er, Cheetah, such a wide selection of characters means there’s slight repetition. Batman, Cyborg and Joker are just a few of the characters that have various special suits they can switch between, but the majority of these are identical across all these similarly-themed characters. Nevertheless, there’s a huge amount of variety between each character in terms of animations, movement and handling. It’s a testament to Traveller’s Tales attention to detail that, of the mere handful of characters plucked from its roster of 150 we played, each felt distinct and, crucially, faithful to its source. Although, the use of music certainly plays its part – the rousing horns of John Williams’ Superman theme will always inspire awe when Supes takes flight.
Despite its pretence, we all know that Lego games aren’t just for kids. The game is absolutely crammed with mischievous secrets and unlockables to discover – some of which border on the obtuse and far beyond the capacity of a pea-brained adolescent. It even suffers from this relentless glut of goodies that it has you seek out. It’s main hub, spread across three different locations (the Batcave, Hall Of Justice and Justice League Watchtower), is confusing mess that doesn’t quite connect cohesively. We’re sure the allure of shiny trinkets will no lure you eventually in the right direction, but initially finding your feet (albeit around midway through the game) and working out where the game is trying to steer you next is far less straightforward than it should be.
But considering the continued success of the series, we can hardly fault Traveller’s Tales for trying something a bit different. Overall, Beyond Gotham is hugely entertaining and has such unfettered reverence to its source material that its unremitting cheerfulness is nothing if not infectious. And, as you’re fond of questions, here’s one more to end with: is Beyond Gotham a great game? Yes.