E3 Hands-On: LEGO Batman

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly made the LEGO Star Wars games such a giant hit. Was it the simple pick-up-and-play mechanics? Perhaps it was the lack of any real death penalty, thus making it accessible to everyone? Or was it the hilarious pantomime humor? Reliving all the greatest moments from the movie without the dialog made for some hilarious results. Who can forget the “I am your father” scene from the second game done without the voice acting? I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t played, but it may very well be one of the funniest moments ever in gaming.

Now the team at Traveler’s Tales are back to tackle another iconic franchise, and this time, it’s everyone’s favorite hero with an attitude, Batman. With the resurgence of comic books and the wildly successful Dark Knight film gracing theaters across the land, Batmania has certainly been kicked into high gear. We recently got a chance at E3 to sit down and spend a little time with Batman’s LEGO alter ego, and it’s looking more and more like this game may actually be able to recapture the magic brought on by LEGO Star Wars.

Unlike the previous LEGO licensed games, the story for Batman is completely original, rather than being based on movie scripts. The development team has said that this gave them massive creative freedom to open up the Batman universe and really involve all the characters and storylines they could want. In this case, all the criminals Batman has dutifully put away over the years escape from Arkham Asylum in a massive jailbreak and begin terrorizing the streets once more. Therefore, it is up to Batman, Robin, and bonus hero Nightwing to round up the villains and put them back behind bars where they belong. When the story says all the villains escaped, it means all of them. Thus far, Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Bane, Clayface, and Poison Ivy have all been confirmed, with even more to be revealed as the game’s release draws closer.

Actually, the game allows you to not only fight the baddies, but jump into their shoes and mix it up as well. We got to see two villain levels, one featuring the Joker and Harley Quinn, while the other showcased Mr. Freeze and the Riddler, and both may have actually been more fun than the hero missions. The Joker and Harley spent their mission trying to kidnap Commissioner Gordon, and to get to him they had to maneuver their way through a dilapidated carnival and fight off the police along the way. Of course, they aren’t about to play fair like Batman, so when it came to dispatching police Joker was happy to pull out his twin LEGO uzis and pick off his foes from afar, or get up close and personal with a jolt from his killer joy buzzer. Mr. Freeze and the Riddler showed a similar flair for the dramatic, with Freeze encasing enemies in block of ice before smashing them to bits, and Riddler using mind control to grab certain enemies and turn them against their own kind. It’s very clear that the developers have been focusing on the villain missions from the start, and they’re getting just as much TLC as any of the hero levels.

Since the bad guys are quite a force to be reckoned with, it stands to reason that Batman and Robin are going to need to come prepared. Thankfully, there are tons of special abilities, power-ups, and iconic vehicles that the crime fighting duo can use to clean up the streets. A new inclusion, never before seen in the LEGO games, comes in the form of a thrown projectile, more specifically the Batarang. With a simple click of the thumbstick, a targeting icon pops up on-screen, allowing you to sweep around the environment and target enemies, items, or out-of-reach switches. You can lock on to up to five items at a time and after a simple sweep the device returns, ready to go once more.

That won’t be the only trick up your sleeve either, as the heroes also have access to a variety of special suits which will help them overcome tough obstacles. Since Batman carries the distinction of being the only superhero without superpowers, he has to rely on technology to make it through certain situations. In our demo, we got to see the glide suit, which will allow you to traverse long gaps, as well as the demolitions suit, which allows our hero to place remote-controlled explosives that can then be detonated at a safe distance. Robin isn’t getting left out either, as we also got to check out a magnetic suit which allows him to walk horizontally or even upside down provided there’s metal to attach to, as well as a radio-control suit that gives Robin the ability to command vehicles.

The suits aren’t the only advantage the heroes have, as they will also obtain access to Batman’s legendary vehicles, among them the Batboat, the Batwing and, of course, the Batmobile itself. The developers are promising that the villains will have access to their own modes of transportation (and destruction), so we’ll just have to wait and see what sort of creations will be on display.

Since the game takes place in Gotham City, you would expect a grimy, dirty locale where evil lurks around every corner. That is precisely the feel Traveler’s Tales is going for with this game, trying to pull you into Gotham’s world of crime and filth. The buildings you traverse are mostly crumbling due to lack of maintenance, and boarded-up windows and dark alleyways remind you that this is a place normal people shouldn’t be once night falls. Gone are the pristine halls and clean look of LEGO Star Wars; the world of LEGO Batman is a much different place.

If we had to come up with a verdict right now on LEGO Batman, it would be that it’s a solid extension of the franchise, closer to LEGO Star Wars than LEGO Indiana Jones. The massive worlds, nearly endless parade of characters, and new gameplay wrinkles add up to an enjoyable experience. The only complaint we had during our playthrough was that there is a lot of platforming in the game, and since everything exists in 3D space, it’s quite easy to miss your jumps. Thankfully, there’s still no real penalty for dying aside from losing a few LEGO studs, but it’s still an annoyance that will hopefully be addressed before the game is released.

While Gotham City may not have expected their savior to come in the form of building blocks, they should be thankful for him. LEGO Batman may not be the hero the city wants, but he’s the hero they deserve. Honestly, the hero they deserve is none too shabby.

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