Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is the third instalment of the Caped Crusader’s action-adventure Lego games, developed by franchise stalwarts Traveller’s Tales, and published by Warner Brothers. This time around, the combined forces of the Justice League and Legion of Doom go to space to battle Brainiac – who wants to shrink the Earth to add to his evil collection of shrunken planets.
In comics, this would involve a lot of scowling, a dash of tragedy and probably one or two big-name (and no-so-big-name) deaths. But, this being a Lego game, Traveller’s Tales tells its story with its trademark splash of humor. The result is the best Lego game since… well, since last year’s Lego Marvel Superheroes. Don’t worry too much if you’re not familiar with the DC Comics Universe – Lego Batman 3 can easily be enjoyed by all. Admittedly, there are plenty of references that only the most fervent comic book fans will get – but as with previous Lego games, Traveller’s Tales manages to tread a fine line between fan service and broader appeal.
As with the developer’s previous Lego titles, the majority of the game has you running through levels, beating bad guys into tiny Lego bits, solving a variety of puzzles and saving the world from all kinds of evil nasties. All of this, combined with some vehicle levels like flying around in a spaceship blasting baddies, creates enjoyable gameplay that anyone can appreciate, without ever feeling frustrated by. It’s never too challenging, but it doesn’t need to be – half the fun of the Lego games is in enjoying the humor, and in Lego Batman 3, it’s laid on in spades.
The first Lego game I ever played was Lego: Star Wars. While the series rarely offers the most complex gameplay or the most interesting storyline, it always does an amazing job of presenting characters that almost everyone is familiar with – in a game that’s easy to pick up and play and enjoyable. Lego Batman 3 is no exception to this – keeping the enjoyable gameplay while adding a few extra elements, like the fact that Batman and Robin have different suits to help them accomplish a variety of tasks. This keeps the requirement to change characters that was necessary for 100% completion in previous games, whilst allowing you to play as the same character for the whole game – something that helps to maintain continuity.
For the majority of the game’s story – and rather predictably, given the title – you’ll control Batman and Robin (or someone else will control Robin, if you decide to play co-op) as they fight, fly, sneak and blow up their way through multiple levels. To assist them in saving the world, the Dynamic Duo has a variety of new gadgets. Most of these take the form of suits that can be switched at will and provide different functionality and ability. One of Batman’s suits gives him the ability to detect hidden Lego blocks in the environment and find items that you couldn’t see previously, while a different one will give him a wing suit to allow him to reach places and secrets that are not normally accessible.
There are multiple suits for both Batman and Robin that you unlock over the course of the game, meaning that there are constantly new aspects of levels to consider. This is where my first criticism is. The suits are a good idea, but the idea isn’t utilized well enough. You’re introduced to each one for a very specific task, and it’s only used for that task. I would have liked to see less variety in the suits to be honest, with the ones that you unlock being used for a wider variety of purposes; it would have made the gameplay more interesting, and made puzzle solving a little less boring.
Presentation-wise, this is possibly the most polished Lego game to date. Lego Batman 3 looks good. Really good. Sure, it still looks like a Lego game – but small details like smoother animation help to bring the characters to life, and a subtle tilt-shift effect is in place, making it feel less like you’re playing a game and more like you’re at ground-level with your own personal Lego playset. Soundwork remains excellent, not only adding to the ambience of levels, but the skillful and well-judged audio cues hint when you are near to a secret, or when something important has happened. It’s all familiar stuff for the series, but it works well.
The accompanying music isn’t something that many people will notice, due to its fairly low volume in comparison to the voice acting; but it builds atmosphere, creating a sense of urgency when there is a chase scene, or calming tones when in the central hub. The voice acting itself is well-delivered, and provides plenty of laughs. Following on from the work previously seen in Lego Marvel Superheroes and Lego: The Movie, Lego Batman 3 features a strong lineup of actors such as Steven Amell, Nolan North and Troy Baker – who voices more characters than should be possible.
Lego Batman 3 goes back to the hub-world style of earlier games, following the successful free-roam that we enjoyed in Lego Marvel Superheroes;but it’s not quite the same as it was traditionally. This time round, the hub world takes the form of the Watch Tower – the base for all the good guys and their efforts to hunt down the baddies. From the hub world, however, there are teleporters that lead to different planets and – while not exactly the same as the massive free-roam found before – they offer a degree of exploration and discovery to players who are looking for that. The hub world itself is also always being filled with new content: you might come back from a mission and find a new area, or use the abilities of a recently acquired character to reach a new teleporter.
And there’s a lot of content. As with all previous Lego games, there’s plenty to keep you occupied after clearing the main story – which you’ll do fairly swiftly, given the low level of challenge laid in front of you. In fact, there’s so much to do in each level in terms of collection – from collecting all the studs, to finding hidden minikits that are scattered about the level, and more besides – that completionists will find themselves occupied for quite a while. Many of these additional objectives require suits that you may not have unlocked yet the first time through (in fact, you almost certainly won’t have), which does at least mean that there’s a good reason to go back and replay previous levels. It does eventually start to feel as though you’re repeating the same tasks over and over again, just in slightly different surroundings – but there’s so much charm on display that it’s difficult to hold that against the game.
Lego Batman 3 might play almost exactly the same as any other Lego game, then – but that isn’t a bad thing. Actually, I think that’s (mostly) a good thing. Lego games have stayed the same as they are precisely because the formula that Traveller’s Tales created is so very enjoyable. Kids will have fun bounding around the levels, and the jokes – which fly thick and fast – are a decent mix of slapstick, and references which only adults and DC Comics will appreciate (Adam West, anyone?).
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham does a fantastic job at keeping the game interesting. With over 150 characters that all bring unique abilities, actions and personalities to the game combined with the vast amount of secrets and hidden items in every level there is a real reason and purpose to going back to the earlier levels in free play mode with some of the new characters and their abilities you will unlcok later in the game in order to collect all the studs, minikits and secrets.
After last year’s excellent Lego Marvel Superheroes, Traveller’s Tales remains on top form. Lego Batman 3 is a relaxing and fun experience, with some great level design and a good story to top it all off. It’s visually appealing, with smooth animations and some great graphics, and some intelligent sound design adds atmosphere to stages as well as providing useful audio cues. It’s not without its faults – at the end of the day, it’s still “just another Lego game”, and that comes with the same bumbling AI, awkward platforming and the occasional technical glitch. Most will be able to look past that though and simply have fun spending a weekend – or longer, if you want to to completely rinse the game of content – smashing lego bricks and revelling in the goofy humor.
Familiar and formulaic, it’s not going to get on many Game of the Year lists; but Lego Batman 3 is a refreshing palette cleanser – a bright and brash antidote to all the grimdark macho bravado and overwrought fantasy/sci-fi epics littering the Winter release schedule.