Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 12/30/18
A team of superheroes that resemble the Justice League mysteriously appear from another dimension, and make the real Justice League disappear. These new "heroes" claim that the Justice League left on an important mission, but Harley Quinn has video evidence that proves their not-so-noble intentions. Harley and the Legion Of Doom (along with dozens of other villains) set out to reveal the Crime Syndicate for who they really are, when Apokolips appears in the sky and Darkseid shows his hand. He's searching for a mystical relic that's hidden on Earth, which will grant him unlimited power over the universe. Ultimately, the Justice League and the Legion Of Doom team up to thwart Darkseid's attempt to take over Earth and send the Crime Syndicate back where they came from.
The game is essentially the same as "Lego Marvel Superheroes 2" (2017), with a few tweaks and enhancements. The two most notable refinements are that Story Mode is no longer available after you complete it (Free Play is automatically selected), and the scavenger hunt challenges now come with hints. Most of the time the challenge hints are helpful, but there are several that send you in the wrong direction. Similar to Chronopolis in LMSH2, the game world is a condensed mash-up of Gotham City, Metropolis, Smallville, Arkham Forest, Wayne Island, and several other locations. The environments are beautifully designed and rendered, and are overflowing with color and detail. The spooky atmosphere of Arkham Forest and the rain-soaked neon darkness of Gotham City were my favorite locations to explore. The various chapters of Story Mode are introduced by Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, which mirrors James Jonah Jameson's tirades in LMSH2. Unfortunately, Lois Lane ends up being incredibly annoying and is awkwardly sexualized by wearing a sweater that's two sizes too small. The Gwenpool side missions in LMSH2 are replaced by Lobo side missions, which have the same irreverent tone, and chronicle how the Justice League escaped Apokolips at the end of the story.
The game focuses on the DC villains roster, with Joker, Harley Quinn, Lex Luthor, Scarecrow, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Reverse Flash, Clayface, and Gorilla Grodd taking center stage. However, there are also plenty of hero characters to unlock and play. Interestingly, I ended up playing the heroes more often than not, as their powers tend to be more potent and their dialog is less abrasive. My favorite go-to characters were Wonder Girl, Harley Quinn, Batman, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Donna Troy, Starfire, and Raven. They pretty much covered all of the powers I needed. The voice performances are excellent and the game features an amazing all-star cast. The biggest surprise was seeing both Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy come out of retirement to reprise their roles as Joker and Batman, respectively. Other actors include Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), Tara Strong (Harley, Batgirl, and Raven), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), Grey Griffin (Catwoman), Laura Bailey, Jennifer Hale, Dee Bradley Baker, Corey Burton, Armin Shimmerman, Gilbert Gottfried, Gina Torres, Michael Dorn, Michael Ironside, Nolan North, Tom Kane, Wally Wingert, and dozens of others. Hamill, Conroy, and Brown are wonderful, but Tara Strong ends up stealing the show with her deliriously revved up rendition of Harley, her strong and confident Batgirl, and her seductively edgy Raven.
While I ultimately ended up enjoying the game, it gets off to a rough start and has numerous problems. The first annoyance is the overly long intro animation that you can't skip, which becomes more irritating every time you load the game. It's 45 seconds long and includes callouts for Warner Brothers, DC Comics, Lego, and Traveler's Tales. The next annoyance is the main menu, which features an extremely loud and obnoxious heavy metal song by Wolfmother. It forces you to load your game as quickly as possible before the awful lyrics kick in. Loading times are appallingly long, which is surprising for a game that installs 40 GB of data on your hard drive. While the voiceover work is superb, the dialog can be a bit grating, and the constant sneering of pretentious villains gets old pretty quickly. Thankfully, the random dialog of citizens on the street isn't nearly as annoying as the citizens in LMSH2. Another nuisance is that the game forces you to create a custom character, who is effectively the main protagonist of the story. Unfortunately, this character doesn't speak and is only referred to as "the rookie", although Joker and Harley also use "Captain Chatterbox" and "Dr. Don't Say Much." Having this silent protagonist adds a bit of inconsistency and discontinuity to the presentation, although it's amusing to see them rendered in cutscenes. For the most part, the music is quite good and borrows from the classic DC movie themes, but the Wolfmother song is truly awful and the game also features a couple of disappointing covers of Blondie and Pat Benetar. I wonder how expensive it would have been to just license those songs rather than having someone re-record them? Thankfully, they only happen in two locations and aren't totally overbearing.
The game is by far the buggiest Lego game to date, and it regularly crashed at least once an hour. Characters frequently get stuck in the environment, and on one occasion Aquaman jumped over a fence and fell through the center of the Earth, which forced a reboot. One race crashed the game three times before I was able to complete it, and on several occasions, just flying through town caused a hard crash. And just like LMSH2, there was a fight where I knocked my opponent into a pit of lava and had to reboot the game because it wouldn't let me proceed. The character detector feature barely works, and stopped working altogether in the second half of the game, which was when I needed it most. It kept pointing me to a boss battle with Katana, which I had to repeat three times before the game registered it. The game also features a hidden race, which was the very last item I unlocked. Even though the game statistics report that 100% of the races have been completed, there's one that doesn't show up on the map that you have to complete before unlocking the last vehicle. That's either an oversight or just sloppy programming. On the plus side, the audio levels seem to be correct this time, which is a first for the franchise. The difficulty has also been significantly reduced, so that the races aren't nearly as infuriating as they are in the other Lego games. You can actually complete them with a handful of mistakes, and usually on the first try, which is quite a relief. I wonder if this was done for the benefit of younger players or older players? There are only three races that are diabolically difficult, and they require you to change characters mid-race. Just because you have to start a race as a glider, you don't have to finish it as a glider. One race in particular requires starting as a glider, switching to a flier, switching to a runner, and switching back to a flier in order to complete it. The unintuitive glide mechanics employ the same physics-defying logic as "Arkham City" (2011), which takes some getting used to.
Overall, I initially disliked the game until I completed Story Mode and started exploring the environment on my own. By the time I finished, I was having a great time tracking down all of the remaining characters and side missions. The writing is very clever for the most part and takes some well-aimed jabs at pop culture, although the in-game cell phone menu is a bit aggravating. But I'll attribute that to my old age.
Some favorite lines:
When Ares is trying to enrage Millennials: "I see... The hipster hates people as much as people hate him!"
Metropolis citizen: "I can't believe people still read newspapers. You know who writes that stuff? Old people, that's who!"