Lego Avengers

Year: 2016
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Developer: Traveler's Tales
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 6/7/16
Rating: ****

Definitely the best Lego game I've played in the last couple of years (although I haven't taken the plunge with "Lego Dimensions" yet). Using the same framework as "Lego Marvel Super Heroes" (2013), the game recreates the events in "The Avengers", "Age Of Ultron", "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", "Iron Man 3", and "Thor: The Dark World." The classic Lego formula remains intact, with Story Mode, Free Play, and various hub worlds where you can unlock numerous quests, characters, and vehicles. The Manhattan and Helicarrier areas are lifted directly from "Lego Marvel Super Heroes", but all of the other areas are brand new. The only notable differences in Manhattan are that the X-Men facility is now the Avengers Complex and Charles Xavier's school is just a generic mansion. It's also interesting to note that of the 196 unlockable Marvel characters, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four are curiously absent, even though they were in the previous game. There are obviously some licensing issues at play here, as Fox, Sony, Marvel, and Disney all have vested interests. Ant-Man shows up towards the end, and while it's super fun to run around in his shrunken size, there are no missions or puzzles that require his abilities.

While Manhattan is overly familiar to anyone who played "Lego Marvel Super Heroes", that's not necessarily a bad thing because the area is so vast and chock full of neat stuff. Thankfully, the game fixes several bugs and addresses some of the playability issues that were in the previous game, which makes it a much more enjoyable experience. The NPCs aren't nearly as abrasive and annoying, and the character selection UI has been streamlined and refined. The biggest nuisance is that your default location is right in the middle of Central Park, when all of the menus and options are either in space or on the Helicarrier. It seems like the Helicarrier would have been a much smarter choice for home base. As soon as you land in the park, Agent Coulson becomes increasingly grating as he informs you of an endless stream of random crimes in the city, none of which have any bearing on gameplay. However, it's nice that Clark Gregg provides Coulson's voice, which raises the level of talent and authenticity in the production. Cobie Smulders and Hayley Atwell also provide original material for Maria Hill and Peggy Carter, which is a welcomed touch. The voice acting is excellent across the board and the game features an immense cast of some of the best people in the business, including Nolan North, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Laura Bailey, Jennifer Hale, Gwendoline Yeo, and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. In fact, the only notably absent heavy hitters are Jen Taylor and Anna Graves. Stan Lee makes numerous amusing cameos and is in constant need of being rescued, and Lou Ferrigno shows up towards the end with some humorous quests. Thankfully, these celebrity spots aren't nearly as aggravating as Conan O'Brien, Kevin Smith, Bat-Mite, and Daffy Duck, who nearly ruined "Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham" (2014).

The writing and humor are quite good this time around, and not as obnoxious as some of the recent Lego games. The movies adapt well to the Lego formula, and the Hulk's transformation scene in "The Avengers" is genuinely hilarious. Most of the side quests are quite silly, but the tone is lighthearted and playful instead of being abrasive and sarcastic. Two of my favorite missions involved battling a group of Lego cuttlefish that a certain arms dealer is terrified of, and giving Lou Ferrigno a ride to see his eyebrow stylist. The characters like to break the fourth wall, and one of the funniest moments is when She-Hulk says "Hey, over here! Don't worry, this is gameplay related." Another amusing line comes from a S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee who cries "I never wanted to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent! I wanted to become a voice actor!"

Overall, the presentation is superb and Alan Silvestri's heroic soundtrack is quite rousing. While it's probably the most refined and polished game in the series, it still suffers from a few bugs. Occasionally, the camera gets stuck in the scenery which makes the game unplayable and forces you to exit back to the main menu. There was one time where I saw this happen during a cutscene, which was very odd because those are tightly scripted events. Another strange bug made the characters show up with weird blue spots all over the left side of their bodies. The various detectors have always been flaky, but this time the character token detector doesn't work AT ALL, which forced me to go online to find the last couple of characters that I was missing. Another frustrating bug is that puzzles that require lasers fail to recognize laser equipped characters more often than not. However, the most egregious bug that I experienced was with Dr. Strange, who has the ability to teleport through vents. At least 75% of the time, he falls through the floor and into infinity, which forces you to switch to your partner, or exit the level. The other teleporting characters worked flawlessly, but something's just a little off with Dr. Strange... Another nuisance is that you have to repeat some tasks multiple times before they register, which can be frustrating. And then there's one particular graphical blemish that I found infuriating. While it's not technically a bug, the specular highlights on Maria Hill's talking head animations are inexcusably awful. They should have either changed the animations or modified the lighting properties, because it's a constant eyesore.

Despite the game's various warts, it's still an excellent production and super fun to play. The last several Lego games had left me feeling disappointed and burned out, but "Lego Avengers" renewed my enthusiasm and rekindled the classic Lego charm (just in time for "Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens" to come out). Good stuff. Or as Stan Lee would say, "Excelsior!"