Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

Year: 2012
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Developer: Traveler's Tales
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 7/27/12
Rating: ***

A sprawling sequel to the charming original "Lego Batman" game, which introduces members of the Justice League as well as other DC Comics characters. This game also features actual spoken dialog, which is a first for the series. While I was skeptical at first, it's handled extremely well and is absolutely necessary for telling the original story line. This time around, The Joker and Lex Luthor team up to break everyone out of Arkham Asylum and cause general chaos in Gotham City. Luthor is also running for President of the United States, and hatches a scheme to win votes by using Joker gas on unsuspecting voters. Naturally, Batman and Robin are on the case, and Superman quickly joins in the effort (much to Batman's annoyance). The ultimate showdown pits Luthor and his giant Joker robot against the entire Justice League, with Wayne Tower as the battlefield. Just another day in Gotham City...

The game maintains much of the charm of the original, but it stumbles in its attempts to evolve into something much larger. While the story is serviceable, it's probably the least interesting aspect of the game, and after a couple of rounds with the giant robot, you wish it would just be over with. Unfortunately, this happens about halfway though the story campaign, which makes the second half overly tedious. The writing is quite good and has a clever sense of humor, making fun of itself ("Killer Moth? Really?") as well as poking fun at "Batman: Arkham City" (2011). The voice acting is jarring at first, but the actors do an excellent job of emulating the actors from the "Batman", "Superman", and "Justice League" animated series. Clancy Brown is the only returning actor, and it's delightful to hear him reprise his role as Lex Luthor. The eternally grumpy Batman is wonderful, and the fact that Robin adores Superman only makes him more sour. Chapters are linked together with news reports by Vicki Vale, which are loaded with dry wit and clever barbs.

Like previous Lego games, this one consists of Story mode and Free Play mode, along with an additional "Lego Gotham City" level that requires you to collect one million studs by destroying everything in sight. The AI continues to be troublesome and the vehicle missions are still annoying, but they're not nearly as challenging and aggravating as previous iterations. Certain range attacks like the water cannon and ice cannon often times don't connect with their targets, and sonic attacks oddly don't work at all if you're standing too close. Orientation of the magnet beam is also finicky and unpredictable. These control issues definitely put a damper on the fun. Flight mechanics are also frustrating, as two completely different (and opposite) control schemes are used depending on whether you're in a chapter (or the Bat Cave) or just roaming around in Gotham City. The paradigm shift is very aggravating, and it's extremely difficult to make precise movements in flight. The controls for flying vehicles are even worse, but fortunately most of the aerial race courses are overly lenient in their demands. In Gotham City, characters also have the ability to run, which is very irritating and introduces additional precision problems.

Presentation wise, the game looks gorgeous and Gotham City is breathtaking to behold. It's also HUGE, and the amount of detail is astonishing. Unfortunately, this grand scale comes with some drawbacks, and it's extremely easy to get lost and confused. There's a detailed map that you can access, but it's not entirely helpful and it can take several hours of wandering around before you figure out your bearings and are able to utilize it properly. One simple feature could have made a world of difference, and that would be having the character marker point in the direction that the character is facing. That alone would solve all orientation issues. But until you realize that the sun is always coming from the north, you have little chance of successfully using the map as a navigation tool. It's also not clear what purpose the Bat Terminals serve, but experimentation proves that they clear the fog and operate as warp points to quickly get to other parts of the city. However, it's typically more fun just to run, drive, or fly to where you need to go. Exploring the city is half the fun, and it's also required to track down every last red brick, gold brick, imperiled citizen, vehicle, and unlockable character. Another price to pay for this incredible amount of real estate and detail is that the load times are painfully long (possibly even longer than they were in "Lego Pirates Of The Caribbean").

Sadly, the game is also the buggiest Lego game I've played to date, and it crashed no fewer than six times while I was playing. Thankfully I never lost any data, but it still spoiled the experience. I also encountered a progress limiting bug in one area that left me unable to swap characters in order to solve a puzzle. (Aquaman, Joker, Lex Luthor, and Flash were all needed) This happened regularly until I disabled certain extra features, and then I was finally able to get past it. Another new feature that the game adds is a checkpoint system so that you can save your progress in Story or Free Play mode, but I found it to be completely broken and I was never able to successfully return to a saved checkpoint. And finally, like several of the more recent Lego games, it lacks detailed instructions and some things are never made clear, like The Joker's ability to charge and discharge electrical switches, or Penguin's ability to launch bombs. I would have never discovered these without a strategy guide, and the onscreen hints didn't show up until AFTER I had used those abilities for the first time. All of these unfortunate bugs and design decisions make an otherwise delightful game less than a stellar experience, and it's unfortunate that more time wasn't put into polishing the final product.