Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

Year: 2014
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Developer: Traveler's Tales
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 2/20/15
Rating: ***

While the Lego games continue to be fun and charming, "Lego Batman 3" is a disappointment that seriously tries your patience. It's also unfortunate that Batman plays such a small role in what is essentially a Justice League game or even a Green Lantern game. For whatever reasons, Brainiac develops a shrink ray and decides that he wants to add the planet Earth to his collection of shrunken planets. But in order to do this, he needs to capture the ring bearers from the various lantern planets and harness their energy. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor and the Legion Of Doom decide to attack the Justice League Watchtower and hold the Earth ransom with its powerful weaponry. Naturally, the good guys respond by beating everyone up.

Just like previous Lego games, this one includes story mode, free play mode, and exploration mode, and while the game mechanics haven't changed, the presentation is extremely aggravating. By far the worst offender is Conan O'Brien, who shows up at every hub location and explains how the game works over, and over, and over, and over, and never shuts up. What the hell is he even doing in the game? Ironically, he even asks the same question. He's a constant annoyance who serves no purpose, and I can't believe this made it through play testing and into the final product. Another annoyance is Bat-Mite, but he's supposed to be annoying. He shows up to offer hints, but he's so irritating that you desperately try to avoid running into any of the hint objects. And then there's Kevin Smith, who shows up in random places and is generally annoying. Again, why is he in the game and what value does he add? I have no idea. Other celebrity cameos include Adam West, Gilbert Gottfried as Mister Mxyzptlk, and Daffy Duck as "The Green Loontern." Another inexplicable cameo is a T-Rex from Jurassic Park, which shows up during the credits. Huh? Speaking of credits, the game's closing credits seem to go on FOREVER. They're at least fifteen minutes long and broken up by several animated intermissions. It's insane.

If you've played any other Lego games, you know that they're buggy and unstable, and "Lego Batman 3" is no exception. However, the audio problems are much more severe than the software problems this time around. It seriously makes me wonder how the game got through QA, or if the play testers simply tested with the sound off. Most notably, in exploration mode all of the characters speak with a heavy echo, as if they were recorded in a huge, empty auditorium. Not only does this not make any sense, but it also makes them impossible to understand. But as soon as you walk away from them, they'll start talking normally and twice as loud. Additionally, the audio levels are all over the place and wildly inconsistent. In story mode, the dialog is so quiet that you can't hear the characters speak, while the music and sound effects are deafeningly loud. This kind of incompetent audio engineering is inexcusable, especially in this day and age. I remember dealing with audio normalization issues twenty years ago, and I can't imagine that the tools for handling this haven't improved dramatically over the years. Again, how anyone thought this was acceptable and approved it for production is beyond me.

On the plus side, the vocal performances themselves are quite good (when you can hear them). Troy Baker makes an excellent Batman and channels Kevin Conroy quite nicely. He's delightfully grumpy and is wonderful throughout. Nolan North, Laura Bailey, Tara Strong, and Clancy Brown also deliver excellent performances. Adam West also provides some amusing moments, but he sounds old and frail. He shows up as a character in peril, much like Stan Lee did in "Lego Marvel Super Heroes" (2013). One of the highlights of the game is a bonus level featuring the cast of "Batman '66" as well as the old Batman theme music. This level is utterly delightful, except for a progress limiting bug that I encountered towards the end which forced me to reboot the machine. The soundtrack includes pieces from Danny Elfman's original score, along with John Williams's "Superman" theme and the theme music from the "Wonder Woman" TV series. There's some other music that I didn't recognize, which might have been taken from other DC Comics movies (like "Green Lantern" for instance). Overall, it works well and loops much better than the original "Lego Batman" (2008) game.

In addition to the hub areas like the Batcave, Watchtower, and the Hall Of Justice, there are also a number of lantern planets to explore. These small spheroid worlds contain various quests and races, but the warped perspective makes them difficult to maneuver. Also, the detector arrows are absolutely worthless on the planets because they always point in the same direction. Granted, they tend to be confusing and misleading in the first place, but they're especially bad on the planets.

Special powers can be purchased by finding red bricks, which can be found in the game levels rather than the hub areas. This is a nice change that mimics how the older Lego games used to work, and makes them much easier to obtain. Curiously, there's no invincibility brick, which is disappointing. However, the stud multipliers are the first red bricks that you find, which means there's never a problem with having enough studs. In fact, I had to turn them all off early on in the game because I had WAY too many studs. The game includes the standard fetch quests and vehicle races from other Lego games, and introduces a series of virtual reality missions where you perform various time based tasks "inside" a computer simulation. These have a strong "Tron" vibe, as your faceless character glows with blue lines, and the faceless bad guys glow with red lines. These are simple, but uninteresting diversions. The one improvement that they introduced with this game that I really like is that the game settings are now saved with your game data, so you don't have to reset them every time you reload your game. This seems like an obvious thing to do, so I'm surprised it took them this long to get around to it. Overall, "Lego Batman 3" is another fun and enjoyable entry in the Lego series, as long as you can avoid Conan O'Brien and put up with all of the other grating and overly chatty characters. They really should have added an option to make him shut up, or at least only have him go through his schtick ONCE, instead of EVERY TIME you go near him. Really, what were they thinking?