Traveller's Tales plunders Arkham asylum for one of the best LEGO titles yet
So this was always going to go one of two ways. After the somewhat-faltering Indiana Jones title, LEGO fans had every right to expect a similar fate from the Batman license. The premise of an original storyline and a minimal amount of movie references hinted at a game slightly at odds with the rest of the series, leaving players to simply revel in the universe rather than specific celluloid-inspired set pieces. Thankfully, it works a treat. In piecing together this type of scattered experience, Traveller's Tales has shown itself capable of not only culling from the best, but also able to craft unique scenarios and plotlines that fit well within an established universe – boding well for future licences.
If you'd expected a game based solely around the recent Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, you'd be entirely wrong. The basic premise takes in a considerable amount of comic book canon, with the plot revolving around a jailbreak at Arkham Asylum that frees Gotham's most notorious villains - allowing them to form three super-groups hell-bent on taking over the city. Amongst the obvious cast members like Catwoman, The Joker and Riddler, you'll also find some obscure references and strange choices best left for the player to discover. This is fan service at its finest.
As you may have garnered from numerous screenshots and preview videos, basic gameplay in LEGO Batman hasn't exactly altered a great deal. Character movement is roughly akin to previous titles, environmental puzzles and build-em-up set pieces draw largely from the same inventive melding pot of ideas, and an overwhelming sense of familiarity abounds. Not that the series necessarily needs altering of course. The control scheme is simple and yet refined, the puzzles hit the sweet spot between child and adult-friendly, and the level design constantly enchants and drives you forward to see the next arena.
Even if you're tired of the LEGO series as a whole, Batman has a good chance of drawing you back in. Each level is carefully crafted and themed around some memorable environments (Arkham and the haunted fairground being highlights), with few of the overly-simplistic and boxed-in set-ups that characterised Indy. That means room for over 20 vehicles to experiment with, a whole bunch of different suits that give our superheroes new powers, along with the freedom to play each scenario from the perspective of your villain counterparts – complete with alternative objectives, cut-scenes and camera angles.
In that respect, Batman makes for a swift return to the idea of content being king in the LEGO universe. Whilst not quite as ubiquitous as the Star Wars games, the amount of unlockable items and characters should really be enough to satiate the OCD of even the most ardent fan. As ever, almost all the objects in the game are breakable, with hidden superhero kits to uncover on top of the usual LEGO stud meter to keep an eye on. The replay value is immense.
Unfortunately, in keeping with the same engine, Batman exhibits all of the same frustrating hallmarks as previous LEGO titles. The AI can become comically bad at points, leading to the urge to batter Robin over the head or artificially manipulate the pathing to make him do what you want. On top of that, whilst the camera seems to have been improved somewhat, you'll still encounter the same annoyingly difficult jumps as the viewpoint gets backed into a corner or swings round as you fly through mid-air. Not good.
But we knew that would be the case, and whilst the glut of technical annoyances (slowdown still exists in the 360 version tested, along with a hint of tearing in certain spots) should really be resolved at this point, to complain about them would be akin to complaining about the fact that Revels still include a toffee variety. It really doesn't matter when the rest of the package is so well polished and so enjoyable, and to a large extent they can be ignored in favour of alternative solutions (dropping resolution or switching on the framerate-altering V-sync option).
Top game moment:
LEGO BATMAN: THE VIDEOGAME VERDICT
Whilst it would be nice to see Traveller’s Tales move to an upgraded engine at some point in the future, LEGO Batman confirms that we can stomach at least another couple of titles before the shift in technology. It’s not quite as deep as the Star Wars variants, and offers little of the set-piece puzzling that Indy championed, but in providing a unique storyline and championing fan service above all else, it manages to carve out its own place in the LEGO stable. I wonder what’s next?