The LEGO series has been on a roll lately, with multiple high scoring titles over the past 12 months or so. The question is: does LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham have what it takes to topple the others – or should it have simply stayed in the shadows?
Contrary to LEGO game tradition, the story in this edition is fairly forgettable. Loosely based upon the evil Brainiac stealing the Lantern rings, the plot often strays or loses pace with bloated cut-scenes. Fortunately, the gameplay is slightly more successful.
Over the course of the title’s eight to ten hour campaign, you’ll engage in a ton of well conceived minigames, which offer respite from the customary LEGO puzzles and combat that punctuate the remainder of the experience. There’s even a block-based rendition of Resogun near the beginning, which sees the Dark Knight defending himself from an onslaught of the Joker’s missiles and baddies.
The game holds true to its title, too, as it takes place in various DC Comics locations outside of Gotham. In fact, the Batman-centric content is far from the centrepiece, as you’ll spend the majority of your time playing as various other different superheroes and stars.
Oddly enough, though, the title ditches the open world gameplay glimpsed in recent entries. Instead, the developer’s adopted the linear format previously reserved for budget entries, which is strange considering that this is 2014’s flagship outing. Later in the game, you’ll unlock smaller planets that allow for free movement, but these are shallow in comparison to a true open world, and the whole package feels like a step back as a consequence.
To be fair, though, this tweak does allow for clearer paths through the world, which should make it appealing to younger audiences. Factor in the painfully easy boss fights and puzzles, however, and the balance feels a little out of whack; it’s just not going to engage older players like previous editions.
In fact, even the writing has been toned down. Granted, many of the characters can be obscure, but the referential humour doesn’t seem anywhere near as strong as its predecessors, and the slapstick comedy generally seems lazy and out of touch with the style of many of the worlds.
At least the option for certain characters to switch suits on the fly is an improvement. This augments the moment-to-moment gameplay and even puzzles with plenty of variety, and saves you from having to constantly toggle between different stars. Even better, while many suits can be shared, some have their own set of power-ups, such as Robin’s, which allows you to solve computer puzzles, hack certain devices, and even summon a remote control Boy Wonder to activate switches.
There’s a similar amount of diversity in the combat, too, which is simple to execute, but is kept interesting through the addition of character-specific animations and finishers. The only real downside is that sometimes it’s difficult to spot an enemy among all of the chaos occurring on screen, which can lead to cheap deaths – even if there’s no real penalty for getting squashed.
Still, at least it looks great, with strong lighting and particle effects, and a silky smooth framerate. The camera is occasionally glitchy, making it particularly irritating during platforming sequences, but it’s not a problem frequently enough to cause any major headaches.
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham feels like a step back for the sub-series. A lazy story, as well as a lack of open world content, prevents this from building upon the broad shoulders of its PlayStation 3 predecessor – even if it does have stunning visuals and some neat minigames. DC Comics fans will get a buzz out of some aspects of the release, while those that really enjoy LEGO titles may find fun here – but everyone else should try the demo first.