April 2015 will mark ten years since LEGO Star Wars was released – the first title developed by TT Games using the LEGO licence. In that time, we have seen numerous blockbuster film series receiving brick makeovers, including the likes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones; though few have proved as popular as LEGO Batman. Following the success of his previous outings, The Dark Knight returns in LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.
Set shortly after the events of LEGO Batman 2, Beyond Gotham follows the Caped Crusader as he joins forces with fellow superheroes in the DC Universe in an attempt to stop the evil Brainiac from shrinking worlds to add to his twisted collection of miniature cities. Despite being fairly slow to begin with, the well-written story is brimming with the typical slapstick humour, homages and references we’ve come to expect from the series – something that Batman fans will appreciate.
In terms of gameplay, Beyond Gotham retains the “smash everything in sight” mentality the series has become renowned for, as players collect studs (the game’s currency) and other collectibles such as Gold Bricks, Minikits, Red Bricks, Character Tokens and Vehicle Tokens. TT Games has jam-packed the title full of content, with players having to devote a considerable amount of hours to the game if they want to obtain 100% completion.
This is largely down to the ever-familiar LEGO formula: the carrot and stick approach. During the first playthrough, the level design teases players with character-specific challenges and obstacles that can only be completed by repeating the level – sometimes several times. As ever, this grinding is rewarding as players unlock new characters and achievements, though tethers on the edge of being overly repetitive and frustrating.
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham boasts a large roster of characters from the DC Universe of over one hundred and fifty superheroes and villains. Joining old favourites from the Batman series are familiar faces such as Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and more. Fans of the comics will be delighted to hear that each one has been excellently designed and voiced to replicate their comic book counterparts. The attention to detail is quite remarkable.
In addition to their regular powers and abilities, Batman, Robin, Cyborg, Lex Luthor and The Joker also have access to multiple suits, a returning feature which is made more manageable thanks to the implementation of a selector wheel. Unlocked throughout the story, the characters are able to utilise the likes of a Space Suit (which gives them the ability to fly), Arctic Suit (enabling them to put out fires) and a Sonar Suit (allowing them to break glass), among others. While the suits allow for further variation within the gameplay, it was the simplicity of the earlier games that what made them so accessible to players of all ages – something that the series seems to be drifting away from.
This inaccessibility is reflected in the level design which, despite being linear (as opposed to the open world nature of the previous LEGO Batman title), causes a number of problems. Players will frequently find themselves wandering around the environments in search of the route they need to take in order to progress. This is largely down to the lack of guidance the game offers, combined with the sheer amount of powers and abilities each character possesses. This comes as a major disappointment considering the title is tailored towards younger audiences, who are unlikely to have the patience and persistence of older gamers.
However, Beyond Gotham’s major issue is that TT Games has played it safe, arguably a little too safe. There’s no denying that the LEGO formula works brilliantly. It has been tried and tested on a whole host of titles after all. It’s just the lack of adaptation in any way, shape or form makes this no different from any other instalment. Not to mention the removal of the open world being a major step backwards for the series.
That’s not to say Beyond Gotham isn’t a well-developed title. Although the lack of online play still comes as a disappointment, the drop-in, drop-out co-operative multiplayer is still as solid as ever. Moreover, TT Games has managed to achieve the perfect balance. Levels are lengthy, but not too long; puzzles are tricky, but not too complicated and the difficulty is moderate, not too easy and not too challenging.
On the visual side of things, Beyond Gotham looks fantastic on the Xbox One. In addition to the excellent character modelling, iconic locations such as Gotham, the Batcave and the Fortress of Solitude have been brilliantly recreated in LEGO and suit the game’s style perfectly.
As for the audio, the dialogue is provided by a huge cast of voice actors, which includes the likes of Adam West, Conan O’Brien and Stephen Amell (from the TV series “Arrow”). Having some instantly recognisable voices from the Batman world within the title adds a genuine element to the game, which Bat-fans will be grateful for.
Overall, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is a solid addition to the series. This is largely down to a combination of strong gameplay, a varied character roster and a great quantity of depth (more so with the downloadable content). On the other hand, Beyond Gotham is a prime example of how the LEGO franchise is running out of ideas and is in desperate need of an overhaul. TT Games are going to have to pull off something pretty special if they are to maintain the interest of gamers.