I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for LEGO games. I’m never quite sure if it stems from my childhood experiences or a need to just play a game that’s shamelessly good fun. Although the LEGO I had was nowhere near as cool as the modern stuff. Either way I don’t think I’ve played a LEGO game that I didn’t enjoy at least on some level.
It’s been particularly great for fans of comic books and superheroes of late too. We’ve seen just about every marvel character take their blocky primary coloured form as LEGO characters in Marvel Superheroes and now the franchise moves back to Batman, for the 3rd time. The DC universe has a huge wealth of characters and stories to draw from and LEGO always seems to find the balance between original comic characters and modern approaches so that nobody is alienated. I was a little disappointed at the occasional portrayal of Robin as the sort of snivelling cretin that those ignorant of the Batman franchise tend to imagine him but he does provide the familiar LEGO brand of comic relief.
Soon I was jumping, fighting and solving puzzles in the usual way. Switching costumes on the fly works quickly efficiently and doesn’t leave you sitting around waiting like Marvel Superheroes did. Puzzles are the usual affair and on your first playthrough levels are littered with items, objects and areas that you can’t access. It’s business as usual then for LEGO. Play the game through collecting studs to purchase characters and find those secret bricks to unlock powerful game changing modifiers and secrets. Then once you’ve got the abilities you need, play levels again to find all the secrets. If you’ve played LEGO before you know what you’re getting into here. I particularly enjoyed Adam West as ‘LEGO guy in peril’ that needs rescuing on certain levels.
Once the game opens up after the first couple of hours it becomes obvious just how much there is to do. Those who’ve played a LEGO game before will know what to expect, those who haven’t may be in for a shock – although I can’t imagine anyone hasn’t played even one LEGO game by now. Beyond Gotham does not disappoint on the amount of content.
Jumping, attacking and building are unsurprisingly still the cornerstones of LEGO and nothing has changed for Batman’s third outing. The controls are the same tried and tested formula that’s been around since the early days. Even the puzzles, platforming and enemy encounters are not likely to surprise anyone who’s played a LEGO game before. The old when in doubt smash everything tactic is just as relevant as before and will often see you through an area, even if it’s initially unclear how.
Graphically Beyond Gotham is everything we’ve come to expect from the franchise. The smooth shiny plastic characters look brilliantly LEGO-ey as usual. Again it’s exactly what fans will expect. The areas and environmental features that aren’t LEGO are by far the worst looking elements as usual but the characters that take centre stage pull the game through.
Voice acting is solid and attempts to mimic the 90’s era of films and TV. In my opinion it’s difficult to say what Batman should sound like, especially as I’m a fan of the comics. But rest assured that this isn’t the strange, extremely camp, 60’s Batman – although that does get a few jokes and nods. Troy Baker leads the great line-up of voice actors as Batman and all the conversations and interactions throughout the game are funny and natural sounding.
The problem with Beyond Gotham is purely that it is a LEGO game following a formula that hasn’t changed all that significantly since LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game all the way back in 2005. True the worlds are much, much larger. Characters now speak and have allowed for the cutesy tongue-in-cheek humour that we all love. And you can guarantee that you will not want for more collectables in a LEGO title. But at it’s heart the game is using ideals from a game released almost a decade ago.
And the solution for LEGO was franchise tie-ins. Which worked well. But there will come a time when the tie-in isn’t enough. That time is quickly approaching. For the first time I found myself bored by the same puzzles, although in Beyond Gotham they are particularly easy. The combat was never much more than a bit of fun to break up the pacing between platforming but it’s starting to get old now. The novelty of LEGO DC characters is great for a comic book geek like myself but I doubt that others will find much to do in LEGO that they haven’t done before. Even for DC fans the character roster, impressive though it is at 150, is getting to the point where it’s not enough to carry the game.
With overly simple puzzles and badly aging mechanics LEGO is starting to lose it a little. For the first time I was bored at times. I enjoyed finding the collectables and unlocking new characters still gave me that moment of nostalgia. But once that’s worn off the cracks are all that remains. We’ve finally got to the point where we need change – and honestly we’re probably long past that point. More complicated combat or difficult puzzles seem like an option but there’s the risk of alienating younger gamers. I’m not sure what the answer is but franchise tie-ins are no longer enough. The LEGO game itself, beyond the latest franchise skin, needs some changes if the LEGO games are going to live on much longer.