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A Fun But Flawed Experience

Lego games have always stuck to a specific formula. Take one part platformer, two parts comedy, add some collectables for length, a bevy of unlockables, and tie it all together with a a series of levels that can be accessed from a home location of sorts. Lego Batman attempts to take this tried and true formula to new heights by creating a vast and very busy open world for the player to explore. While the concept is a great one in theory, the game is weighted down by a slew of technical issues that hold back an otherwise solid game.

The game opens with with Gotham City's "Man of the Year" award presentation. The competition is narrowed down to just Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor . As the award is given out, the Joker attacks along with a rogues' gallery of other villains. It is up to Batman to save the day (and by no means does he need Superman's help). The story plays out over a series of fifteen levels and builds from Batman & Robin in the early stages to a who's who of Justice League members by the end.

The story for this game is vastly more complex than the first Lego Batman game, and because of this, Telltale Games elected to use a voice cast to convey the story, rather than utilize the typical silent, purely physical acting of other Lego games. This works to the games favor in some aspects while at the same time making you wish that they might  have just taken away some of the complexity to maintain that silent flair. When the dialogue hits on all cylinders it is both fun and coherent, but at times, it misses the mark. I particularly found myself missing Mark Hamill within 5 minutes of hearing the Joker speak.

The campaign levels contain every bit as much puzzle and problem solving gameplay as you may have come to expect with these games. Both Batman and Robin have at least one suit return from the previous game, but add a few others that mix up the gameplay and made the experience feel fresh and different. The puzzle solving particularly stood out with the addition of the JLA members, who have many of the same abilities as Batman and Robin's suits, but have better accessibility to those abilities. Combat is fairly straight forward, and at times can be a bit chaotic with up to 10 enemies on the screen at once, but the game is not difficult by any stretch of the imagination; seeking more to work the brain than the combat reflexes.

The game can be played either solo, with a computer controlling your partner(s), or with split screen co-op. I was disappointed to find that I completely despised the manner in which split screen was incorporated with this game. I have granded three Lego games at this point (Batman, Star Wars: The Complete Saga, and Indiana Jones, and have nearly granded Lego Star Wars 2), and with each of the previous games, I always found that the co-op experience was the best way to experience the game. However, this is the first Lego game I have played where the players are allowed to move in separate directions from one another, with the screen splitting into two views, rather than expanding the camera view to the point where it is difficult to ascertain direction.

My problem is not with the splitting of the screen, as I feel this is a genuinely good direction for these games to head in. However, the view that is provided can be severely limiting. On more than one occasion, I found myself in a platforming situation, where the camera angle provided to me by the split screen cut off at my waist. This made more than one platforming sequence a rage inducing affair. The other issue with the splitting of the camera views is the distance at which it splits. As my friend and I played, we found a number of instances where we were less than half a screen's distance apart, but rather than take the easier to process full view of what  we were doing, the game split the the screen with the individual camera views literally overlapping. This can be downright obnoxious in some areas as you try to process and solve puzzles and problems within a level. So, while I feel moving to a split screen was a good move for these games, they definitely have a lot of work ahead to make the views more functional and to the advantage of the player, rather than the detriment. Solo play was the vastly better experience with this game.

As I stated before, the game does not stick to the same formula of having a central home location for the game to progress from. The game takes place on three different islands that make up Gotham City, and you must travel to each new mission (these missions can then be accessed on the Bat Computer for free play). Rather than have vehicles, characters and red bricks for sale at a centralized store, the player must find them throughout the city and purchase them. In the case of super villains, the player must defeat the villain and then purchase them. The city is fairly large, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of puzzles spread out throughout the world for the player to find and collect gold bricks. Only 61 of the game's 250 gold bricks are within levels, while the rest are spread across the rooftops and alleyways of Gotham.

While the open world provides some very cool changes to the gameplay formula, it also shows the some of the more severe technical issues. Vehicles and other items that show up on the map will not spawn when you arrive, while other times, they will suddenly pop into existence after a few seconds of being there. Additionally, everytime that you collect a gold brick the game saves and during this time you cannot move. This is particularly bad when playing splitscreen, as both may be attempting to get gold bricks which can involve very intricate platforming. Should a player collect a gold brick while the other player is in the middle of a jump, the jumping player will fall straight down, and not be able to move unto the save process is complete. On more than one occasion my friend and I miscommunicated and accidentally lost a few minutes of progress.  This made the collect-a-thon mechanic tedious at best.

Beyond that, I experienced a bevy of glitches and bugs; from enemies running in and out of walls, to collectable enemies randomly disappearing in the middle of combat. The game just seems to lack a sense of being fine tuned, and some design choices were mind boggling. For example, the islands are set up, so as to prevent the player from advancing to other sections too soon. To do this, one island is blocked off by gates that require Superman's heat vision to open. However, I found a building with a gold block right next to one of these gates that you can use the bat suit to glide over the wall (you need the suit to get the gold block) and open a passage to the island at a very early stage.

The best example I can give to emphasize this feeling of lack of polish is the the last level of the game. The first two times I played it, the level ended prematurely as I attempted to collect a mini-kit up in the air. My friend and I thought that Lex Luthor had been up in the helicopter above, somehow. However, as I was doing my freeplay runs to clear the game 100%, I found that the game had simply glitched and skipped two whole boss battles. Twice this happened, so it wasn't an anomalous occurrence.

All in all, I found the game to be a fun game, but its technical issues serve as major detractors. With more polish, this could have been a fun and memorable experience, but its problems relegate it to being noting more than an average game.

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