Playing Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham after Lego Marvel does little to hide the comparative paucity of star power in DC’s lineup. Beyond the Batman and Superman universes, you’re almost constantly left shrugging your shoulders at the characters on your screen.
This is notable from an early cutscene with a selection of naughty Lanterns messing about in space, which will have all but regular DC readers shrugging their shoulders with indifference until the Joker and Lex Luthor show up to add a bit of class to the villains stable.
The story sees the members of the Justice League taking on Brainiac who has started collecting cities again in miniature form. For the most part, you’ll be playing as Batman and Robin, who once again have changeable suits to give them special powers like explosives, lasers, underwater diving, hacking and so on. Batman seems even more grumpy than usual and comes off as a bit of a jerk on more than one occasion. Still, what do you expect when having to put up with Robin all day? Most characters seem to be exaggerated versions of themselves, but to be fair, as much as we adults like playing the Lego games, they are aimed at children, so we shouldn’t judge this too harshly. The Flash is admittedly amusing throughout with his obsessive collecting and hoarding of pretty much anything in the cutscenes never failing to extract a chuckle or two.
Let’s get into some gameplay though. Unlike the last game, you can swap into a different suit at any time instead of having to find a specific station. It’s a big improvement, only slightly let down by a clunky radial menu and a slow process when wanting to swap to a different character in freeplay mode. Nearby teammates can be quickly hopped into by facing them and pressing triangle, but if there’s more than one, you’ll often select everyone but them in a taunting game of piggy in the middle.
There’s not much to say about gameplay if you’ve ever played a Lego game. Each stage is packed with breakable objects, some of which can then be rebuilt to form an unlikely construction to help you reach a new area. It rarely makes sense and the only tactic you’ll need will be to break everything and look out for the telltale bouncing blocks to indicate a new build.
Combat seems even more basic than before and oddly unresponsive. The QTE elements briefly introduced in Lego The Hobbit have been nixed too. Best bet: switch to Superman and fry them all with laser vision from above whenever possible.
As the game’s subtitle implies, the action takes place in locations other than the Dark Knight’s backyard. You’ll travel to Europe and enjoy stomping around miniaturised versions of Paris and London like Godzilla on holiday. There are a few too many space station stages for my liking, but at least a tour of the lantern planets changes things up a little. A few Resogun-esque shooter levels have been squeezed in, although they’re a little sparse in enemy numbers compared to Housemarque’s well received PS4 blaster.
I played through the entire campaign in co-op with my better half, although it took a bit of convincing after 37 hours into Lego The Hobbit we were screwed out of a Trophy thanks to a glitch, scuppering our plans for a Platinum. On the plus side, for the first time, both players will earn Trophies when signed into their individual accounts, rather than all the silverware going to player one. No progress file is created for player two though, so they can’t fire up the game alone and resume the collection, but requirements for the Trophies are rounded enough to make sure the other player is able to catch up easily next time they play with you.
There are some downsides to co-op play though. There’s still no online functionality, despite the newspaper on my coffee table pretending it’s the year 2014. Madness. The ‘dynamic camera’ option is still powered by lunacy too, spinning around with its ever shifting split often leaving one player absent from both sides or cramped into a tiny corner, making aiming projectiles an exercise in frustration. If the camera would just zoom out a bit more before opting for a split, things would be much better. The alternative locked split option never feels right as it’s a vertical one meaning you can’t see much of the world around you, making searching and exploring a pain – horizontal split or nothing next time please, Traveller’s Tales.
The endgame is more focussed than the likes of Lego Hobbit and Lego Marvel as there’s not a huge hub world to explore between revisiting campaign missions in freeplay with unlocked characters to gather up remaining bricks and minikits. Instead, there are missions dotted around The Watchtower and a few rounded versions of the Lantern planets that are similar to the explorable moons found in the Ratchet & Clank series.
There’s less to do than before, but you’re still looking at at least thirty hours of gameplay if you fancy a crack at a 100% rating. There’s nothing particularly taxing here -even the flying controls have been tuned up a bit- and it’s a solid title for relaxing gameplay sessions, especially when played with a co-op partner of any age. Which, when it comes down to it, is all we really want from a Lego game.
Presentation 69%: Graphics are a touch shinier on the new-gen consoles than last-gen ones, but some of the indoor environments are a bit dull. Voice over work camps things up nicely, but the celebrity cameos are painful.
Gameplay 65%: Jump, smash, build, repeat. It’s Lego, not science.
Single player 70%: Faster suit changes for the Dynamic Duo allow the game to flow better through a story that has a rich variety of environments for you to smash up and collect ALL THE THINGS!
Multiplayer 76%: Player two now earns Trophies too! Dynamic splitscreen mechanic is still an unpredictable opponent though.
Performance 72%: Quick loading times and smooth frame-rate let down by the splitscreen camera and occasional hit-detection on interactive elements.
The DC license lacks the star quality of its Marvel rival, but the refined elements of Lego Batman 3 ensure this is an improved sequel, despite the removal of an open world to explore. As ever though, this is best enjoyed in co-op if your sanity can take a bit of taunting from the camera.