The Dreaded Backlog: Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
The Lego games are a bit like the Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed games. They’re not all identical in the details, but in the broad strokes it’s not much of a stretch to say they’re identical. The two latter franchises distinguish themselves by changing up the period settings, but the Lego games find variety in their use of different already existing film properties, obviously.
Rather than cover the same ground (for the third time) I shall talk about the minor differences in Lego Batman 3 and then just talk about the feel of it and how much fun or pain I had.
In this game rather than having to build suit disposing pads for character costume changes, all the characters carry their alternate costumes with their alternate abilities. Hold down a button and Batman will switch into his heavy armour with the rocket launchers, and so on. Cyborg’s costume change animations are stunning.
The game no longer has an open world version of Gotham or wherever to explore. Instead there is a series of hubs, such as the Hall of Justice and the Justice League satellite watchtower. I actually liked this change as they’d already done the open world thing in the previous title. Instead this game strikes a balance between the linearity of the first game with the wit and imagination of the second game…to a degree.
Lego Batman 3 is more fun than Lego Batman, but significantly less fun than Lego Batman 2. I am not one to usually complain about misleading packing, but this game also misleads you about where it is going with its opening acts as well.
This one is supposedly about going on space adventures in the DC universe. I couldn’t wait. Except the first half of the game is set in generic looking parts of Gotham and then identical corridors in the watchtower…like several…in a row…over and over… Once you get out of the tower you get to explore European cities that have been shrunk by Brainiac. That was a hoot. However by that point it lacked impact as I was thoroughly bored of Earth and by the disingenuous use of the Beyond Gotham title. These levels would have been better suited happening after the characters returned from their eventual adventures in space.
The fun does pick up once you leave Earth and its orbit. Knocking about various weird planets fighting evil Lantern Corps was fun, but with some diminished impact. Then you return to Earth for an anti-climactic battle with a giant Brainiac brainwashed Superman. Yes, they manage to make that idea anti-climactic. The level was simply small and underdeveloped. This is a problem throughout the rest of the game too.
Lego Batman 3 was clearly given less time and fewer resources in production. The whole thing feels rushed even for the identikit style of Lego releases. There are levels that use excessively long boss fights to keep you in one area as padding. There are glitches semi-frequently. Sometimes the simple visual language of levels isn’t there and puzzles are only solvable by something you’d never consider. Often important clues are left away from an erratic and overly sticky camera. It’s a shame, because I wouldn’t have been bothered by these issues if the variety of game-play was there.
To ‘fix’ this game’s balance of fun would be simple too without requiring any further production time and resources. Throughout the game the characters are forced to split into different teams to deal with geographically separate emergencies (sometimes in space), later there are further team splits as the Justice League is forced to team up with the Legion of Doom.
Frequently I found these clashes of personalities and abilities to be the most refreshing thing in the game. If the level order was changed you could intersperse more of the space adventures with the defending of the watchtower and Earth. Keep returning to the home front, but breaking it up with the adventures in the unknown. It wouldn’t even take much to change the contextual storylines that justify the level locations.
I was also disappointed that there was no Apokolips in the campaign. A visit to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World in Lego form would have been fabulous.
All this being said, I would still play a Lego Batman 4 if it came into existence and I don’t mean the game of the Lego Batman Movie. I hope for the next title the development team get what they need. I also hope for something exploring the alternate worlds of the Lego DC universe. They need to produce something akin to Crisis on Infinite Earths or Flashpoint or even just a loving tribute to the golden and silver ages with Crisis on Two Earths.
I also bought some DLCs, one about the Suicide Squad, one celebrating the 75th anniversary of Batman and another that’s a tongue-in-cheek Arrow adaptation. They were all lovely and had more care put into them than a lot of the core game and I don’t mean that as an insult.
What is a Dreaded Backlog?