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LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes preview

Let’s get the big news in the open straight out of the gate. TT Games’ LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes introduces two fundamental changes to the long-running series of LEGO games that aim to freshen up what some have come to regard as an increasingly stale experience. One of the big new bullet points relates to a presentational feature change and the other relates to a mechanical one.

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes will be fully voiced, and it will allow your LEGO-fied heroes and villains to tromp around in an adorable (and quite large) open-world version of Gotham City. That’s it. Preview over.

What, you want to know more? …I suppose.

The next LEGO Batman adventure is coming our way later in 2012 with a newly expanded roster of heroes and villains wrapped into what is fundamentally the same sort of gameplay that characterized the original 2008 release. Yes, you’ll move from mission to mission by making your way from one location to another in the open world. The basic puzzle-solving concepts and combat introduced in the previous game are still present and accounted for, however.

Our demo kicked off at an early part of the game. TT Games isn’t ready to talk about the story yet, but it seemed like we were seeing the first chunk of play in the game. The scene is pretty familiar: the Joker has crashed Gotham’s Man of the Year awards — presumably an honor that Bruce Wayne is up for — and his thugs are raising all kinds of hell. That is until Batman and Robin show up, crashing the Batboat through the screen at the rear of the stage.

A melee breaks out in the theater, with our Dynamic Duo beating down a gang of face-painted mimes while keeping Harley Quinn at bay with Batarang tosses and a few well-placed punches. A hatch in the stage opens once the battle concludes and our heroes move on to continue their search for the maniacal clown-villain.

As the level unfolds, it becomes clear that we’re in familiar territory. Batman and Robin both have character-specific pads that they can access at specific locations. Using one of these pads allows them to put on specialized suits built specifically for solving the game’s various puzzles. As you might expect from a sequel, there’s a whole new wardrobe of suits to look forward to.

The first we got to see was Batman’s Sensor Suit, which he can use to turn invisible and see through special green-colored walls using X-ray vision. The invisibility will be necessary for getting past motion-detecting cameras that slam doors shut when they spot a body trying to pass through. As for the X-ray feature, it does more than just see through walls. In the puzzle that we saw, Batman was able to use the suit to pull a series of levels situated behind the wall he was looking through.

The Electricity Suit is another new piece of Batwear. Not only is the Dark Knight immune to electricity-based damage when he’s wearing it, he can also absorb that charge and hang onto it. The benefits of this are two-fold. First: Batman’s melee attacks become considerably more powerful when he’s charged up. He can also transfer that charge into a powered-down machine, a trick he’ll need to perform to solve various puzzles.

Sometimes, invisibility and electro-charged attacks won’t cut it. In those situations, Bats can always turn to his Power Suit. The key feature here? A large backpack equipped with a rocket launcher. As anyone who’s played a LEGO game knows, rockets and other high-powered explosives are essential for busting through silver-colored obstructions.

Robin also has a few suits of his own to work with. A later level, in which Joker raises a ruckus at Arkham Asylum and starts sinking the island it lives on into Gotham Bay, gives us a chance to see the new Hazard Suit in action. It’s basically wetsuit equipped with a much cooler version of of Super Mario Sunshine‘s FLUDD. Robin can shoot jets of water at enemies when he’s standing in a puddle, as well as breathe and interact with objects underwater.

Meanwhile, the Acrobat Suit hooks him up with a staff that doubles as both a weapon and a puzzle-solving too. The staff can be connected to special wall mounts that allow Robin to jump up and do his gymnast thing, giving him access to otherwise inaccessible locations. He’ll also have a few other new items in his wardrobe, including a Magnet Suit and an Ice Suit.

As the title (and 2011 rumors) suggest, DC Super Heroes introduces a new cast of characters, pulling in a much broader selection from the wider DC Comics universe. You can expect to see various members of the Justice League show up, including Martian Manhunter, The Flash, Aquaman and, of course, Superman. The Man of Steel will be able to fly around, use his heat vision and cold breath, and generally just be a badass. We didn’t actually see any Kryptonite during the demo, but you can be pretty sure that it’s there.

It’s not clear if there’s a villain-focused campaign as there was in the first LEGO Batman, but you can also expect to be facing off against a bigger rogue’s gallery. Two-Face and Killer Croc showed up during the demo, along with The Joker and Harley Quinn. I also spotted Lex Luthor, Poison Ivy, Bane and — in a totally random, deep-cut reference — Killer Moth in the game’s menus.

The demo also offered an extended look at the open world portion of the game. Think of LEGO Batman 2‘s Gotham City as you would the hub in most any other LEGO game. It’s probably closest to LEGO Star Wars III in terms of how much content there is, but a quick look suggests it eclipses even that. Scattered all around the city are puzzles to solve for the game’s various collectibles as well as “citizens in peril” side missions. We weren’t shown the latter, but the puzzles get pretty elaborate, requiring the use of multiple suits and abilities in a specific sequence in order to complete them.

The last new element, a fully voice-acted story, is the only thing we really didn’t get to see. A brief trailer was shown in which the Joker spouts out a cleverly written line that nods to another portion of the Batman universe, but that’s it. TT promises that you’ll be hearing some recognizable names when the finished game is released later this year, but a lot of those pieces just aren’t in place yet.

Overall, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is looking like a mighty good time. The same elements that made the first game such a success are back and improved upon, and the newly expanded roster of characters — and the powers that they promise to bring (FLYING!) — is welcome. The open world and voice acting though… these speak to a potentially larger shift for TT Games. It’s good to see new ways of thinking applied to the LEGO game formula. Now if only we could get some online co-op action happening….