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Your first look at what’s out there in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

TT Games is all set to dip back into the Lego well (as if there was ever a doubt) for Lego Batman 3: Beyond GothamAfter Lego Batman 2 introduced open-world exploration to the series, along with voice acting to help flesh out the story, the studio is building on successes in its more recent games to inject the fall 2014 release with a feeling of freshness.

Those elements return in Beyond Gotham, but TT Games worked to improve a number of basic systems as well, notably bringing in the inventory approach to managing character skills, as seen in the Lord of the Rings games, as well as introducing new, VR-style missions. We recently got to take a hands-off look at how the game is coming along in advance of its public reveal at E3 next month, and — wouldn’t you know it? — it looks like a Lego game.

Story/Concept

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Out of this world. As the end of Lego Batman 2 teased, Brainiac is up to his villainous tricks in Beyond Gotham. He’s using the stolen Lantern Rings to shrink worlds down to a manageable size so that he can add them to his collection. Following some scene-setting on Earth, Batman and his fellow Justice League heroes venture off to the Lantern worlds with the intent of recovering the rings and stopping Brainiac.

Related: Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham review

Don’t let the “Batman” title fool you, kids. This game is about more than Gotham’s Dark Knight. The full Justice League is involved, and they’re all working together to bring down Brainiac. They’re not alone either. We only saw Batman, Robin, Cyborg, and Flash during our eyes-on look, but we’re told that more than 150 playable characters can be unlocked in the game.

Not so fast. Our look at Beyond Gotham didn’t explore any of the Brainiac-driven plotline, focusing instead on an early moment in the game when Batman and his chums are preparing to leave Earth behind. After building a spaceship in the Batcave (Bat-rocket!), Batman and Robin blast off to meet up with Justice League at the super-team’s orbital Watchtower command center.

Unfortunately, things don’t go exactly to plan. See, the Watchtower’s been taken over by the Joker, Lex Luthor, and the combined might of the Legion of Doom (we also spotted Killer Croc, Firefly, and Solomon Grundy). These villains must be dealt with before any expeditions to Oa and beyond can be staged.

Gameplay

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Bat-gadgets. The idea of swapping in and out of different suits in order to access assorted powers and abilities sees a significant change in Lego Batman 3. Instead of having to find a change station to swap suits, players can now switch to different gadget sets on the fly by calling up an inventory using a radial menu, and choosing the desire gear from whatever’s unlocked. It’s a subtle difference, but one that TT Games hopes will help players avoid situations where they’ve got to backtrack in search of a particular station.

Familiar abilities from the past two games return, but Beyond Gotham also introduces a handful of new gadgets for our heroes to play with. During Batman and Robin’s jaunt through the Batcave we saw: Robin’s Illumination Suit, which lights up dark spaces; Robin’s Tech Suit, which allows the sidekick to spawn a sidekick of his own, in the form of a tiny, remote-controlled Robin riding on a hoverboard; Batman’s Sensor Suit, which allows you to see behind certain surfaces; and Batman’s Space Suit, which comes equipped with a handy jetpack.

Play by play. One of the problems with the abundance of Lego games is the tendency to see certain ideas repeating over and over again from game to game. We definitely saw a lot of familiar platforming & puzzle-solving during the Batcave sequence, but TT Games has some new wrinkles for Beyond Gotham.

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First up is a large selection of VR-style mini-missions. In the demo, Batman and Robin must complete three of these when they hack into the Batcomputer in search of a security code. These VR missions are meant to be bite-sized (and increasingly difficult), and it’s been suggested that there’s some competitive component to them in two-player games. The three we saw were relatively straightforward tests of reflexes, built around platforming and careful timing.

Vehicle missions return in Beyond Gotham, with the one demoed following Batman and Robin in their respective space fighters as they circle the Watchtower to defend against the Joker’s attacks. The ships appeared to only be able to travel along a 2D left-right/up-down plane, but the visual execution is 2.5D, with all of the action unfolding in a circular orbit around the Watchtower. Destroyed enemies drop a variety of pick-ups, including some kind of sustained-fire laser beam and a temporary shield.

The demo concluded with another of the more traditional puzzle-solving exercises, save for the fact that Batman, Robin, Cyborg, and Flash duked it out with Legion of Doom cronies in the vacuum of space, running along the outside of the Justice League’s orbital command center. The cylindrical design of the station is almost reminiscent of Super Mario Galaxy in the way that characters run circles around this (relatively speaking) small structure floating in outer space.

Presentation

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All that’s familiar. There’s nothing especially different about the visual execution of Lego Batman 3 as compared to the series’ previous games. TT Games demoed the build on newer console hardware, and the visual upgrade is about on par with what we saw in Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Individual pieces are shinier and more reflective (like real-life plastic) and lighting/particle effects are more impressive overall.

In short: Lego Batman 3 looks like a Lego game. As expected. This is neither good nor bad; TT Games has its formula figured out for this series, regardless of the franchise being toyed with, and it works. There’s nothing about what we saw of Beyond Gotham that suggests otherwise.

Takeaway

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is more Lego madness from TT Games. If you’ve enjoyed what the studio’s done in video games over the years with the family-friendly building blocks, then you’re probably going to be a fan of this new one, especially if you’re a DC Comics nut. Beyond Gotham casts a wider net in that comic-book universe than we’ve seen in the series before, and diehard readers should enjoy the opportunity to tease out deep-cut references. We’ll assuredly see more of this fall 2014 participant right around E3, which kicks off in just a few more weeks.

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