Lego Batman 3 is cookie-cutter game design at its worst.
It’s a perfectly functional game, with bright colors, family-friendly play, and grin-worthy writing, but it’s undeniably safe. Boring. There’s nothing remotely interesting or forward-thinking about it; worse even, it manages to step back from some of the new ideas its predecessor introduced.
The biggest shame of all is that it’s not broken out of the gate. At least in that case, developer TT Games might be encouraged to re-think its increasingly stale Lego game framework.
This is a series that refuses to grow, even as it chases an older audience.
It’s a new adventure for Batman and his pals in the Justice League. Brainiac is out to shrink down the planet Earth for his private collection, and he’s using the combined powers of the cosmic Lantern Corps (and Sinestro Corps) to win his prize. Only the collected talents of DC Comics’ mightiest heroes can hope to stop him.
Lego Batman 2 moved the series forward by introducing Gotham City as a freely explorable open world for the first time in any Lego game. Beyond Gotham reins that freedom in, with exploration restricted to hubs like the Batcave and the Watchtower, Justice League’s orbital base.
There’s still plenty of stuff to find. Minikit pieces, hidden characters, context-specific collectibles, and more fill every level. Most of it can’t be unearthed on an initial playthrough since the characters in each level – and abilities you have access to – are scripted. To find and fully unlock everything, you need to run through each level twice, at the very least: Once for the story and again, in Free Play, for the collectibles.
The cast of 150-plus characters ranges from known DC faves like Batgirl and Lobo to lesser-known characters like Doctor Fate and The Fierce Flame – but they all draw from the same, limited pool of powers. The Fierce Flame is basically just a palette-swapped Flash; Doctor Fate just combines the abilities of two “core” characters.
Then there are random cast members, like Kevin Smith (armed with a sonar gun, for some reason) and original 1960s Batman actor Adam West, unlocked by completing “Adam West In Peril” mini-challenges in each level. They’re joined by DC execs Jim Lee and Geoff Johns, and late-night host Conan O’Brien, who serves as your tour guide in each hub.
The result is a game that doesn’t seem to identify its audience properly. Again and again, TT Games has defended design decisions like the lack of online play in Lego games as the price paid for family-friendliness in its games. But what young gamer really knows who Conan O’Brien is? Is a 10-year-old really going to get excited about playing as Geoff Johns?
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham can’t make up its mind about what type of fan it should serve.
There’s plenty to discover outside the story missions. Unlocking gold bricks – the series’ standard marker of progress – opens up access to a series of hub areas, Earthly and otherwise. In addition to familiar locations like the Hall of Justice, there are also exploration zones on each of the Lantern worlds (in addition to the story levels for each one). There are also new VR Missions that amount to quick-hit challenges you can complete for even more rewards.
It’s a lot of content, sure, but there’s not enough depth in the gameplay to justify anyone pursuing 100-percent completion. Combat still boils down to mashing on buttons until all the enemies are gone. Puzzles are just simple as they’ve always been, with a static difficulty designed to favor the youngest audience possible.
But it’s been almost 10 years since the first of these titles – Lego Star Wars: The Video Game – arrived, and the series has failed to grow with its audience. The writing is sharp, no question. It’s hard not to grin when Wonder Woman takes flight to the sounds of the old TV show’s theme song.
That’s not enough though. The 10-year-old Lego Star Wars fans that are now 20 don’t want to simply mash buttons through hours and hours of mindless entertainment. This is a series that refuses to grow, even as it chases an older audience.
The result is a divided experience that leans too heavily on fan service without building in enough gameplay to keep those older players happy. TT Games needs to embrace evolution in its increasingly stagnant catalog of Lego games. It also needs to decide on an audience. Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham can’t make up its mind about what type of fan it should serve.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 using a disc provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
- Funny writing
- Lots of familiar DC Comics locations
- Repeated character abilities take the fun out of unlocks
- Kid-friendly gameplay at odds with adult references
- Takes away the open worlds of its predecessor