Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Review (Xbox One)
Space. The infinite void. A vacuum of emotion. It's basically an allegory for Lego Batman's heart. Can space be an allegory? It doesn't matter. What matters is Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham takes the titular hero and his Justice League friends on a universe-trotting adventure far from the confines of Gotham City. There are more characters and locations than previous entries, but somehow Lego Batman 3 feels more constrictive than ever.
At the conclusion of Lego Batman 2, we were teased of Brainiac's arrival with a short cutscene. Picking up on that hint, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham begins with Brainiac finally arriving at Earth, and putting the denizens of the planet in peril. Of course, things aren't so hunky dory out in space either, as Brainiac has captured the leaders of the various Lantern Corps. to power his engine of mass destruction. Things go awry when the Justice League rescues the Lanterns early on, but through some sort of 'Freaky Friday' situation, the emotional aspects of each ring is dispersed among heroes and villains alike. Wonder Woman gets mad. Cyborg becomes fearful of everything. The Flash gets greedy. The Joker falls in love. Many hijinks ensue.
Though it's a little slow in getting things moving, Lego Batman 3's plot is a tremendous joy for Green Lantern fans. While the game puts Batman at the center of much of the action, this sequel is as much about the Lantern as it is any other single character. You'll get to visit each Lantern homeworld (outside of Oa), as well as battle (and eventually control) characters like Sinestro, Saint Walker, Atrocitus and Star Sapphire (who is for some reason British now?). That said, this great adventure's scope is also a bit of a detractor to the overall experience. After getting to rock and roll all around Gotham in the last installment, it's a bit of a let down to be confined to the locales and areas like Qward and Ysmault or the Hall of Justice and Batcave without the ability to wander off. It's understandable to a degree. Obviously TT can't make all the planets open, and the decision to travel to new places was certainly welcome, but even last year's Lego Marvel Super Heroes had a small sandbox to mess around with, while also offering players the chance to visit Asgard and Xavier's School for Mutants.
What Lego Batman 3 lacks in exploration it more than makes up for in freedom of character choice. There are over 150 different DC Comics heroes and villains included this time around, which is more than double the roster of the last entry. With that gigantic roster comes some questionable choices (Kevin Smith? Conan O'Brien?), but there are some equally obscure characters to make make die-hard DC fans thrilled with the opportunity to finally play as luminaries like Condiment King and Vibe. Yes, that Vibe. That said, only a small handful of these characters are unlocked by merely playing the game. The vast majority must be found and purchased with Lego currency, which in turn gives Lego Batman 3 instant replay value. It's nigh impossible to get every single character on the first run through, and you'll have to spend some time searching for all manner of secret passages during Free Play to earn enough coin to make a serious dent in your playable roster.
The problem that arises is one that plagued Lego Marvel Super Heroes as well. Though there are a tremendous amount of playable characters to break brick with, many of them just have too much in common to make the effort in unlocking them worthwhile. You won't have to worry about going to special suit stations anymore to get the right tools for the job, as now each character has all of his or her abilities available from a simple inventory wheel. As such, many of these abilities repeat across multiple characters. Batman, Lex Luthor, Joker, Martian Manhunter, Cyborg and Robin all share similar traits and abilities, and can easily be swapped for one another without missing a beat. The same holds true of any of the Lanterns. What you're earning sometimes feels like nothing more than aesthetic bonus, but there are those who will still enjoy reaching for all the various carrots at the end of Lego Batman 3's stick.
While the stations may be gone, you will still be switching outfits quite a bit. This is particularly true of the early portions of the adventure where you're running around as Batman and Robin. The dynamic duo feature almost every possible combination of abilities in Lego Batman 3, and as such the puzzle-solving elements rely heavily on rotating between the two characters and their various outfits multiple times to get anything done. The frequency of swaps diminishes the further you progress, though even when your team roster is a bit bigger, you'll still be rotating through the options and powers quite often. It's a tried and true practice of the Lego games, and for better or worse, hasn't changed all that much in this latest entry. On certain occasions, and using special platforms, you can have the Flash speed around a room, collecting parts to build a weapon or machine at a speed only he can meet. It's great to see in motion, and invokes a bit of that Master Builder vibe from 'The Lego Movie'. Additionally, there are a few stages inspired by shoot 'em ups like Resogun, which are a great way to break up the standard platforming gameplay. It was a smart addition, and one that's used smartly and sparingly to breathe a little life into the series.
Speaking of the Flash, he's also the coolest character to watch in motion. The current gen versions of Lego Batman 3 look phenomenal, with some great lighting and very refelective characters. Watching the Flash speed around with the Speed Force trailing behind him is a real treat, particularly since we've never gotten that Flash video game we so deserve. Many other characters have some unique animations as well, but for the most part, the Lego versions of your favorite heroes all look basically the same in motion. The environments are sharp and detailed, right down to the raspberry jam rivers on Ysmault (can't have blood in a Lego game) and the eerie jail cells of Nok. Sadly, the soundtrack is a bit of a disappointment this time, as there are only so many times you can hear Danny Elfman's 'Batman' theme before you start to get tired of it. Sure, having John Williams' 'Superman' theme play when you start flying with Superman, and the iconic '70s 'Wonder Woman' TV show theme playing when Diana takes flight is nice, but those moments are few and far between. There's just so much of the same Batman music repeating ad nauseam it gets tiresome.
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is certainly the biggest adventure the cast of characters in TT's Lego series has ever been on, with the largest roster ever, too. Not much has changed since the last time we had a go around with Batman and the gang, but TT has honed the formula so sharply over the years that not much has to be different for a Lego game to be enjoyable. Despite a few flaws, Beyond Gotham is a fun romp through the DC Universe, and sometimes that's just all you need.
This review was completed with a retail copy of Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham provided by the publisher for review.