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Lego Dimensions: The Lego Batman Movie Story Pack for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

The Lego Dimensions story pack for The Lego Batman Movie is the last currently announced and, fittingly, it’s easily the best. The Ghostbusters 2016 and Fantastic Beasts packs were good, but the transfer from their respective franchises into Lego, at times, felt a bit weird. Lego Batman is, well, already Lego, so the transfer of franchises is essentially seamless, presenting one of my favourite Lego Dimensions experiences yet, and definitely the strongest in Phase 2 since Adventure Time.

Unsurprisingly, this is a fairly straightforward adaption of the movie, which sees a lonely Batman find a family in adopted orphan Robin, Barbara Gordon and even, oddly enough, in his rivalry with The Joker. I liked the movie a lot and the game adapts it well, with a lot of the best gags landing jut as well here. There are a handful of changes to keep things moving at a better pace, but generally this is as faithful a game version of the movie you could ask for.

This is a Lego game, so you know what to expect. In the box you receive a cool Bat-computer template for portal, the Batwing and, pleasantly, two new characters unlike the one in the other packs. Robin is athletic and can squeeze through vents and Batgirl is essentially Batman, but she can use some special computers. Batman himself, using the model from the Starter Pack, can now activate certain detective skills to find clues. It never amounts to much from the usual hit shiny things, build thing, watch thing do its thing and progress, but, for whatever reason it’s something I don’t seem to stop finding fun.

The only Phase 2 Adventure World I’ve liked has been Adventure Time’s, with most simply being dull cities and Sonic the Hedgehogs making me, quite literally, feel physically sick. Gotham is another city, and whilst it has more personality than lots of the others, it still wound up being the least interesting part of the package.
Lego games don’t vary in quality much, but insomuch as this means anything, the Lego Batman Story Pack is one of the better ones.

 

Lego Dimensions for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

Enjoyment of the Lego games generally seems driven by how much you like the franchise in question. The actual mechanics are so simple that it’s the trapping of the series which provides the real entertainment value and so in that regard Lego Dimensions is possibly the most entertaining Lego game ever. It’s also the most expensive. During the story of Lego Dimensions you’ll encounter the worlds and characters of DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, The Lego Movie, The Simpsons, The Wizard of Oz, Scooby Doo, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Doctor Who and, strangest of all, Portal.

Lego Dimensions is a mash up of over a dozen different franchises in a simplistic but enjoyable storyline. The evil Gary Oldman voiced Lord Vortech seeks to combine all dimensions into one under his control and part of his plan sees the kidnapping of Robin, Frodo Baggins and Metalbeard from their respective DC, Lord of the Rings and Lego Movie dimensions. Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle leap into action to rescue their friends and protect the multiverse from Vortech’s machinations.

It’s kind of impossible to work out whether the writing for Lego Dimensions is actually good or if the fan service-y crossover stuff is making me so gloriously happy that I’ve lost my critical faculties. At the beginning each level is fairly self contained; for example, the first level is set in Oz and is played relatively straight, although with the obvious twist that the Wicked Witch of the West is encountering Batman. As the game goes on things begin to cross over and merge to a greater extent with a glorious sense of unpredictability. Lego Dimensions makes brilliant use of most of its properties, particularly DC, Doctor Who and Portal which come out best of all. There are dozens of gloriously funny and charming moments, but I won’t mention any of them because they’re frankly the main thing that makes this game worth playing.

The first thing you’re asked to do when you boot up Lego Dimensions is to build the ‘portal’ out of real life Lego. The toys-to-life experience is fundamentally an illusion; you’re buying physical DLC which unlocks things on disk. Lego Dimensions does a pretty fantastic job of masking this, making the actual construction of the component parts immerse you into the experience and boost the illusion of the toys coming to life inside your TV. The Dimensional Portal and Lego builds look amazing, with the portal itself being a wonder. It’s split into three parts and can hold up to seven different builds, with the three parts being able to light up independently. This functionality is actually integral to the gameplay, which I’ll come to later.

The core mechanics of Lego Dimensions are pretty much the same as they were back in the original Lego Star Wars. If that’s a deal breaker you may as well stop right here and I wouldn’t necessarily blame you. They’re solid, but unspectacular with simple puzzles. That said, I do find a certain satisfaction in putting all the pieces into place and watching things unfold. I would compare the feeling of playing these games to following Lego kit instructions. Sure, using the blocks to create something unique is more pure, but there is an undeniable satisfaction in following the instructions and watching things come together. In some ways Lego Dimensions is more limited than the regular games as there are only three characters in the starter pack, with all other characters only available by purchasing the minifigures. This means that the variety of a game like Lego Marvel Super Heroes is missing as we only ever get to use Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle’s abilities. The biggest flaw lies in the vehicle controls; the starter pack comes with the Batmobile and it plays horribly, meaning that I only used it when the game demanded it of me.

The most interesting new mechanic lies in the nifty use of the portal itself. Throughout the game you gain five different portal abilities and the interplay between them can get quite complicated, at least by Lego game standards. The first sees a series of blue, yellow and pink coloured wormholes open up on the screen. On the physical portal in front of you, the three sections light up in those colours and you teleport the characters around the screen by physically moving their minifigure onto the necessary colour. There are loads of other nifty applications which I won’t get into so you can discover them yourself. Once again, your enjoyment of this comes from your ability to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the illusion. The fun you’re experiencing is literally just moving a Lego minifigure from one space to another, which doesn’t sound fun. In practice though, it really is and I massively appreciate that Lego didn’t go the lazy route and mindlessly imitate Skylanders or Disney Infinity.

The main story of Lego Dimensions is actually pretty lengthy by the standards of the series, with the franchise hopping creating a natural sense of variety as you go through. A lot of the value comes from the ‘adventure worlds’ which are accessed separately from the main campaign. These are small open worlds set within each franchise, where you can gather collectibles, rebuild the world using studs and complete missions. You access these by placing a character from that franchise on the Dimensional Portal, so with the Starter Pack you have access to the DC, Lord of the Rings and Lego Movie worlds. These are simple but fun little additions, although exploring them is a bit frustrating as over half of each world’s puzzles require characters I don’t own and never intend to own. It would have been nice if each adventure world was self contained for powers from the characters from that franchise as ultimately I was only able to scratch the surface. Although I’ll review it separately, at time I writing I have played the Portal Expansion and found this to be less of a problem here, so maybe this is primarily an issue with the Starter Pack.

I don’t really know how Lego were able to acquire all of these rights, with voice actors and music intact, but they did. The fact that it’s actually Peter Capaldi playing the Doctor, or Christopher Lloyd as Emmet Brown or Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle really helps to build the epic crossover feel that this game is going for. For me though, the Portal cast steal the show, with Ellen McClain and Stephen Merchant back on fine form as GLaDOS and Wheatley. I forgot how much I love these characters and Lego Dimensions captures them perfectly. The use of franchise music is good too, from the lovely Lord of the Rings Shire tune to Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbusters to the iconic Back to the Future theme when the DeLorean shows up. It’s all capped of with a new Jonathan Coulton GLaDOS song. The only franchise that really let me down was The Simpsons, which had no new voice recordings or even the rights to the theme music. I love The Simpsons and this was pretty disappointing; there’s pretty much zero chance I’ll ever buy any of The Simpson’s expansions now.

The question of Lego Dimensions is one of value. Can I confidently claim that there is £70 worth of game here? I’m not so sure; I got this game as a very generous Christmas present so I’m not sure how I’d feel if I’d plonked down that much money myself for this experience. All I can say is that I had a lovely time with it. At present, I only plan on playing the Portal and Doctor Who expansions, although I may go for Ghostbusters too if reviews are good.

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Batman: Arkham Knight for PS4 and Xbox One

Arkham Knight has had a bit of a backlash already and I’m not even talking about the botched PC port. I’m not sure if the backlash is quite fair, but it’s difficult to deny that Arkham Knight isn’t quite as impactful as Asylum and City were (I’m not going to count Origins). Asylum nailed its core mechanics pretty much out of the gate, so successive games were always going to have a tough time finding stuff to add. If Arkham Knight isn’t particularly original, it is extremely slick, offering the kind of smooth experience too often lacking in AAA gaming in this console generation.

Picking up several months after the end of Arkham City, Gotham is much changed. The Joker is dead, but new forces are moving into the power vacuum. Chief among them is Scarecrow, now horribly mutilated after his encounter with Killer Croc, who holds Gotham hostage with the threat of chemical annihilation. When the civilians are evacuated, Gotham collapses into lawlessness yet again as the criminal underworld bubbles back to the surface. Batman, his allies and the Gotham City Police Department are all that are left to stand up to Scarecrow. However, a new foe has appeared, allied with Scarecrow, the mysterious Arkham Knight. With a personal vendetta against Batman he has amassed an army with the solitary goal of ending his life.

Rocksteady did a much better job of keeping key plot details hidden than many companies, so talking about what makes Arkham Knight so compelling is difficult. Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight are good villains, but moreso than the previous games this is a story about Batman himself. I may lose some geek cred here, but I’ve never really considered Batman to be as complex a character as some think; I always prefered his rogue gallery and supporting cast. Arkham Knight is arguably the most interesting study of what makes Batman Batman that I’ve ever seen. I won’t say any more than that, only to say that the most interesting part of the plot takes place not in Gotham, but in Batman’s mind.

The core mechanics from Arkham City are present in Arkham Knight and have now been refined to something approaching perfection. The brawling is satisfying, zipping around the streets is exhilarating and the predator challenges are still wonderful. Arkham Knight is mostly interested in refinement rather than innovation, with one notable exception; the Batmobile. It’s been pretty divisive to say the least and I have mixed feelings myself. Zipping around and gliding is already one of the most enjoyable open world traversal mechanics out there and riding the Batmobile never seemed tempting. It can switch from car mode into tank mode with a press of a button, with a remarkable fluidity. It’s satisfying and easy to use and you’ll spend a lot of time blasting drones sent by the Arkham Knight. These tank battles are quite fast and fun, but some go on for way too long. My least favourite part of the game were some fairly ill advised tank ‘stealth’ sections. I applaud Rocksteady for not sitting on their laurels; they could probably have got away with it, but the Batmobile is a mixed success. It’s best moments are when it is used in puzzles, such as when you use it’s winch to move Batman up and down a broken elevator. There are some really cool moments like this, but I think we could have done with more of that and less of the combat.

This is the biggest Arkham game yet, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to complete it as exhaustively as I did it’s predecessors. I don’t worry about 100%ing games any more; who has the time? Asylum and City were exceptions though, but I found myself feeling nothing but resigned at the thought of hunting down a couple hundred more Riddler trophies. Much of the side content is excellent, such as a good subplot involving Riddler, but many are repetitive and dull, simply involving you doing the same thing a few times then bringing in an iconic baddie. The rogue gallery was weaved perfectly into Arkham City, but it isn’t pulled off quite so well here. I’m not claiming that the side content is bad by any stretch, but for the first time they felt like ‘Assassin’s Creed’ style side content rather than the more interesting stuff found in the previous games. Perhaps I’m being unfair; I suspect that I’d be singing this games’ praises if it has been the second in the series, but Rocksteady have already spoiled me.

Now, I’m aware that the PC port is a disaster, but Arkham Knight on PS4 is a technical marvel. It runs pretty much perfectly and I encountered no major glitches when playing. The frame rate was solid the entire time and the visual design is excellent. Gotham in the rain is a hell of a sight and Arkham Knight is frequently jaw dropping. The voice acting is outstanding, with performances which manage to improve upon excellent ones from the previous games. I want to talk about so many amazing looking and sounding moments but can’t spoil them, so will say only this; Arkham Knight is a genuine labour of love.

Arkham Knight is a great game getting an unfair amount of flak. That said, Rocksteady can’t get away with doing the same think again; Terry McGinnis now please. Batman: Arkham Beyond could be exactly what this series needs. Whatever happens, ignore the negativity (if you own a console); Arkham Knight is a great game well worth your time. batman-arkham-knight

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ultimate Edition for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

If it isn’t Smash Bros or Soul Calibur I don’t really do fighting games. I get that they’re probably the best test of raw gaming skill out there, but I don’t really care about that kind of stuff. However, I do like DC Comics and this game was free on PS+, so I made an exception. Well, I did like it, although you still won’t have me rushing out to buy Super Street Fighter IV Turbo Ultimate Special Edition X or whatever it’s called.

Injustice takes place primarily in a parallel universe to the main DC continuity, in a world where Superman and most of the Justice League rule as tyrannical dictators, with a plucky resistance led by Batman. This world took a turn for the worse when Superman was tricked by The Joker into killing Lois Lane and destroying Metropolis, leading to Superman brutally killing The Joker and seizing control. Batman of this universe brings a group of heroes from the main universe to help him fight their doppelgangers and liberate his universe.

The premise is better than the execution and whilst there are some good moments, most characters are drawn in their broadest possible strokes. The only characters that I particularly liked were Green Arrow, Deathstroke and The Flash, with pretty much everyone else being in full brood mode or curiously muted. I wish they hadn’t bothered with the whole two universe thing, making the whole thing feeling a bit low stakes. I’d rather have just had the game take place entirely in one, but I do get that Multiverse shenanigans are part of the DC package. There are some undoubtable cool moments, but Injustice doesn’t really live up to the premise.

I’m only really going to look at the story mode as that’s all I played; I don’t like online multiplayer and I don’t have a second PS4 controller for local, so single player it is for me. There’s loads of stuff though, this seems like a very complete package. From what I’ve been told, Injustice’s mechanics best resemble Mortal Kombat. It’s quite complicated by my standards, but I did eventually master a few combos for each character and managed to make it through the story on normal mode with a moderate challenge. This probably sounds utterly pathetic for fighting game fans right? Look, it’s not my thing, but I actually did enjoy it quite a lot and the different characters felt really distinct to play which is definitely a good thing.

The game looks a bit dated by current gen standards, but overall holds up quite nicely. The environments are cool, but the character designs didn’t really work for me. Wonder Woman in particular looks like she was designed by someone who has never actually seen a woman in real life. The general vibe of the game was a bit grimdark for me; I could have done with a bit more fun, but that’s probably more a reflection of my own personal tastes than of the actual quality of the game.

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this one; if you’re into fighting games and DC you’ll probably love it. If you like DC or fighting games you’ll probably quite like it. If you don’t like either…why are you even here? Go away. I fall firmly into that middle camp.Injustice_hero

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes for Wii U, Wii, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, PC and OS X

Oh God these games are such a guilty pleasure for me. I just can’t stop playing them; something about them just appeals to me so much. Lego have developed a really successful monopoly on all things superhero haven’t they, with the fact they also hold the rights to Marvel Lego games. Lego Batman 2 isn’t quite as good as the later Marvel game, but, as all these games are, it’s a lot of fun.

Lego Batman 2 opens at the Gotham Man of the Year awards, where Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor are up against each other. The proceedings are interrupted by an attack by the Joker, which promptly sees him captured by Batman and Robin then thrown into Arkham. Luthor breaks Joker free to help him win the imminent Presidential election, and find a stash of Kryptonite to protect his ambitions from Superman.

This was the first Lego game with voice acting, and the brilliant humour present in Lego City Undercover and Lego Marvel Superheroes hasn’t quite been perfected yet. Still, there are plenty of laughs, with most to be found in the comedy duo of the sunny Boy Scout optimism of Superman and the permanently dour attitude of Batman. The actual plot is pretty weak, lacking even the simple plot twists and fun found in other Lego games. Still, it’s worth the odd chuckle.

Lego Batman 2 plays like every other Lego game, and bears most in common with Lego Marvel Superheroes unsurprisingly. Certain abilities and characters are basically the same between games; Superman and Iron Man are basically the same, both being armed with flight, strength and the ability to melt gold stuff with laser eyes/cannon. You’ll still be smashing and building your way through a series of levels, with sections broken up by the open world, in this case Gotham City. The open worlds in these games very much peaked with Lego City Undercover, and there isn’t really much fun to be had in the open world, unless you’re an avid collector. The biggest difference is to be found in the range of costumes Batman and Robin can come across, which give them different abilities. Still, with a Lego game you know what you’re getting, and I got what I expected, which is no bad thing.

One disappointment is that, despite the subtitle of ‘DC Superheroes’ and with the exception of Superman, the other members of the Justice League play quite a minor role, only showing up at the very end. They seem like they’d be fun to play too; the Flash’s speed seemed really enjoyable for the very brief time I got to play as him, and the Green Lantern got to use his ring for a light twist on the typical building mechanics in the series. I guess I don’t really want any more Lego Batman, I want Lego Justice League, more in keeping with the epic scale of Lego Marvel Superheroes.

It looks as charming as these games always do, with the voice acting being as top notch as ever. The music has some nice little touches too, with the highlight being John William’s Superman Theme kicking in every time you lift off as Superman in Gotham. There’s a lot of polish in these games, and Traveller’s Tales really commit to whatever series they’re adapting with such gusto.

This is a Lego game, and you know what you’re going to get? Like DC heroes and like the Lego games; you’ll probably like it! Apathetic towards DC heroes and the Lego games; there’s nothing here for you.Legobatman2

Batman: Arkham Origins for Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Well, Batman: Arkham Origins is pretty much exactly what I expected…actually, no, it’s worse than I expected. This is quite obviously a cash in game to tide us over until Rocksteady release a new Arkham game of their own, and it looks like WB Games are going to be going the annual release path with this series, with two studios working on games at the same time, as Activision do with Call of Duty and Ubisoft with Assassin’s Creed. The difference is that with those examples both teams are of roughly equal competence, but Arkham Origins fails to even come close to the quality of Arkham Asylum or Arkham City. Don’t get me wrong, there’s the odd flash of the old magic, but it’s buried under a pile of inadequacies. The least I hoped for was an uninnovative game that simply offered more of Arkham City; instead we got a game that’s significantly worse.

Arkham Origins isn’t Batman’s origin per-se, as it takes place around two years into his career, but it does show Batman’s first meeting with some classic supporting characters, such as James and Barbara Gordon and, most importantly, the Joker. Black Mask has orchestrated a break out at Blackgate Prison and put a $50million bounty on Batman’s head, and so eight of the world’s deadliest assassins descend on Gotham to claim it. There’s more going on than it seems, and Batman is drawn into the labyrinthine Gotham underworld to find the real story behind the bounty.

Arkham Origins’ plot is probably its biggest asset, and by not simply retelling the tired old origin story it ends up being genuinely surprising. This may not be the start of Bruce Wayne’s costumed hero career, but it’s probably the beginning of him being Batman. You get the feeling that before Arkham Origins, he was just an unhinged nutcase beating criminals half to death, but that the events of this game, and the new threat of the Joker, forge him into something better. Not all of the assassins are well handled; Electrocutioner and Firefly are just plain dumb, and Deathstroke (one of my personal favourite villains) was terrible underutilised. The star is, once again, the Joker, proving that even without Mark Hamill the character can still steal any show.

By and large, the gameplay is unchanged from Arkham City but slightly worse. It’s the little things that make Arkham Origins so disappointing. The combat, which in previous games put other similar games, such as Assassin’s Creed, to shame, is much less satisfying here. That free flowing movement which was so fun in the previous games never seems to quite work out here; it’s not an issue of making it more challenging, it’s just more frustrating. The previous games had a strong Metroidvania influence, which incentivised exploring and returning to previous areas. I very rarely bother to 100% games any more, I just don’t have the time, but I did so with Arkham City. I felt absolutely no impulse to do so here, with the collectibles and trinkets usually hidden in plain sight, reducing them to simple busywork. The only real gameplay addition are the new crime scene investigations, but it’s incredibly basic with precisely no player thought involved. They look cool, but it’s really only skin deep.

However, the biggest shortcoming in this game is Gotham City. It’s a blizzard, and so everyone is inside, leaving the streets…well, exactly the same as Arkham City. It made sense in that game, but the idea that the supposedly populated Gotham City can be so deserted is ludicrous. Yahtzee said in his review that the overworld failed because he couldn’t tell whether the areas were simply taken from Arkham City or were new, so either way the world design must be dull. It’s a good point, but I’d actually say it’s worse than that. I could tell the difference between the Arkham City stuff and the new stuff because the Arkham City stuff looked interesting. I finished this game less than a week ago and I’m hard pressed to remember a single part of the new areas. I loved zipping and gliding around Arkham City, but it was always a chore in Arkham Origins. There are all sorts of clumsily placed walls to Batman’s movement, I suppose to clumsily mask load times, but it only contributed to the dull, inorganic feeling that Gotham has in this game.

Arkham Origins runs poorly, with frequent graphical irritation. I’ve heard that the PS3 and 360 versions are filled with game breaking bugs, but not the Wii U version that I played, but even that is a poorly running mess. How is this game running worse than Arkham City, a game that came out two years ago? There are some cool looking set pieces, particularly one on Gotham Bridge, and the character designs are excellent, but they’re only occasions of brief respite from the mediocrity. Thankfully the voice acting is superb, and Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker admirably live up to the seemingly irreplaceable Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker respectively. The overheard dialogue between the grunts is still as amusing and fun as ever.

A strong story and voice cast can’t save this mess of a game however. I expected more of the same, a Fallout: New Vegas to my Fallout 3, but instead we get a massive step backwards. Don’t get me wrong, Rocksteady can certainly save this series, and a post-credits tease suggests an amazing spin-off, but I don’t think I’ll be buying any Batman games made by anyone else for a while. Batman__Arkham_Origins_Collector_s_Edition_13738170108141

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