LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Review
LEGO Batman 3 does indeed go beyond Gotham, leaving the open world city of LEGO Batman 2 behind to travel to space and other worlds. In some ways if goes beyond Batman as well, opening the DC universe's vault of heroes to let you play with the well-known Justice League heroes as well as a whole host of lesser known heroes.
You won't find any seismic shifts in gameplay in the latest iteration of the long-running LEGO game series, but fans of the series certainly won't complain too much about that. Exploring LEGO versions of locations both familiar and new has an undeniable charm to it, as does breaking apart just about everything that you see into LEGO bricks so that you can collect the pips that serve as currency to unlock additional characters. I have to admit that it feels a bit strange to have Batman destroying all of the high-tech equipment in the Batcave, although oddly enough not so much so when playing as Robin. There is some building of things in the game, but like previous games in the series the building opportunities are restricted to certain predetermined objects and your participation in the construction is limited to holding a button down while your on-screen character does all of the work.
If you've played previous LEGO Batman games before, then you'll already be familiar with the specialty suits available to some of the heroes. For example, when Batman dons his demolition suit he can fire missiles that can break apart special silver-colored objects, and when he switches to his space suit he can use a laser beam to melt down the gold-colored objects. This time out, the suit-wearing characters like Batman, Robin, and Cyborg don't have to wait to come across special suit-changing stations, but can bring up a menu wheel to instantly switch between any of the suits that have been unlocked at that point. Now the game does limit some of the suit powers somewhat by requiring that certain powers be charged at corresponding charging stations before use to prevent you from running roughshod over the level design. This change to suit access is a welcome one, though, as it makes the suit-wearing heroes feel like they have access to their full power sets at all times just as the non-suit heroes do. Unfortunately, though, the button used to bring up the radial suit menu is also the button used to switch between characters on the screen, which can lead to some frustrating misfires while playing. In fact, control issues due to button-overloading aren't entire confined to this feature in particular, and are a constant source of frustration when playing the game. Not so much so that it makes the game unplayable, but enough so that it does take some of the enjoyment out of the gameplay.
As in previous games, levels feature a number of simple environmental puzzles that are enjoyable enough and relatively easy to solve. If you run into trouble with any of them, it will more than likely be due to the fact that the game is a bit too sensitive when it comes to displaying the on-screen prompts to let you know that you're near an interactive object of some kind. On your first play-through of each level you'll find that some areas are inaccessible or puzzles unsolvable with the characters that are assigned to the level, but that's an intentional design decision. The game's levels are designed for multiple play-throughs, once in story mode and then as many times as you'd like in free-play mode. The latter mode lets you play the levels with any of the characters that you've unlocked for play so far, giving you access to new powers that you didn't necessarily have the first time through. Even so, you'll still find that the game guards some of its secrets quite well and completionists will find plenty of challenge in trying to track down every last hidden area and collectible.
The game supports full drop-in and drop-out couch co-op play - a second player merely has to pick up a second controller to take over for one of the AI-controlled heroes on the screen. This is one of the most enjoyable ways to play the game, and is a good way for parents to enjoy some co-operative play with their children. It's also the best way to overcome the somewhat dunderheaded companion AI, which is particularly annoying in its inability to help you fend off the annoying infinite minion-spawning you'll encounter in places. The game's boss fights are interesting, multi-tiered puzzle-like affairs, but fighting all of the various goons the game throws your way are more annoying than anything else.
The game's story involves an untimely villain takeover of the Justice League's Watchtower space station that occurs just as the evil android Brainiac arrives at Earth by starship with the intent of shrinking it down to miniature size for inclusion in his own personal museum of worlds. While Batman is featured in many of the levels, the story is as much about the Justice League and Lantern Corps as it is a Batman adventure, which may be fine for fans of the DC universe but too much of a distraction for those who are strictly fans of the Dark Knight. On the other hand, there are some nice tributes throughout the game to the 1960s Batman TV series as well as a healthy dose of Adam West. The space-centric story does allow the game to have some fun with its level design, and you'll have the chance to play some diverse levels inspired by games like Sonic Lost World and shoot-em-up Resogun (sorry for the PS4 game reference, but it is what it is).
Overall, LEGO Batman 3 is enjoyable in the same way previous LEGO games have been. It would be nice to see some of the long-standing issues with the AI and game controls addressed at this point in the series, though, and I'd really like to see some innovation added to the game series in the area of building with LEGO. However, the game's charm manages to exceed its annoyances, and anyone with a soft spot for LEGO or the DC universe should enjoy the game.
Final Rating: 78%. Batman goes beyond Gotham, but the LEGO gameplay stays close to home.