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    LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    Playing it Safe

    Marvel vs. DC. It’s one of the greatest rivalries of any team, company or organisation in all of existence. No matter which way you lean in the world of comics, the general consensus these days is that Marvel dominates the film industry, whilst TV series and video games are DC’s domain. Given Warner Bros. – owner of the DC label – publishes all games in the Lego video game franchise, it’s no surprise DC got a headstart on its rival through the two Lego Batman games. But when Lego Marvel Super Heroes launched at the end of 2013, critics agreed it set a new benchmark for Lego games – with Lego Batman ironically needing to play catch-up.

    To put it simply, DC’s reply – Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham – is yet another solid entry in the Lego series. Nothing more, nothing less. The game is far more inclusive of DC characters outside the Batman family than its predecessors and, given the (current) lack of a solid DC cinematic universe, offers DC fans the opportunity to explore worlds and characters they’ve never had a chance to outside of the comics. But Lego Batman 3 frustratingly fractures its own immersion with poorly executed and repetitive humour and extremely questionable non-DC cameos, whilst a lack of any meaningful changes to gameplay make this an experience only recommendable to those passionate about Lego and/or DC comics.

    One reason people play Lego games is for the fanservice, and that’s certainly an area Lego Batman 3 delivers. The first Lego Batman dipped its toes in the water with a small offering of Batman characters, and whilst Lego Batman 2 was sub-titled ‘DC Super Heroes’, it was still very much Batman’s game. Fortunately, Beyond Gotham takes a leaf out of Lego Marvel’s book and opens the door to the entire Justice League and more. Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, Cyborg and Green Lantern all play vital roles in the game from the very beginning. On top of that, many of the DC universe’s most iconic villains are playable and have important roles from the very beginning.

    Outside of the characters, Lego Batman 3 offers DC fans the opportunity to explore areas never seen before in mainstream video games, including the Lantern Corps’ home planets and the iconic Watchtower. Small touches, like the famous Wonder Woman theme playing every time Diana Prince flies, complement the experience even further. All in all, Lego Batman 3 may just be a Lego game, but as far as video games go it’s by far the most comprehensive look at the DC universe fans have ever been treated to.

    In terms of immersion, Beyond Gotham eschews the completely open hub world used in Lego Marvel, opting for a number of smaller hub worlds in the form of Lantern planets as opposed to a fully-connected New York City. The change can feel jarring and claustrophobic at first – especially given the Lantern planets can’t be explored until very late in the game.

    But those who played Lego City Undercover know full well that Lego Marvel’s open ‘world’ was nothing to write home about, and given each Lantern planet actually has a decent amount of stuff to do, the change works out surprisingly well. Given the Lantern planets also hold more significance to the DC universe than a generic city does to the Marvel universe, Lego Batman 3 surprisingly manages to take a huge leap forward in terms of immersion by taking a fair few steps backward.

    Unfortunately, the immersion that Lego Batman 3 miraculously manages to stumble upon is all too often shattered by some truly bizarre intrusive cameos and poor humour that’s annoyingly repetitive even by Lego standards. Without spoiling too much, many of the game’s characters become overexposed to the emotional power of the coloured Lanterns. Whilst you wouldn’t expect a Lego game to academically explore interestingly paradoxical themes like a Batman suddenly overcome with fear, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for the game not to endlessly repeat the same superhero-gets-scared-of-butterfly/ant/unscary thing gag.

    In terms of cameos, the in-game tutorial character Bat-Mite does little but irritate the player to no end, offering rage-inducing quips like "do you need another hint?" should the player accidentally break a hint block during a fistfight. Conan O’Brien’s cameo as the Watchtower’s janitor sounds somewhat funny on paper, but falls mercilessly flat, and leaves you shaking your head thinking which DC character missed the cut to make way for him. Whilst Daffy Duck’s role as official tour guide to all of the Lantern planets shouldn’t require much in the way of discussion.

    If cameos of this ‘calibre’ had found their way into Lego Marvel, Marvel fans would have erupted in rage, claiming Warner Bros. was clearly playing favourites by making their game a laughing stock compared to DC’s. Whether WB thought the same and saved the cameos for a game they admittedly have more literary license over, or whether WB just thought it was time to break the mold, the cameos just don’t work – not even in a wacky way – and derail the experience a lot more than they should.

    But in terms of actual gameplay, your enjoyment of Lego Batman 3 will be entirely dependent on how many Lego games you’ve played – the fewer the better. For those coming straight from Lego Batman 2, the improvements are numerous. Characters have a far greater number of costumes and can now change costumes at will, removing the needless frustration of not being able to find a costume change pad and allowing levels to be completed 100% much more quickly. Additionally, the truly woeful flying controls that virtually derailed Lego Batman 2 have been well and truly fixed.

    But if you’ve played Lego Marvel, none of this will be new to you. The flight controls in Beyond Gotham are exactly the same as they were in Lego Marvel, and as competent as they are, aren’t exactly refreshing. The costume changes on the other hand actually feel like somewhat of a hindrance in comparison, whilst also diluting the uniqueness of each playable character.

    The only meaningful improvement Lego Batman 3 makes over Lego Marvel is the ability to skip to specific checkpoints in a mission when playing in free play, bringing a gleeful end to the days of being forced to replay an entire level because you missed one minikit. Once again however, if you played Lego Hobbit this improvement is a nice feature, but not at all new.

    In some respects, Beyond Gotham feels like it’s taken a step backwards to its predecessors. Combat feels a lot more sluggish and imprecise than previous installments, with many combos being broken by your character inexplicably missing a nearby enemy – often hitting a computer controlled ally instead. This all said, it’s important to understand that Lego Batman 3 is in no way bad, it’s just not at all new in the slightest, and given the somewhat repetitive nature of Lego games, that will prove far too much for many to stomach.

    Despite its many shortcomings, Beyond Gotham is a very competent game, as all Lego games are. Anyone can pick up the game, play it, beat it and enjoy themselves to some extent. At the end of the day, if you’re a DC and/or Lego Batman fan, then Lego Batman 3 is definitely a no-brainer to add to your collection. But if the DC universe is not something you’re particularly caught up in, there are better Lego games to sink your teeth into.

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