Lego Batman Impressions
Batman is the next universe to receive the Lego video game treatment, and we got a first look at how the dynamic duo are shaping up in brick form.
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Fresh from the success of Lego Star Wars, developer Traveller's Tales is now applying its winning formula to DC Comics' superhero world of Batman. With so many different versions of the Batman story and characters recreated in comics, films, and TV shows over the years, we were keen to see just what style the game would take. In the build we saw Gotham City closely followed the dark vision of Tim Burton, something which was only enhanced by the Danny Elfman score (although it should be noted that the licensing for this has yet to be settled). While Lego Batman will still be aiming for a kid-friendly rating, the source material is much darker than that of George Lucas' space fantasy, and that's something that producer Loz Doyle was keen to stress when we met him in London this week.
Lego Batman will rely on the same co-op dynamic as Lego Star Wars, only this time starring Batman and Robin. The main difference between Jedi knights and the dynamic duo is the way they fight, with the lightsabres ditched in favour of hand-to-hand combat and an assortment of high-tech gadgets and gizmos. With such short arms and legs, recreating punches and kicks was a challenge for the development team, but it was overcome by a few stylistic touches that extend the range of standard attacks, as well as adding new moves such as grapples and throws. The gameplay will also hinge on Batman's cool arsenal of toys, with not only a batarang as standard, but a number of different suits that will enable each character to access different parts of the level. We saw how Batman's demolition suit allowed him to blow up big objects and lay traps, while his extendable cape allowed him to glide over long distances. However, it was Robin who had the better share of gadgets in the sections we saw, with a magnetic suit that allowed him to walk up the walls of metallic surfaces, and a tech-suit that could be used to take control of other gadgets such as a RC car.
While Lego Batman remains true to the source material, this is still a Lego videogame where most of the puzzles are based around piecing together the famous Danish bricks. In the demo we saw, Batman had to piece together ladders in order to make his way around the levels. On one occasion, he was able to build a mini helicopter in order to scale the roofs of Gotham, while at others he could construct tightropes to get from building to building. He can also climb and use gadgets at the same time--moving up a grapple line and firing a batarang at the same time, for example. One thing's for sure, these heroes look a lot more agile than their Lego bodies should allow them to be.
You'll not just be playing as the good guys in Lego Batman; The game features a full roster of bad guys that include The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc and Scarecrow, and they'll all be playable once you've defeated them in the main game. Playing as the bad guys will also have an impact on the levels themselves, and the carnival level we saw changes from saving Commissioner Gordon as the good guys, to fighting him as the Joker and Harley Quinn. As the game is dependant on the co-op dynamic, the bad guys also have certain buddies that they like to pair up with. This includes the aforementioned clown partnership of Joker and Harley, as well as Penguin and Killer Croc--the latter of which, we saw in the sewer level. One particular highlight was seeing Killer Croc build a huge mechanical crocodile vehicle--one of the biggest in any Lego game--and then run riot with it through the sewers.
Seeing a small proportion of these levels meant that we were unable to get a feel for the story at this stage. Having said that, we're pretty sure that it hinges around a pink gem that Batman is trying to return, as it was passed between Catwoman and The Penguin at the end of the Gotham rooftops level. We're looking forward to seeing more of the villains and their special abilities, such as the Joker's electric handbuzzer that turns enemies into Lego skeletons, and Harley's ability to get into secure locations by wiggling her hips and winking at the security guard.
While Lego Batman is being released on a multitude of platforms, Traveller's Tales claims that this is the first Lego game that they've built specifically for next-gen platforms such as Xbox 360 and PS3. The environments are more detailed than those of Lego Star Wars, and they feature nice incidental effects, such as rats running around, and smoke rising from the grates. The game can also be played in two-player co-op across Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, while both versions will support 720p and 1080p resolution output. It's also still hitting PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable with all the same content, while they're currently experimenting with motion-sensitive batarang controls for the Wii.
With Lego Batman, Traveller's Tales look set to replicate the same sly humour and solid co-op play that they pioneered with the Lego Star Wars series. It's clear that the game isn't trying to break major new ground, but rather take the fundamentals of the previous games and transport them to an entirely different comic book universe. With this and Lego Indiana Jones in the pipeline, it will be a busy year for the British developer, but we hold hope that the game will still make its planned Q4 2008 release date. With plenty of time before now and then, expect to see more on Lego Batman in the coming months.