Preview: 'Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes'

Is it possible that with Lego Batman 2, developer Traveller's Tales might inadvertently be working on the best video game incarnation of Superman to date? Maybe it's a little too soon to make that kind of pronouncement but along with ability suits for Batman and Robin, multiple playable DC heroes, and—get this—a wide-open Gotham City—Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes is shaping up to at least the most ambitious games in the Lego franchise yet.

Myself and a few other journalists got to check out Lego Batman 2 during GDC in a hands-off demo led by Jonathan Smith, Head of Productions for Traveller's Tales Games. According to Smith, "Lego makes people brilliant." Indeed, something about the little plastic toys seems to have made the developer step up their game for this particular franchise after success with pop cultural pillars like Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter.

Their latest features the Dynamic Duo teaming up with the Justice League after the Joker forms an alliance with Superman's arch-nemesis Lex Luthor based on a story by Traveller's Tales. Smashed Lego ensue. Smith showed us through multiple sections of the game which he said was still very much a work-in-progress, meaning that temp audio was used for some sequences, there was the occasional crash, and the voices for the characters weren't yet implemented.

Oh yeah, Lego Batman 2 will be the first Lego title with fully-voiced mini-figures instead of the traditionally silent characters. Smith wasn't able to talk about the voice cast at this point, but did say that it was a response to younger gamers chiming in for v.o. in their Lego games. When I noticed that bits of Danny Elfman's Batman '89 score was looping in the level that Smith showed us, he confirmed that although it might not necessarily be used in the level we saw, Elfman's score as well as audio across the whole Batman TV and film franchise would be making its way into the game.

As for the gameplay itself, Lego Batman 2 has a few wrinkles to the old model of melee and gadget-based combat and puzzle-solving from the first title. Scattered around Gotham City are collectible suits that Batman and Robin can equip with combat and puzzle-solving abilities. Among the ones we saw were Batman's "Sensor Suit," which allows the Dark Knight to become temporarily invisible—which was especially useful in the segment we saw where Smith was guiding Batman past a pair of the Riddler's cameras. As with most of the suits, this one has a secondary ability, in this case, X-ray vision, which allows Batman to manipulate some colored objects through walls and obstacles. For Robin, we saw his "Acrobat Suit" in action, which equips him with a staff that's not only handy in combat, but Batman's sidekick can throw to create scalable ledges as well as use to form a clear, shield-like hamster ball that can be used to roll over enemies or get through some impassable obstacles.

Since this is a Lego game, of course you have to construct the suit out of nearby blocks, and from what we saw during the preview, there are many more suits strewn throughout the city for you to pick up for both characters. Smith demoed a couple more including Robin's liquid-collecting and spewing "Hazard Suit" and Batman's "Electricity Suit," but you get the idea: the game is now a lot more than Batarangs and grappling hooks. Gadgets and vehicles aren't getting neglected, though: Smith told us that we'd see Batman's garage (well, cave) full of transportation make its way into the game for any characters that couldn't fly. You can use these tools when on patrol around the city, saving imperiled civilians and taking down roaming criminals in side missions.

I didn't mention that John Williams' Superman score came up during the demo, did I? Well, it did, and it does allow me to segue into talking about the Superman segments of the game, where you can fly freely as the Man of Steel around the open Gotham World. Smith guided Superman above and around Gotham, and the blue Boy Scout moves at a pretty brisk clip through the game's environments which put a Lego spin on the Gothic architecture of Batman's hometown (with the building-sized statues, it shares a lot visually with the Schumacher films, which isn't at all a bad thing for a video game). Besides flight, Superman also has ice breath and heat vision, although we didn't get a chance to see him use his powers on enemies in the game.

Superman is one of 50 playable characters in the game including members of the Justice League who can help Batman and Robin out in cleaning up the city and a few playable villains that Smith told us about but wasn't ready to show at this time. It would have been nice to see some of the other heroes and villains' powers in action, but at this point, I guess we'll have to wait.

The look of the new game seems a little glossier than the last—I've already mentioned the architecture of Gotham, but interiors also have a decent amount of detail and in many cases there's a constant flow of background action from NPCs. Given that this is a Lego game, a lot of it is breakable, with Lego that can be used to build new suits or construct objects that will help solve nearby puzzles. On top of that, the game will have drop-in split-screen co-op, although you can still play alone and simply swap out between Batman and Robin or whichever members of the Justice League are with them at the time. The city itself will have a dynamic weather cycle, and I'm looking forward to seeing the reproduction of various Batman landmarks.

From what I saw, unless the open world experience is difficult to navigate (we were promised the same kind of guide system from previous games), or the characters aren't fun to control, then Lego Batman 2 has the chance to far surpass the first game in the series and really present gamers with a broadly different (and possibly very fun) Lego experience from previous games in the franchise.

Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes will be available sometime this summer for the PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii.

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