The Brick Knight Rises
Previously, Lego games have relied heavily on a familiarity with the source material to tell their stories, using only mute Lego minifigures and dollops of physical comedy to lighten the tone. However this time around the story is greatly improved by the inclusion of voice acting, a first for Travellers' Lego franchise, to tell an original story. Whilst the premise is nothing particularly outstanding - after being snubbed by Bruce Wayne for the 'Man of the Year' award, Lex Luthor teams up with the Joker and the Dark Knight's Rogues gallery in a villainous bid to run for the presidency, eventually forcing Batman to bring in his Justice League allies - where Lego Batman 2 excels is in some fantastic comedic writing and superb delivery from its star-studded voice cast. Traveller's have a knack for writing great comedy, as well as their usual physical fare, and the cast shines with their material. From Clancy Brown's - the veteran actor who portrayed the character in the DC Animated Universe - Lex, to Troy Baker's starring roles as Batman and Two Face, the voice acting is top notch and sells the light-hearted hilarity of the plot. The only minor complaint with the story is that, despite the subtitle, Batman's friends in the wider DC Universe don't really come into play until the later levels of the game (although Superman makes himself known much earlier on, much to the chagrin of Batman, who's interplay with him is hilarious). The story is great fun, but it would have been interesting to see Batman and Robin interact with the Justice League a little more - perhaps a goal for future games in the series.
Another area where the game has added something new is in the gameplay itself. Whilst the game at its core still plays as past Lego games have - platforming, light puzzle solving and of course, breaking and building oodles of Lego pieces to collect the game's currency, studs - the trappings have been given a major overhaul. Whilst the Batcave still serves as Batman's primary 'hub', where the player can enter story missions and free play previously completed levels, Gotham City itself is now Batman's playground, opening up a vast sandbox for Batman and the other characters you unlock in the game to play about in and uncover new collectibles. Even if your completionist urges weren't there to drive you to explore the city, the amount of things to do and the stunning detail Traveller's Tales has put into it are equally appealing incentives. The story itself lasts a good 10 hours, and you can easily spend the same time dawdling about in Gotham City to bump up your completion rate and unlock more characters to play with. Disappointingly, once again only couch co-op returns (bringing Traveller's 'sometimes-brilliant-sometimes-nauseatingly-confusing' dynamic splitscreen back with it), so there's no chance to tool around Gotham with a friend online, which is a shame, considering how fun it is. The sandbox of Gotham really adds to the overall fresh feel to the familiarity of Lego Batman 2's gameplay, and on top of the refinement of the franchise's core mechanics (unlike past games, the game is a lot clearer in pointing out your progression to you, thanks to liberal tips and hints coming from Alfred), Lego Batman 2 is the best playing Lego game in the series.
As the Lego franchise has progressed, the visuals have gotten consistently better, and Lego Batman 2 is no exception. The aesthetic of the Tim Burton Batman films is used to great effect, with the dark Gothic overtones of Gotham fantastically lit by gaudy hues, and the engine handles it brilliantly - aside from a few framerate issues travelling around Gotham that occasionally pop up, but they are rare. The presentation is remarkable as well, with sweeping camera pans accompanied by a liberal use of Danny Elfman's equally sweeping Batman film soundtracks, giving the game a much more cinematic vibe than past Lego titles. The stars of the show, however, are the Lego Minifigures themselves. They animate wonderfully and are packed full of detail, from great lip syncing to their individual movements in both cutscenes and around the world - at times both evocative of the tiny toys themselves and living, breathing people, a great balance is struck that makes them look fantastic in motion. All of this, tied with the previously mentioned voice acting, lend to Lego Batman 2 not just being the best looking Lego games around, but perhaps even one of the most aesthetically pleasing titles of the year so far.
Despite the fact that the core gameplay has barely changed, it would be a crime worthy of confinement in Arkham itself to pass off Lego Batman 2 as 'just another Lego game'. The tweaks and overall refinement to the formula are great at making the game feel fresh, the addition of the open world aspect is fantastic, and tied with the stellar production values the overall package comes off even better. Traveller's Tales have knocked it out of the park with Lego Batman 2, with a level of polish that bodes extremely well for future entries in the franchise.