LEGO Dimensions – Review

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Before I begin this review of LEGO Dimensions, we need to set the level straight on a few things, which are the most talked about issues people have with the physical and financial concept behind the game.

There’s been a lot of talk regarding how much this game is going to cost. There’s also been a lot of talk about different parts of the game being locked behind characters that you have to purchase separately and aren’t available at launch. I will answer this talk in a constructive way but make no mistake about it, LEGO Dimensions is really, really cool.

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The price point for the main game is a lot more than you’d normally expect for a LEGO game and certainly more than its main rivals Disney Infinity and Skylanders are charging. The additional packs are also more expensive than the others. But here’s the things that you need to know, the actual constructive things, that differentiate LEGO Dimensions.

Firstly, the packs are great value when you stop thinking of them as just game peripherals and consider them as actual LEGO, which they are. You get in the smaller £15 packs two LEGO things to build – one character and one vehicle/animal – which are able to used directly in the game at any time. There’s no level locking for the various franchises unlike the Infinity. The LEGO vehicles can also be rebuilt two time using the studs you get in game and can do multiple things in game. The packs vary in price and all of the packs can access the adventure worlds of their particular franchise. The more expensive packs like the level packs do give you extra playable content as well which, if you think the cost of each LEGO is £7.50, make each DLC level around the same price. Plus, because of the way it works, they can be used for any version of the game and aren’t console specific.

Secondly, you technically get a pack straight out of the box with the trio of Wyldstyle, Batman and Gandalf along with the Batmobile, the latter can also be upgraded in the same way. This also means that the LEGO Movie, Lord of the Rings and DC Comics worlds are also immediately opened. Regardless of if you own the packs, the story mode visits most of the franchises that are in the game at some point, so you will experience playing in a Doctor Who level, even if you can’t have the pack yet because it isn’t released.

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The third thing is the portal device itself which is a cool little LEGO build anyway (make sure you turn off the power save function on your console for when you’re building it), and is also a puzzle controller. At several times during the game, you’ll need to use the pad to solve colour puzzles, escape attacks and interact with the world in game. Even though all of these little LEGO things look cool, they all serve some kind of further purpose to add to their value.

In fact, we don’t often do this, but we know that people might want to see the kits and what they bring to the game. Thankfully, YouTuber GenerikB has been doing that and you should check out the playlist he’s made of unboxing everything that’s currently available.

The criticisms of the packs though are of course the cost (LEGO has always been an expensive toy though), the design of some of the builds can be a bit low key (Benny’s Spaceship doesn’t particularly fit well together and is a much more minimalist version of the ship that appears on screen) and the level packs not being exactly engaging. This last point is more directed at The Simpsons pack but it is still a fun enjoyable nostalgia trip to Simpsons fans. The problem is that some of these franchises don’t include original voice content (things are taken from the show’s archive) and that will obviously hurt narrative construction and limit the capability. Although the Back to the Future level is also a bit short, compared to the excellent Portal 2 level.

A problem here might have occurred with the actual process behind making the game being as unrelenting and in-depth as any single franchise LEGO game, and if that was a problem of having too much then it’s a good problem to have. We chatted to Mark Warburton, a producer from TT games, about how much went in to doing this behind the scenes:

“We treated every single one like a standalone game. Nothing was done small even though the footprint in the game is small. All the same research was done, the development time, time to get the likenesses to the characters, it was just as important. It made it difficult because we had to give the same amount of attention we’d usually give to just one brand to fourteen different ones.”

 

The thing is is that in truth, given everything they’ve had to work with and creatively combine, they’ve really nailed it. I mean TT Games seriously got it right and the level of enjoyment from playing the game and the nostalgia and excitement of seeing the various franchises at different points truly pays off in the playing experience.

How have they done this? Well by making a LEGO game, of course. At the core of the experience is exactly the same funny, reliable and accessible game as any of the previous games. The story is a good vehicle with which to combine these franchises and to give yourself a quest, a point A to point B scenario that enables you experience all the humour in the game. It has the same gameplay you know and whilst I’ve been critical in the past that it hasn’t moved on enough in recent times, for this it absolutely works and is necessary.

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Which brings us on to the games magical moments. There are times that the franchises themselves come out and be all they can be, regardless of their LEGO setting. Standing out amongst the rest is the truly mad and glorious GlaDOS and the Portal 2 levels that really feel like they are just more of the last game. The Doctor Who level in the game shows us how this has been a match made in heaven and it is criminal it’s taken this long to bring it about. Whilst the Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and Simpsons levels are all enjoyable, they don’t reach the heights of the other two, or the rather cool Ninjago level which sets about combating the lack of overall knowledge in the franchise by given us some great boss battles and puzzles.

The thing is, I’ve played the opening parts a number of times. Once with a friend for a stream, once for myself and once with my parents. Just to see how this whole concept worked between the most cynical of people, other games industry friends and of course the ones who teach you to hate the world. All were warmed. All were laughing. All were actually really impressed by the usage of the LEGO components and were gripped by the entertainment on screen.

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So I’m faced with a dilemma because this game does everything I want it to, yet also does all the things that cost me money and has wisely ignored my criticism of the previous games. But there are things that annoy me, like the inability to complete it without having to actually purchase certain things, and that I have to wait a good four months after release to get some of the level packs and toys. I can’t decide if that’s my impatience or my confusion that the business model is hoping post Christmas or January sales there’ll be more people playing the game after the initial release rush, and not giving everyone the opportunity to get everything straight away.

Ultimately I really enjoyed the game, I can see children and families enjoying the game as well and that’s important. Yes I’m a geeky guy hurtling towards middle age and I like and appreciate it for all the references and the franchises that I’ve enjoyed for the past thirty years. But really, I enjoyed the game too and having a game with franchises that both children and adults can understand, and seeing them interact with each other and learning about the many ages of our entertainment tastes and bond because of it.

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LEGO Dimensions does everything that every LEGO game has done before but that’s good because the portal brings a new way to complete puzzles and the obvious bonus of being able to place any character available in the game at any time. The problem is the cost of course and that completing the game for trophies/achievements needs characters that aren’t available to buy yet. But there is a joy and an great success that’s been achieved in combining these franchises in a fun an entertaining way where the game itself and not the content is the champion.

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  • Excellent franchises working brilliantly together
  • The LEGO toys themselves are pretty cool
  • The USB Portal is a great interactive element

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  • The cost of collecting everything is very high
  • Some of the content needs characters not yet available
  • Some of the content constricted by

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The game is probably the most fun I’ve had in a LEGO game since Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, in the actual game itself. But the franchises are so well adapted that, as long as you know what characters you need to get to complete the game and are happy with the cost, then it’s an load of fun and an excellent family game. It’s well executed and the game champions itself over the many potentially dominating franchises. A good example of balance, really.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

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LEGO Dimensions – Preview

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So it’s no secret that I’ve been a tad critical of the LEGO games as of late. I’ve found that maybe the formula had gotten a little stale and that, whilst nostalgia of the title kept my interest, they’d become a bit repetitive. Whilst I was at Gamescom, LEGO Dimensions proved me utterly wrong.

We all know and have heard the basic idea of LEGO Dimensions. Buoyed on by the success of franchises like Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Nintendo’s Amiibo range, it’s hardly surprising that a toy manufacturer who is already in the video game market noticed an opportunity. And it would have been so easy to see it like that, as an opportunity for profit using toys in games. But thankfully TT Games is at the helm and if there’s one thing that the years of producing LEGO games has given them, it’s that they know how to hit us gamers in the nostalgia bones and give us something with love.

Firstly, the game requires a LEGO Toy Pad and a Gateway which the start pack of LEGO Dimensions comes with. You’ve seen it no doubt, the little plastic pad you put your LEGO figures on and something that looks like the Goa’uld from Stargate would use to invade many worlds. And as the announcement video starring Joe McHale of Community showed, it you build it yourself using actual LEGO. All of the LEGO is actually playable and indistinguishable LEGO, from the Batmobile included and the three figures of Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle. Having a LEGO game with actual tactile LEGO is quite a fun novelty really. Building stuff for yourself is always fun, and during the game you will get the opportunity to reconstruct some things in order to solve various puzzles, with onscreen building instructions. Very awesome.

The game sees you going through the LEGO Multiverse trying to stop Lord Vortech from being the dastardly overlord who controls it. So you set out to stop him from taking the foundational elements and achieving this domination. Of course, you will have friends that join you along the way and you can even bring your own by getting the various packs that have been announced. But enough of the exposition, how does it actually play?

Incredibly well of course. TT Games has a very good pedigree in excellent, easy to pick up gameplay. LEGO Dimensions is no exception to that with the same look, style, controls and mechanics of any LEGO game. It is something that has translated perfectly to every franchise it has graced and it works just as well with multiple franchises. The demo that we played saw us walk down the Yellow Brick Road from the Wizard of Oz. Of course, not as the Oz characters, who were up ahead of us, but as our starter trio. Upon the road were some flowers that could not be passed by our intrepid trio. And so the toy pad came in to play.

We placed the Batmobile on the pad and a dimensional wormhole opens up and pops the vehicle in to the world. Batman jumps on it and we mow down the pesky flora from the yellow bricks of Oz’s M1. Our driving only went so far until we stumbled across one of the characters aiding Lord Vortech, The Wicked Witch of the West, who then started defying gravity* in order to attack our cross-series fellowship. It’s amazing that through all of this, nothing looks out of place. You suspend disbelief that these characters and vehicles don’t belong in the worlds your seeing because, quite frankly, it’s really, really cool.

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This cool crossover of franchises doesn’t just end with the main game. The recently announced Adventure worlds are separate worlds, much like you’d see in a normal LEGO game between the missions except that they’re all based on a particular franchise. We had a little go around in the LEGO Movie world because we had Wyldstyle but other areas will be accessible with the relevant figures selected. So you’ll have to have the various level or character packs in order to access these mini worlds. We’ve already seen clips of Middle Earth, Springfield, Hill Valley and Aperture Science lab inspired worlds and there’s fourteen in total (so far) so collecting these expansion packs isn’t just going to be cool to look at or use in game, there’s decent amounts of extra content as well.

Those extra characters all come with perks too. Scooby Doo for example can swim underwater, which is great for exploration and underwater racing. Much like the free-play elements of most LEGO games, every world and level has the same kind of task appropriate character and vehicle. There’s lots of cool little nods to all of the franchises as well including some slight cel shading for the Scooby Doo levels, Wyldstyle moves like she’s in some stop-frame animation. Every vehicle can be rebuilt in three different ways and can help with different tasks like pulling things down with a winch, or flying like the DeLorean from back to the future… Or spinning wildly out of control like the TARDIS.

Yes it’s taken me 850 words to get to a point where I can talk about one of my favourite parts of the game, and as a massive Doctor Who fan (who has had a TARDIS on every desk I’ve ever written on and a fairly full DVD/VHS collection), I am incredibly biased by this part of the game. Which is why you can imagine how high my expectations are and that after playing the Doctor Who elements of the game, the poor young lady who was helping to show me the various minifigures couldn’t stop laughing at how open my mouth was in shock.

Firstly, there’s The Doctor. With all of Peter Capaldi’s swagger and vocal officiousness. Capaldi voices the dialogue which has been specially recorded but every Doctor also speaks thanks to some clever raiding of the BBC and Doctor Who archives. And yes, I said EVERY DOCTOR. Just the one minfigure gives you thirteen unique Doctors that you could regenerate in to which all have their own little quirks and personalities. Yes even the oft forgotten eighth Doctor and the following John Hurt War Doctor. If you die in the game as The Doctor then you’ll regenerate in to one of the other thirteen randomly with a nice little animation. Then there’s the TARDIS. Jump in in and you can take off, spin around and fly with reckless abandon through worlds like only a 12ft tall oblong wooden box can.

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But then you hold down the entry button a little more and find yourself IN the TARDIS. The control room is fully explorable with all it’s pomp, flashing lights, incredible decor, time rotator column, round things and control panel. The far right control panel will allow you to change the music to whichever show theme you want, the middle one takes you to the relevant level pack and the left one allows you to choose any of the Doctors and have a little regeneration scene. So I went to my Doctor, the Seventh – Sylvester McCoy with his little hat and swinging an umbrella, and left the TARDIS. But then the poor young lady told me to go back inside the TARDIS. So I did.

The console room had changed. It was now the 1983-1987 console room occupied by the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. It will change to whichever console room is relevant for which Doctor, including the first two having a black and white filter for ultimate TV authenticity. At this point I became speechless and started rambling about how much this meant to me as a fan of the show and as a four year old watching McCoy’s Doctor for the first time and the last for many years, and how strong my nostalgic connection was to this era… It came as no surprise that my time was up. But this is seriously the best job of Doctor Who anyone has ever done in a video game and this can only bring hope for further licensed stuff between LEGO and the BBC.

After my fanboy blubbering I was forced to conclude that, whilst this is going to cost me a lot of money to have everything, LEGO Dimensions is ultimately going to be worth it thanks to how unique every pack will be, how every level will have something special and how every character has their own life to them. I know parents will be asking how they can justify buying this and everything when they’re already knee deep in Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Amiibo statues and I say this to them – Buy it for you, because your kids won’t understand why this is so marvellous… Treat yourself.

LEGO Dimensions is due out on September 27th 2015 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and WiiU.

*Yes I like musicals and made a Wicked pun… Bite me.

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Lego Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Interview

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While we were at Gamescom, we got to have a look at Lego Batman 3 Beyond Gotham. The next instalment in the DC universe from TT Games and Warner Bros does exactly what the name suggests, goes beyond Gotham City. You will be travelling in to space to save the Earth from Brainiac and visiting far flung planets along the way to add new and interesting environments to the normally dark gothic concrete palette of Gotham. I managed to have a chat with Philip Ring, an executive producer with TT Games and talk about the upcoming chapter in the DC Lego universe.


 

The universe is greatly expanding with the introduction of space flight missions, reminiscent of the Star Wars franchise, and a whole host of new characters, which is what Philip says they were trying to achieve.

“We really wanted to big on the DC content this time around, add a whole host of new characters, new locations, new gameplay styles even with the space combat and VR missions. Just really cram this game with as much content as we can.”


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The content is indeed huge with over 115 characters including Beast Boy, Plastic Man, Catwoman, Bat Cow accompanying the traditional set of our caped crusaders and, my personal favourite, a complete remaining of the 1960s television Batman with levels, characters and Adam West voicing the titular character! TO THE BATCAVE! I asked how good it’s been to have been given the freedom of so many great franchises.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic. We’ve been so privileged to work with the franchises that we have and to go back and really dig in to the DC world. We started off with the Batman story arc and DC have been fantastic that we’ve got that freedom to do things like the 1960s level and the bonus content that comes with that like the speech, Adam West giving a voice over for it, and the modern universe too.”


 

Of course this isn’t just the television universe or the movie universe in the game, this time it’s going deep in to the lore of the DC universe.

“We have massive DC fans in the office so as soon as the design team start looking at what to include, everyone comes out with “I love this character, I want to include this” and so we’ve got everyone chipping in with the kind of content we’d like to include. And we listen to what the fans like to see. So when Blue Beetle and Beast Boy gets the kind of reaction from what the people want to see, we want to include that in this big DC experience.”


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The release date is close but there’s no sign of the development of the game stopping until the very last minute. Not because it’s not ready, but because TT keep finding things they want to put in the game.

“We’re really still putting stuff in and we really want to make it the best experience it can possibly be. So the whole team is still working and people are still coming up with ideas which you think ‘That’s too cool not to include’ so we’re constantly revisiting and adapting to make it really special.”

 

So does that mean there will be DLC if they run out of time to get it all in to the main game?

“Who knows? We’re really focusing on making sure the game is the best it possible can be. If there was something we wish we could of included or that didn’t really fit in to the main game then maybe we will do it further down the line.”


 

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be released on PS3, PS4, PSVita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, WiiU, 3DS, Mobile and PC on 14th November in the UK and three days earlier in the US.

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Missing The Obvious: The Next Decent Star Trek Game

The fall of Star Trek in video games is nothing new, although it isn’t really documented properly. What do I mean by that? Well, every time you see a Star Trek game released, or mentioned, budding journalists – who are all my age and have very fond memories of getting in from school and watching The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 on TV, but thankfully were too busy to pay any attention to Enterprise – lament the lack of a decent game to play.

However, journalists and fans, I test you. Do you actually recall the name of the last decent game? Do you even get to look past the fan-boy nostalgia and remember an enjoyable experience playing one? Because I don’t! Let me list for you the last Star Trek games I recall that were actually good.

  • Starfleet Academy (PC)
  • Bridge Commander (PC)
  • Elite Force (PC… Yes I know it was console ported but it was PC)
  • Judgement Rites (PC)

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You see where I’m going with this. Sorry, consoles, but you’ve sucked at producing good original Star Trek games. Does anyone remember Invasion? No. Legacy? Maybe, because it was recent-ish. But the two most recent games (a non-tie-in-movie-tie-in and a MMORPG/DOGFIGHTING game) are mostly PC based as well. You can find Anthony’s review of Star Trek here if you need a reminder. I’d certainly argue that there hasn’t been a great amount of Star Trek games that go above an “OK” rating. Probably the two Elite Force games mostly and maybe Klingon Honour Guard.

So your point is, Sean, that Star Trek games have failed because the good ones are only on PC? No. Star Trek games have failed because there is a very limited scope of people that play them, enjoy them and who are ultimately unhappy at the quality so much they tend to not impart their money for them. It’s not just Star Trek but Star Wars and most other space based games.

Arguably, Kerbal Space Program and Eve Online are the most popular and successful space-science-fiction based games at the moment. And the latter being kept that way due to a fanatical community who subscribe to play it. But you wouldn’t say that either are popular in the mainstream sense and therefore in the big AAA console game world, they are unlikely to gross large amounts.

The last Star Wars game that was incredibly successful on console was probably Lego based. Something that the original ten Star Trek Movies would actually really benefit from. Which is why we are missing the obvious. We aren’t looking for the right Star Trek game! Let’s face it, in this world of Call of Battlefield, Forza Tourismo and independent gaming, there isn’t a lot of room for the dogfighting/FPS/RPG stylings that Trek and Wars could do excellently.Lego-Star-Wars-02 Purely because for the longevity of their intellectual properties, they really haven’t produced anything new in ten years. I know the new Star Trek movies have come and new Star Wars are coming and that the Clone Wars was a big hit. But they weren’t really new, were they? They were still that enjoyable science-fiction romp you enjoyed in your pre-pubescent years. Not exactly the core gaming audience nowadays.

So I do see journalists, bloggers and observers remark how they’ve lamented a decent Star Trek game, or that the closure of Lucasarts has left a void of classic space gaming like the X-Wing series (more on that next month) that no one can or has yet filled. But I ask you, given the hammy-ness and nostalgia that Trek has now especially, could you do worse than a two/three part Lego series of games? The Original six movies, the four Next Generation era movies and maybe a nod to the five television series it graced us with for nearly 40 years? No. No you couldn’t.

You want to know the obvious thing everyone is missing here?

A cinematic with a Lego Kirk shaking in anger to a point where he screams “KAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNN” and spontaneously falls apart. I’ve already pre-ordered that game in my mind.

Oh and if you think I’ve criminally missed Mass Effect, you’re right, I have. But for good reason, which you will read soon.

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