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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Mad Max – Review

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So, in a spate of lyrical platitudes, I said a few months back that Mad Max would be the one game I wouldn’t be able to live without. A bit dramatic you may think but now, having played the whole game from start to finish, I’m going to try and keep that statement true whilst also being objective for this review. One thing I did do was look back at the movies, just to get a feel for the world.

Yes, I am one of those morons who will have a TV or Laptop on the side with something on it whilst I play games. Usually it’s sports or one of many repeat viewings of a TV series. This time, I decided to rewatch the Mad Max movies. It’s worth pointing out how tonally different a few things are, especially if you’re a fan. Firstly, the wasteland being as arid and desert based as it is in the game, is a complete by-product of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road. It is also worth pointing out that this Max is completely his own and mostly removed from any movie interpretations.

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So the one thing that this does is allow the characters, the franchise and the opportunity for a decent game to come to life in an incredibly large space. The wasteland is a huge empty opus in itself. A dystopian vision of a world reclaimed by sand and littered with the decay of humanity’s past and the cult fanaticism of petroleum-fuelled power, the very substance that caused the apocalypse in the first place. Yes it’s bombastic, ritualistic and occasionally garish in its interpretation of tribalism, but that’s one of the great things about it, the fantastical element that allows this crazy world to exist.

Max starts much in the same way as he does in Fury Road, by being beating up and having his car taken from him. But not before he manages to plant a baby chainsaw into the cranium of local warlord Scrotus. With the aid of an injured dog, you find your way on foot to a slightly crazy hunchback named Chumbucket who happens to be a wizard with cars and is currently building a new one, the Magnum Opus, which you have great need of after you see your beloved black Interceptor dismantled in one of the enemies camps.

What then ensues is a long mission, with Chumbucket as your passenger, to explore all of the wasteland, whilst doing the bidding of various underlords trying to rebuild themselves under the dictator-like poverty enforced by Scrotus. You spend your time clearing the landscape of snipers and totems (called scarecrows), dismantling enemy oil camps and engaging in big boss fights, taking out the big ‘top dog’ of the area. All the while, systematically lowering the level of threat in the area, and finding little camps where you can liberate scrap metal, historical relics (pictures from the past) and occasionally some construction parts to help build up your base.

How deep you want to go in to this side quest construction is up to you (if you’re one of these people that needs to 100% a game for instance) but you WILL have to get involved with it. Completing these missions and the side quests increases your level and also gains access to upgrades for Max and your car. It also allows you the opportunity to explore and get to grips with the enemies, the physical combat and the car combat.

To level yourself up is very easy. Doing missions, challenges, etc will earn you Griffa tokens. You take these to the crazy wandering shaman known as Griffa. This can help upgrade your strength, length of combo holds, fuel economy, etc. But it’s worth it just to engage in the introspective story of Max’s psyche, something that Griffa seems to have a direct line to. His pointing out of Max’s confused loyalties, his own torture and the secrets in his own mind that he’s trying to run from or conveniently buries are some of the best discourse in the game.

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Customisable Max doesn’t have a massive amount of customisation, but what there is compliments the increasing level and helps in the combat like wrist guards and knuckle dusters. Most things are quite easily unlocked in this regard, although I found myself basically playing the Hobo version of Max for most of the game out of laziness. Car upgrades are pretty cool such as ramming bars, engine upgrades, upgrades to your weapons (which Chumbucket conveniently fires for you) and hood ornaments collected from the destroyed convoys you encounter. Everything does become available quite easily, despite having to complete certain side-quests in some regards to earn the upgrade. One of the cool things are pre-designed car load outs called Archangels, one of which you will need in the story. But it’s a cool aside to help collect every available version of the Magnum Opus in the game.

Car combat is one of those things that can irk people. But I feel that Mad Max does it rather well. The obvious thing is to ram and grind everything in your path (be it a car, person or structure) but the options that you unlock can make this better than the constant dosey doe of close quarters vehicular violence. Yes the harpoon can be quite overpowered and is used a lot depending on what you’re doing, but that doesn’t make it less cool to use. There’s the thunderpoon (explosive on a stick), the shotgun and the side burners, the latter of which does a lot more damage than you think, if you want some variety.

But enemies usually come in threes which means that whilst you’re having to drive around finding another guy to hit, one is either coming at you or is primed to be t-boned. So there’s always someone to bash and never just an aimless creation of donuts. There is even a sneaky way to make things easier with the drivers getting out of the vehicles which allows them to be unceremoniously punched to death, quite convenient when your own car is on fire and about to explode.

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Of course there’s even more of a bonus if you can get these people out of a car and take their vehicle back to your closest stronghold. Whilst you can only upgrade your own car, you can also use any of the cars in the game as long as you collect them, which can be very useful for races or specific tasks like ramming things or collecting scrap. Once you do get out on your own and start beating up on people, you’ll find the combat very amenable indeed.

Compared to its contemporaries, you have a much more rugged feel to fighting. That’s also to do with the opponents you’re facing being rather rugged themselves, as well as Max being, well, mad. Most of the fighting removes itself from the acrobatic martial arts of Bruce Wayne and the sword fighting skills of Talion. It’s a lot more raw and brutal with shiv and skull crushing, just adding to the unforgiving psyche that Max has. This is even more apparent as you level up and progress the fury skill, an extra powerful buff earned from multiple combos.

Whilst I have been enjoying this game, there are some problems. These problems really do become a lot more apparent in the later parts of the game and one of them is due to its contemporaries. Whilst all the media attention was sited on this game being delayed and then released at the same time as the huge giant killer of Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain (which you can read our initial impressions of here), I’m more concerned with Batman: Arkham Knight and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

On the face of it, these are three different games with three different franchises from three different development studios – Monolith, Rocksteady and Avalanche. However these games in a lot of areas are exactly the same. Free-flowing combat in an open-world with various base liberation and boss battles, all of which level you up. It’s a stretch but this game does feel, when you’re playing it at length anyway, incredibly similar to Mordor. Obviously it doesn’t have the Nemesis system but the feel of it is incredibly similar. The car combat is something arguably Batman should have had and Max’s story is nowhere near as good as Batman’s. But the point is there (and probably only relevant if you played a lot of the other two games, like I did) that in the space of a year three incredibly similar games have been released by the same publisher.

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That’s not a problem if you like these games. They’re very good and the technology is there to make them good. Although Mad Max suffers towards the end of the game with big frame rate issues, especially in the storms, some races and occasional battles around the top of the map where lots of things are. It’s not game breaking but it’s frustrating given how smooth the rest of the game is. The story of the game also does something rather frustrating at the end by making you completely feel like you’ve misjudged the whole thing. Not in a controversial-yet-ideological epiphany kind of way, but more of a sad and unnecessary kind of way. It does feel a bit rushed and the game also frustrates you by overusing the map at this point. You also don’t get enough of Gastown or the amazingly bleak and dead area of the Barren Wastes. There are a few missed opportunities more than anything, which is annoying given the depth the game goes to in other areas.

One of which is fuel. I never wanted for fuel at all in this game. Not because it was easily found (although it is quite easily found), but because my character levelling made me conserve fuel more and by the time I was at a point in the game where things get very fuel thirsty, I had the economy of a Nissan Leaf but with a V8 engine. Trust me, I’ve owned a old school V8 car and that petrol practically evaporates. It was also helped that I’d done a lot of searching for parts for the strongholds so every time I went back to the central one for most of the game, Jeet’s Stronghold, I maxed out all my health, ammo, fuel and water. Obviously that was my choice but it took a little bit of challenge out of the game. One of the other things I didn’t get was how the story wanted you to blow up the oil refineries and transfer tanks to help disrupt an already leaderless Scrotus clan. Surely, given his hold on the resource, blowing it up is actually not a good thing as you need it too.

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I’m honestly glad I played Mad Max and it’s one of those games, like Mordor that I would play again and again, so in a way, I won’t be able to game without it being a part of my lexicon. And the one big reason why it has completely captured me is how beautiful the game is. I’ve been taking many pictures in the game using the photo mode (again something that was excellent in Shadow of Mordor) and it is glorious. The beauty of decay and entropy is something that is wonderful to look at and, outside of Chernobyl anyway, you won’t see it in real life en masse. The world that Avalanche has created is dangerous, violent, raw and poetically empty. When a storm hits, it’s incredibly vicious, loud and pretty. Many times, I risked death to get the perfect shot for a lightening bolt.

Normally for reviews, we use picture assets sent to us by the publisher but for this, we’ve used my own personal shots from the game. All of the pictures seen here are taken by me using the game’s own photo mode and shared via my PS4. It’s a testament that I trust how good these pictures look that I want to use them like this and it really shows off the vast visual beauty this game possesses. Combined with great game mechanics, excellent driving and combat, and an entertaining story that rewards the side quest grind for upgrades, Mad Max is definitely a game I’m reticent to put down. But I must for the plains of silence await me… If by plains of silence you mean doing some work.

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Mad Max is an excellent game which perfectly captures the sense of craziness and social human decay that George Miller’s movies evoke. The mechanics are sound, the game is huge and the landscape is beautiful. It’s slightly let down by its story and how close it is in gameplay to other games you’ve probably sunk time in to this year. But it’s definitely a game that will stay with you.

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  • Beautiful post-apocalyptic landscape.
  • Great fighting and car combat mechanics
  • Large open-world map that never feels the same.

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  • Story isn’t the best towards the end.
  • Quite close to other games in their gameplay.
  • Some bugs towards the end makes it feel a bit rushed.

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Whilst the game is excellent, the frame rate glitches towards the end let it down, as does the conclusion of the story. Plus there really isn’t enough to do outside of the quests and landscape liberation to take it to the next level. But the game is a great experience and one that truly deserves the plaudits if not for its beauty alone.

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This review is based on the PS4 version provided by the publisher.

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Dying Light – The Following – Preview

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It’s over two years since Techland went solo from their Dead Island franchise and found a new home with publisher Warner Bros. The result was last years release, Dying Light, which was a very familiar game if you’d played any of their former franchise. But with a focus on movement and parkour that freed up the constraints in the open world city of Harran, the game was different and enjoyable enough to earn the top spot in January 2015 for sales and became the highest selling debut survival horror franchise ever.

Now, the story continues as you take Kyle Crane to a new area of the world. Gone are the sprawling decaying concrete blocks, discoloured by the eastern Mediterranean sun, as you enter a new, vast farmland area, filled with brooks, small alcoves, interesting groves with people to find and farms and industrial buildings galore. The world is apparently four times the size of Harran. It is very sparse compared to the built up Turkish town and its not the worse for it. It allows for many different approaches to an area or a situation, which I’ll come on to later. But what you will find is that the shadows have given way to the glorious rays of sun that now dominate the skies and the view, really making some lovely use of the Chrome Engine and further solidifying why the last generation of consoles would have had no chance of running these games.

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The plot sees you trying to track down a cult called The Following. Presumably to eliminate them, although I must stress that the preview we played gave us no spoilers for the plot so we have no idea what we’re looking for or who we’re killing. But kill we shall because we are given weapons and the overwhelming urge to use them. In our preview, we climbed our way around a big mountain and dived from an impossible height down to a pool of water. As we climbed out, we saw our first hint of The Following in decorated rocks, much like those you’d see of native tribes around the world. Our journey then led us up to an abandoned house where the poor unfortunate souls before us left a gun and, most importantly, a crossbow.

Then we traversed our way across the farmland that was awash with zombies. Lots of zombies. Basically, don’t traverse the field if you can help it. It’s fun to start killing things with a crossbow, hitting people in the head, as we practiced at the house by clearing the garden. But as soon as you are outside and everyone is on you, forget it. Run. Where were we running to? An old water tower by a small farm building. There were a few ways there of course, either through the throng in whatever zig zag you’d like, up the path where the throng was less or up over the pipes that went across the field. I chose the pipes and ran my way to the high vantage point.

At the top of this vantage point, we saw our prize. A car, or to be more precise a buggy. After clearing the area of militia by using our crossbows at a sniping vantage point, we zip-wired down to the ground, mopped up the remaining guys hiding inside the surrounding buildings and jumped in to the waiting buggies. We, it must be said, was me and my co-op partner and what followed was a race and a slight moment of control adjustment to work out how the buggy went forward and reversed. The race culminated, after mowing down various zombies in the road, in a massive jump and an explosion that signalled the end of our play.

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What I managed to take away from this is that it isn’t a big leap from Dying Light, which is good. We also have a large, new area to explore and traverse. Also good. We have new interesting buildings like docks, processing plants, small villages and the like. Again, good. Then there’s the rather unknown story of this cult, The Following, and the presence of militia and zombies. It certainly gives you some intriguing propositions.

The fact it isn’t a big leap also allows you to jump back in to the game very easily. I haven’t played Dying Light since November last year (before the release) and I picked up the controls like I’d never left them. Simple, natural and the buggy was pretty good once you got your head around how twitchy it is. The weapons are fun and the options you have in approaching an area are also pretty fun. But you sense that, despite a huge world that’s been promised, a lot of it is empty and just populated with aimless zombies for you to mow down. I always find that fast transportation does allow to kind of get away with vast unpopulated areas. I might be wrong, but I’d need to play and explore more.

All in all though, the expansion is solid, the lighting and art direction is great, as it was in Dying Light, and it’s really more of the same. Normally, these things end up being just missions and a few new buildings but a whole new area is a great thing from Techland and a new storyline, regardless of your thoughts on the original’s plot, is entirely welcome. If you’ve already got the season pass then you can expect it for free (I know, right? A season pass that actually includes the add-on DLC!) or if you haven’t then it’ll be $14.99. No news on a UK/EU price yet but I’m sure you can guess one.

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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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Mad Max – Preview

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I didn’t want Mad Max to start with. I didn’t ask for it, and I certainly didn’t really care too much about what the gameplay would be like. Fair enough, there was a movie coming that looked interesting but I just imagined a dead 80s franchise being milked while it became relevant again. Then I played Mad Max and I soon realised this could be the one game that I wouldn’t be able to live without.

It’s a bold statement in a year that has Fallout 4 on the cards and the similar stylings of Batman: Arkham Knight arguably in pole position as Game of the Year right now, next to Life is Strange. But something about the short time I’d spent with Mad Max gripped me and took me to a place of customisation and driving intensity in arid areas I’d never have imagined.

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To start with, it’s worth pointing out that whilst you are the titular Max Rockatansky, you are not any of the movie versions of him. He’s his own character and rather autonomous so you can slot in to playing as him better. The black V8 Interceptor (a 1973 Ford Falcon in real life) is absent thanks to theft by marauders, but this only furthers the plot and the gameplay dynamics. Swedish developers Avalanche Studios have basically been given the keys and asked to come up with their own thing. So this is not a tie-in of any kind – Box one ticked.

Gaming is very spoilt with dystopian post-apocalyptic madness, which has probably got something to do with the movies and fictions game designers had growing up in the 1980s. So it’s with a sense of irony that the films probably inspired the games we love (Fallout being a prime example) that then inspired this game. But Mad Max’s world is extraordinary.

Everything that’s crazy about the movie world is here. You have the crazy side characters and seemingly endless insane cults and gangs ready to wreak havoc upon you in inventive ways. You have the vast and inescapable desert and the occasional hard rock. You have the intense weather from the films, dramatic and violent storms blowing sand everywhere or crackling with electricity.

In the play-through I had a companion from the studio to help me get to grips with the game and the controls quickly, communicating through a headset, but that became absolutely pointless as a storm hit. The storms are not scripted events and have varying degrees of severity. It was loud and obnoxious like an old TV used to sound at 3am when you fell asleep to it and all that was on was static. The only thing I heard my companion say was “you need shelter,” and she was right.

Three cars had come out of nowhere and started attacking me and trying to ram me. It had nothing to do with the mission to reach a stronghold in search of a legendary V8 engine. No, the actual mission had become incredibly mute and unimportant compared to the three guys throwing fiery explosive javelins at me. The cars had come from out of nowhere, just like the storm, and destroying them presented other problems. My own javelins were doing their job but the wreck of the car was now scrap metal which got caught up in the winds and was now smashing in to my face.

My visibility was zero and I did what only a professional coward would, and drove away really fast. Anywhere, just away from the remaining pack of cars. This presented its own problems in the shape of large immoveable rocks that only a 4×4 would dare attempt. I crashed, weakening my own car even more before seeing how far out from my original waypoint I was on the in game map. The road was much closer than I realised and as soon as I relocated it, I put the foot down on my upgraded V6 powered car and lost my assailants in the dust. I reached the stronghold which was under attack, but as a cutscene played and the storm relented, I suddenly realised how open my jaw was and how much fun I had just had. – Box two ticked.

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All of this is made possible by some excellent gameplay features. The open world is a huge expanse of post-apocalyptic wasteland that is split in to regions. The story mode will take you across all of this but you will need a lot to survive. Our demo was a mission that was just under half way through the game, and so our character, our Max, was suitably levelled up for us. You can customise your Max in any way (looks, clothing, weapons) but what is more fun is the car, the Magnum Opus. Driving in this game is incredibly responsive and you can do a great number of things to your car to personalise your experience, and that personalisation feels key to what Avalanche are attempting to do here.

You can upgrade your engine parts, wheels, chassis, etc, by using scrap metal that you collect throughout the world. You’ll find old car wrecks and there’s bits and pieces that you can find after you’ve destroyed other vehicles. This scrap is then used to purchase these upgrades but in some cases, you need to find them first. A new car chassis will be in the desert for you to find and the rewards for exploration and discoveries like this translate directly to what you can do with your car.

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You have a companion called Chumbucket, on your journey who sits in the back of your car and is the man who fires your main weaponry.  Your harpoon is the standard weapon but there are also the Thunderpoons (the explosive bolts), a sniper rifle for distance shots, your own shotgun and the option to either quick fire or aim yourself. All of which you purchase with your scrap metal. So you can go quite balanced, very weapon heavy, quick armoured speed, whatever you want. Your car customisation can add a ram at the front, different hood ornaments, the cool wheels with spikes, flame throwers on the side of your car, your own colour schemes… There’s an incredible amount and the team at Avalanche have taken inspiration from Forza Motorsport of all places in how to personalise a vehicle.

The game should see you try to reunite Max with his fabled car whilst also looking to end his madness, but one of the things to stress here is that you are Max. So therefore YOU are the mad one and you can be as mad and as crazy as you want. The game is a veritable sandbox (desert pun unintended) that allows you to play how you want, to whatever goal you want and with whatever setup you want. Even in my demo, no two journalists had the same experience and we all had our own stories. I’d talked the day before with another journalist who thought the harpoon was overpowered because you can just tear the wheels off enemy vehicles with it and then mow everyone down in a Carmageddon-esque frenzy. But that was their story and unless I did exactly the same as them, my own story would be unique – Box three ticked.

The game did blind side me as to how much playability there was from what is essentially a core concept of a bonkers bloke driving a car around and destroying everything that attempts to destroy him. But after I played it I realised that the story I was taking away was my own, not Max’s. And although there is the main quest with a story and plot, this doesn’t interfere with your experience and how you go about attaining that. Where other games after a while do get a bit repetitive, and I can imagine that hunting for scrap could possibly get a bit repetitive if you’re that way inclined, Mad Max kept me interested, gripped and excited for what I was about to do next with reckless abandon. So now that I don’t have Mad Max, I want it even more. Roll on September.

Mad Max is due for release on September 1st 2015 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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Batman Arkham Knight – Review

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Riddle me this, Chiropetra loving friends: What ever shall we do when the Arkham game ends? This really is the end according to developer Rocksteady. Their trilogy (Origins was done by a different studio so it technically doesn’t count) has seen the most critically acclaimed Batman iteration since the Nolan movies, brought expertly to life with an excellent team of developers, writers, actors and artists. I’m actually a little bit sad about it.

It is kind of refreshing in this world that (regardless of your opinion on the games season pass) a franchise isn’t being milked to death, and by that I mean annual or bi-annual releases which, given the success of the games, could easily have happened. But there is a love here for the source material and the sense of achieving a great story rather than just making a great game, so this kind of closure is essential.

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Ok, enough pontificating, this is where I tell you that Batman: Arkham Knight is my game of the year so far and that I actually like the Batmobile. After the events of Arkham City, the game begins with some dirty work from Commissioner Gordon and everything being really peachy in the normally dark and rainy Gotham. This of course lasts all of 5 minutes before the work of Scarecrow ends up evacuating the entire city leaving it open to the evil machinations of the series super-villains at large.

So yet again, you have to go forth as the caped crusader and be the vigilante that kicks everyone’s ass. You’ll encounter various foes along the way, along with various allies and be flummoxed by the mystery of who the new villain, the titular Arkham Knight, actually is. All of this whilst trying to curb the spread of gang thugs across the abandoned districts, finding all sorts of lost firefighters who they seem to have exclusively kidnapped, solving The Riddler’s little treats across the city, and much more.

It seems with every Arkham game, the combat has got smoother, the fighting more fluid and the space more apt for the style of a character such as Batman. By this I mean that the halls of the Asylum have progressed to the cramped alleys of the City and now to the streets, rooftops, and buildings of Gotham as a whole. The space to fight and to have epic one man, or even dual takedown battles, really gets your excitement level up and makes you concentrate more on how far away flying objects are, how much there is to counter and how satisfying it is to get the timing just right.

One of the things this game certainly rewards, much like Arkham City, is Batman’s flying and gliding. At times, City felt a tiny bit claustrophobic, at the lower levels, towards the ground. Gotham is huge though and the space is there for you to fly around, get to the super high places, and glide between buildings and to really enjoy and explore the city. And as you upgrade your Batmobile, launching yourself in to the air is incredibly fun, seeing the metropolis of Gotham flash past you as you catch a current.

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Which is great because it is visually wonderful. The gothic dark beauty, evocatively creating the air of Burton’s movie direction and the lighting and building density of something like Blade Runner, is in abundance here. The super structures of business made of glass and steel mixed with the old industrial buildings of Founders Island are fantastic against the backdrop of the old and regenerating styles of Bleake Island and its imposing clock tower. Miagani Island shows some of that comic book juxtaposition of the fantastical and real life with the orphanage and Wayne Tower and the huge blimps always in the sky towards the eastern edge of the map. There’s an aesthetic and colour palette representing the dankness of grimy expired industry and modern chrome that, under the dark clouds and rain, only reflects the entropy it’s trying to counter or delay. It’s a stunning visual treat.

Flying around this city and even driving around it really makes you connect to the world, despite it being very different from most open world games and their maps. Mostly the connection is familiarity with the world around them in popular culture and history. But in the case of Batman it’s like being given the opportunity to explore a landscape painting, finding all of the tiny brushstrokes of life and colour. The missions that ask you to search for things (Riddler trophies and firefighter rescues) really do give you the opportunity to experience every nook and cranny, which is a wonderful thing.

The story reflects the character of Batman and everything that has brought him up to this point. The duplicity of his morals, the violence of his pacification and his single-mindedness dictate everything that happens in Arkham Knight, along with everything that has already happened in the franchise. The mysteries that surround what is happening keep you going from point to point and the non-story specific distractions are fun to keep you from going way too deep in to the Bruce Wayne introspective rabbit hole.

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Which leads us to the elephant in this room, the Batmobile. I like the Batmobile. The transition from ridiculous supercar to hovering tank is fluid, the arsenal and upgrades at your disposal are great and the driving is smooth and incredibly easy, especially if you aren’t normally a car guy. People that have played games with tanks in like World of Tanks, BattleZone and others will probably get on really well with it. The easy to read firing arcs of all the different enemy drones, encouraging the evasive action needed, make it an experience that isn’t jarring or too steep a learning curve. The puzzles that require the Batmobile all use a different part of the car and a different use of it as well, showing how man and machine can be quite symbiotic.

The criticisms I have is that the world occasionally doesn’t make a lot of room for the Batmobile when it is required, making the whole operation a little bit clumsy. That is something that isn’t helped by the controller layout with L2 on my PS4 pad activating the battle (tank) mode – normally L2 would be your brake or reverse in any vehicle. It’s something you get used to but you will slip up, especially if you do play a lot of games that involve driving. The other issue I have is how reliant of the Batmobile some of the missions are. There are many tanks and vehicles that the Arkham Knight’s militia employ and sometimes there are far too many to destroy or navigate in the casual missions.

The secondary problem with this is that it makes the side missions incredibly repetitive, especially if you’ve completed the main story. You kind of want to complete it but at the same time, it can feel very grindy and after awhile, the sense of achievement fades in to relief that it’s over, which is a far cry from how you feel throughout the main part of the game. In fact, it’s very similar to the work you need to do in another Warner Bros. game, Shadow of Mordor. A surprise hit of 2014, after the main story finishes there isn’t the greatest of incentives to fully complete it. With Batman, you can complete what you need to finish the game to your satisfaction but to 100% it and get the reward/achievement for it is a slog that you might not wish to partake in. But the other way you can look at it is that, if these are the only holes we can pick (well known platform issues aside) then Rocksteady have really succeeded.

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One thing I have to mention, as I’ve said it to friends that have played it and to those that haven’t, is that the voice acting in this game is phenomenal. As far as game voicing goes, we always look to big names like Troy Baker and Nolan North in recent times to turn out stellar performances, and they are present here too. But the Arkham series has had the magnificence of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the past reprising the roles they voiced on the animated TV series. Arkham Knight is no exception to that style. Everyone is stellar, and one in particular is worthy of an award if such a thing existed, as the performance was just perfect. Tara Strong is brilliant as is Tasia Valenza and Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) makes an excellent debut as a video game voice actor with Commissioner Gordon.

The thing is with this acting talent and the strength of the story is that the presentation becomes a magnificent thing. Excellent use of the game camera can turn one moment of insignificance in to a brilliant cacophony of entertainment, terror and danger. Flashbacks are brilliantly utilised and the slow reveals of plot are magnificently constructed in the game environment. Whilst some games can just portray this in a cutscene or a filmic way, Batman: Arkham Knight has done it in a beautifully encapsulating way, without falling in to the gaming cliché of quick time events or removing you too far from the action.

All of this combined is why this is my game of the year so far. The future for Rocksteady is solid, with Warner Bros having invested heavily into the studio and hopefully giving them some solid franchises with which to work their magic, especially if they’re involved in anything regarding the DC universe. But for their Batman swan song, it is a lesson in how to create a brilliant game with a potentially saturated franchise and ultimately, how to end a story. The answer to the introductory question, we can only cry. Cry lots with sadness that this won’t happen again and with joy that it was wonderful while it was here. Thank you Rocksteady.

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The end of a great era of Batman games and a brilliant game by itself. A fantastic story, a huge beautiful city, wonderful gameplay, and superb visuals are only hampered by some subjective issues with the controls of the Batmobile and the repetitiveness of some side quests that overuse the vehicle. Batman: Arkham Knight is the greatest way to say goodbye to this wonderful series of games.

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  • Gotham is dark and beautiful.
  • Fantastic story and voice acting.
  • Excellent fluid fighting and gameplay.

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  • Some repetitive side missions and over-reliance on the Batmobile.
  • Slightly odd driving controls for Batmobile.
  • There won’t be any more Arkham games cries

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This is my pole position contender for game of the year. I really connected with the voice acting and the artistic construction of Gotham. The colours, the light, the rain, the brooding… Everything made this an excellent vehicle to deliver a great story and the gameplay is expertly refined. I liked the Batmobile and the slight issues I have with that and the missions are the only things keeping this from a higher score.

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

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LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Review

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Greetings caped crusaders! LEGO returns in DC comics form to control your minds, brick by tiny brick and shrink your world… Quite literally. LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham is a LEGO game that is very obviously the product of three things. Firstly, complete and total passion for the DC universe by its creators. Secondly, its a game that has the vast experience of many LEGO games before it. And finally it is the product of a team who were able to fully express themselves and their creativity.

The story of LEGO Batman 3 sees our caped friends chasing after Killer Croc in the sewer to try and thwart another dastardly plan by the Joker. However with the rather large and hypnotising Brainiac looming down on Earth, backed up by the stolen power of the Lanterns, all the Justice League and the assembled villains must join forces to stop a bigger threat. It’s all very amusing and takes advantage of the characters own dynamics and storylines that are easily accessible, even if you haven’t exactly been a big DC or LEGO Batman fan. The story is quite simple to follow and in the great tradition of these games, very family friendly. It’s easily played by all ages due to its very familiar controls and is enjoyed by everyone for being the slightly neutral comical romp it should be and never takes itself too seriously.

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When you have done as many LEGO games as TT Games has, it can almost feel like second nature. This makes the third LEGO game after The Hobbit and Marvel Super Heroes in the last 18 months and whilst the feel of the games aren’t exactly getting tired, if you played them all then you must be someone who really enjoys them or are a massive fan of every franchise they’ve covered. If that’s the case then this game is definitely for you as a DC universe fan. The smash-everything-unlock-cool-things gameplay is as smooth as ever and I’m pretty sure there are less infectious things on the World Health Organisations watch list than this brilliant formula. It’s made all the more infectious by the sheer amount of unlockable characters that there are. Plundered might not the term for the depth of the back catalogue of characters they’ve given an outing to, but they certainly looted with intent to riot. They’re fun, quirky and not all together the most serious (Batcow, Condiment Man, Conan O’ Brian, Kevin Smith) but they are a vast and representative look at the DC universe.

The levels are quite a nice length in most places and the free form way you experience the later levels in the story is quite nice although it does lack a little direction. It’s a good excuse though to go and check out the Lantern planets and their wild, vivid and crazy colour palettes. It is definitely an expressive designers dream and after two games worth of the dark dank nature of Gotham, I’m sure it was well received. That along with some nice tourist attractions around the world and the replay value in the levels themselves for collecting and sight seeing (the moon is fun along with the ability to freeroam the Lantern planets), means there’s always something to do and have fun with in the game. Especially with the inclusion of Adam West and 1960s Batman as a bonus level. It may be one for the fans and the parents out there but if, like me, you grew up with early morning reruns of the show before the Tim Burton movies appeared then this will hit you right in the nostalgia bone.

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Whilst we can’t actually review the extra content that is coming, it is worth saying that if characters are your bag, the DLC on offer will be most fun. Dark Knight Batman from the Nolan movies, Arrow from the TV universe with Stephen Amell voicing… There’s lots to keep you as a fan entertained character wise. Is it worth the season pass money though? Well if it’s your thing to collect all the things then yes. Otherwise it might not be.

We’ve all got our favourite LEGO games. Mine so far have been the Star Wars movies (although the game does feel a bit dated now), Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter’s. So when I have my criticisms of this game, please bear in mind that I know these are different universes and franchises and that they have a different artistic direction.

LEGO games in recent times have been very open world and Batman 3 is not, at least not in the same way. You have a central hub in The Watchtower where you navigate your way through the story, various unlockables and areas to reach those things. But it doesn’t feel very natural to do that beyond the level selection and transport to other worlds. You have to go to the Batcave to do a lot of things and that includes the frankly excellent bonus mission of the 1960s TV Batman. But it all feels very far apart and isn’t very well directed. Not like that of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, or even the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from Marvel Super Heroes. It’s a bit hard to work out where to go and where everything is. Making a great little bit of exploration, sure, but it can get you lost very easily.

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The levels at times, despite mostly being a good length, feel a tiny bit too short. Some of the Lantern planets in the story, although you can replay them and explore them, feel a bit rushed at times. Like they needed to push the story along and not get the audience lost or make them lose interest. It’s a pacing issue and one that I feel all LEGO games suffer from at times after the middle part of the game but it would have been nice to have more time on those planets and some crazier things to enjoy. They aren’t a massive stretch from what the Star Wars games were achieving but they’re obviously much more colourful. Plus I’m pretty sure there are other areas on terrafirma in the DC universe that could have been utilised. Maybe that’s another game though. The occasional mini-game levels however, which look inspired by TRON/Daft Punk, are utterly confusing and to be honest don’t really add much to the game except a “what the hell is this?” reaction moment. I’d quite happily have taken an easy on-screen puzzle if I’m honest and kept them as a fun aside in the Batcave.

Balance is quite a key thing in LEGO games and for you to unlock all the characters, you have to want to unlock them. The balance of what the characters can do with their powers, modifiers, different suits and such is very key to how you play the game. Whilst you don’t want these bonus characters to be required in order to complete it, there is a bit of an overpowered set which you don’t really need to stray too far from. It’s not that bad a thing but it doesn’t really make you explore the other character options. Where as Harry Potter certainly did with their different spells. It would have been nice to have seen some more integration of the characters sets in to the main game for freeplay. I want an excuse to unlock Batcow! Although my only main character based criticism is how the level design of some of the levels really doesn’t like The Flash. Barry Allen moves so darn fast that you usually end up not actually fighting anyone, spinning around punching the air and falling off edges more often than a lemming.

LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham doesn’t really go beyond what LEGO games are known for. But it is a romp that makes you wonder where the heck LEGO games could go next. Ghostbusters would be fun and I’ve always said the Star Trek movies could make good LEGO games, even Doctor Who (nerdgasm). But for now we’ve got to the point of exhausting the franchises we have. Is DC exhausted from this? Possibly. Other than story and environments, there’s not that much more I think that would bring people back to LEGO Batman as this has most certainly ticked and filled every box. A good LEGO game, a fun Batman game but easily consumed. Next, please!

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LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham hits all the right spots for a DC fan and keeps up the great tradition that is now LEGO franchise gaming. It’s simple, easy, family friendly and incredibly addictive. Although at this point the gamer in me wants to see some more imaginative things, bigger, better puzzles and something new along with the smash everything, collect everything gameplay. But you can’t fix something that isn’t broken and LEGO games still work great, and this one definitely goes in the lexicon very nicely.

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– So many characters, so little time

– The Batusi jiving, catch phrase slinging Adam West

– A nice expansion of the DC universe and for the player to see more than Gotham

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– Mini game TRON level not needed

– Watchtower hub and utility placement confusing

– The Flash is a bit too flashy and hard to control

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The game is a great thing for DC fans, and a fun thing for LEGO fans, but even though it’s accessible to all, it doesn’t quite hit the interchangeable hairstyle on my LEGO head. There’s loads to do and some great extra bits along the way, along with some excellent worlds to explore. But it can be a bit confusing, easy to get lost and it isn’t a leap forward from the other two LEGO games we’ve already had very recently. It’s fun, but for me it isn’t the best the series has offered. But if you’re a DC fan then this will be brilliant.

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This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

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