The Lego games from Traveller's Tales have been a huge success, combining something we all love (Lego) with something else we all love (Star Wars, Indiana Jones). With the eerily dark The Dark Knight setting cinemas alight this summer Batman is the superhero of the moment, so TT's decision to make Lego Batman is a very wise one indeed. Of course, while Christian Bale and Heath Ledger took the movies to new dark depths, Lego Batman provides fans with a completely different experience. Previous Lego games have had more than a touch of slapstick and artistic flair to them, and this is no different. In fact, this might be the most stylish, funny Lego game to date.
Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones have had to follow a fairly strict story. Being based on existing movies the developers at TT didn't have much room to do their own thing (although they certainly added their own trademark humour), but Lego Batman is different. It's a completely original story, written by the dev team with the help of DC Comics. It just so happens that every villain has escaped from Arkham Asylum, so it's your job as Batman or Robin to send them back where they belong.
Batman and Robin usually don't have all that many people helping them, so the Hero campaign (15 levels) only features Batman and Robin as playable characters. A second campaign designed for villains runs parallel to the Hero storyline and sees you taking control of the many famous villains from Batman's history. Of course, free play mode will allow you to play as anyone who has been unlocked, and this is essential if you want to enter certain areas and 100% complete the game - as has always been the case in the Lego games.
Something TT is keen to point out is that Lego Batman isn't just a game for novice and casual gamers. It obviously has a charm that appeals to anyone familiar with Batman, but the gameplay mechanics have also been refined in order to offer experienced gamers more depth. As well as a new grappling system (something Batman, Robin and Super Villains can perform) there's now the ability to block and parry attacks. TT has also implemented a simple multiplier system to enable the most skilled players to achieve higher scores.
As well as the expected combat and light puzzle solving Lego Batman will also include five dedicated vehicle levels. Vehicles do crop up now and again during the standard levels, but these five levels see you driving a vehicle as you did in certain levels of Lego Star Wars. We only saw a tiny sneak peek of one such level, but can't wait to see more. With the creativity seen throughout the rest of the game it'd be surprising if these vehicle levels aren't a little bit different.
TT isn't shy about claiming that this is the best Lego game it's made, and it's clear why that could well be the case. On top of the brilliant humour and improved gameplay mechanics the game is packed full of ideas. Batman can use a Batarang to take down enemies (the Wii game allows you to target using the Wii Remote) but also to deflect incoming fire, tech suits give you new abilities (demolition suit gives you the ability to drop remotely detonated bombs) and the AI has been improved so that it should no longer be a chore to play solo with an AI partner. You even get to explore the Bat Cave and Arkham Asylum as your hubs - what more do you want?
As impressed as we were by the gameplay in Lego Batman the characters once again steal the show. As is the way in TT's Lego games there's no voice acting, with all cut scenes being driven by the characters' actions. In the cut scenes we saw Robin repeatedly try to look cool, only for Batman to show him up moments later. The villains get in on the act too, with the brown sludge looking Clayface proving to be something of a comedian, stealing the scene on more than one occasion. This runs through the gameplay too, in the weapons characters use (Joker has a electric shock handshake buzzer, whereas Harley Quin has as massively oversized hammer). If TT can include an ultra camp Adam West Batman in the game as an unlockable character we might be in Batman heaven.
Development has been led on the Xbox 360 and it shows. Lego Batman is by far the best looking Lego game to date. From the street level that opened our demonstration to a beautiful looking Cathedral level, there's more artistic flair here than in the previous Lego games combined. The carnival level has a LittleBigPlanet look to it and even small objects like the Penguin's suicide penguins look great - even though they're made of just a handful of Lego pieces. The game even includes Danny Elfman's score from the 1989 Batman movie.
Lego Batman appears to have everything we want from a Lego game. It's fun, great looking and different enough to Star Wars and Indiana Jones to make it seem fresh. Thankfully you'll be able to play it no matter which platforms you own, as it's due for release on October 10 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PS2, PC, DS and PSP. Traveller's Tales told us that it's planning demos for 360, PS3, PC and PS2, so hopefully we'll all be able to get a taster ahead of the October release date.