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In spite of the fact that it was “Unofficial Batman Week” around the GameSpot offices last week (MANvsGAME’s Jason Love ran a marathon livestream session of the three console Batman games, Batman t-shirts abounded and a small canine in a Batman costume wandering around…), the Marvel universe has my attention at the moment. Lego Marvel Super Heroes has arrived.
And it shipped with a free Loki keychain.
You can’t argue with a free Loki keychain.
While a full review is in progress for Monday, I’ve been playing the game for the past couple of days and having a great time, TT Games having lovingly crafted a sumptuous meal for Lego and Marvel fans alike. With roughly 150 characters to unlock and play as--including side characters such as Aunt May, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson and pop culture tropes such as Howard the Duck (who comes equipped with a rocket launcher)--there appears to be something for everyone here.
This, and the pleasure of exploration, make for the joy of this game. Granted, this isn’t the brainiest title you’ll pick up this year, nor will it be regarded as subtle or nuanced (the game's relatively simple plot centers around preventing Doctor Doom and cohorts from collecting cosmic bricks to build Doom’s Doom Ray of Doom), there’s an undeniable joy in what can be called the "Lego Formula." In the Lego Formula, you’ll readily jump into the level, smash or blast everything destructible around you, battle your enemies, see what Lego pieces can be picked up, what machines can be assembled or what superpowers can be used to solve the on-screen puzzles and move on from there. Yes, it’s an established method and the Lego franchise has long done this, but you’re fully immersed in the Lego-ized Marvel universe as you do this, unlocking more and more content in the process, and it’s still as rewarding as it ever was.
Where Lego Marvel Super Heroes truly shines is in its warmth and attention to detail. The game’s humor is light, playful and genuinely fun, the writers reveling in the implied cheesiness of the comic book genre and the super hero characters therein and hamming up the dialogue to make the cutscenes enjoyable. Background jokes such as Lego workers trying to sweep up the destruction from the last level’s epic battle, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson constantly bringing Nick Fury and other heroes snacks and the Hulk growing frustrated with a computer that he winds up smashing, keep the mood where it needs to be. Superb attention to detail shows what a Lego variant of a Marvel world can truly be and for every landmark, location or item that you ever loved in a Marvel movie or comic book (such as the Helicarrier, Asteroid M, downtown Manhattan, etc.), there’s usually a Lego version of it that catches your attention and proves fun to explore.
It’s been fun to see the Lego games grow over the last decade and Lego Marvel Super Heroes is no exception. Improved modeling, lighting and details make the game visually inviting, responsive controls make the simple act of moving around enjoyable and improvements in the combat engine have turned what seemed to be two Lego figures slap-fighting in the early Lego games into a genuine fight between the two characters being shown on screen.
Unfortunately, a few glitches have interrupted my fun. A small, unexplained black square briefly appeared above my characters’ heads towards the end of the game and a graphical glitch showed both the dead and alive versions of the Thing on screen simultaneously, the protocol calling for a dead character to explode in a shower of Lego bricks, disappear and come back again a moment later.
Between the visceral joy of pounding your opponents into dozens of exploding Legos, unlocking every character you can and taking down a set of flying Hulkbuster armor via the Iron Man 3 “House Party” protocol (wherein half a dozen Iron Man suits fly in to assist you), there's always something fun to do in Lego Marvel Super Heroes. This is the blend of Lego and the Marvel universe you’ve been waiting for, a joyously geeky concoction worthy of your attention.
I’ll have the full review come Monday.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Lego version of Carnage to unlock and frighten a metropolitan populace with…
Call of Duty: Strike Team lets players to switch between the traditional first-person perspective of the series and a top-down third-person option that allows players to tactically coordinate actions.
The game features a Campaign mode, which takes players around the world, as well as Survival mode, where players can fight off waves of increasingly difficult enemies. Users can compete against friends and track their achievements through leaderboards.
The most recent Call of Duty mobile game was 2011's Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies. The next entry in the mainline series is Call of Duty: Ghosts, which launches for current- and next-generation consoles in November.
Batman has a long history of escaping from some of the deadliest, most elaborate traps a brilliant criminal mind can devise. In his bat-utility belt is a gadget to get him out of nearly any predicament. But in Batman: Arkham Origins, there's one trap Batman can't escape from: the trap of expectations. By now, there are two things that define action in the Arkham series: rhythmic, free-flow combat and stealthy predator rooms. Arkham Origins has those elements in spades. But it doles them out in a straightforward, predictable fashion that lacks the inspiration of the earlier Arkham games.
The most noteworthy difference between Arkham Origins and its predecessors is a significantly larger open world. But that larger world has little meaning when the things you're doing in it are the same things the smaller world of the previous game accommodated perfectly well. Grappling up to rooftops and gliding through the air still feel great, but they don't feel any better here just because you have more rooftops to leap from. And there are side quests that have you doing things like racing to and fro to disarm bombs set by Anarky, which is much like racing to answer Zsasz's ringing phones in Arkham City.
Are you a bat enough dude to counter all of Deathstroke's attacks?
The city is bigger just for the sake of being bigger, and while these side quests make interesting use of characters--Anarky's willingness to go to any length to liberate the downtrodden from the oppression of the rich and powerful makes him a fascinating figure, for instance, and the game gives him his due--the things you're doing are exactly the same as the things the previous game had you doing in its open world. Even the crimes in progress, events you can choose to respond to or ignore that come up on the police radio, aren't a chance to protect hapless citizens of Gotham from criminal elements, but just to fight more groups of thugs, something you do plenty of anyway.
Free-flow combat is unchanged from earlier Arkham games, aside from the fact that there are a few new enemy types in the mix, most notably a martial artist who has an attack you need to counter twice rather than once. The animations are still excellent, and getting into a rhythm where you're dishing out punishment while perfectly countering every enemy attack still feels good, but it also feels exactly the same as ever. At a certain point in the game, you acquire shock gloves that make your punches more powerful, but this doesn't prevent punching dudes in the face from feeling routine.
Predator rooms are also what you'd expect them to be, no less and no more. Of course it's still satisfying to sneak up on a goon and take him down silently, or to be perched on a gargoyle, waiting for a clueless criminal to walk right under you so you can do an inverted takedown. But it's also starting to feel rote. By this point, the mechanics governing these systems have become apparent, the process of sneaking up on enemies or of countering attacks overly familiar. You and Batman and the game he's in are all just going through the motions.
Batman's true passion isn't doling out justice. It's ogling gadgets.
Arkham City built on Arkham Asylum by putting the mechanics in an exciting new context. Arkham Origins lifts them from City and puts them in the same context again, complete with all the same sorts of environmental problem-solving. You still toss grenades into water to form makeshift rafts (glue grenades here, not ice grenades!) and use the batclaw to pull yourself around. You still power up fuse boxes by guiding remote-controlled batarangs through fields of electricity. The occasional encounter with something fresh and exciting could have gone a long way toward making Origins' reliance on these familiar mechanics welcoming. But because nearly everything you do is a straight, wholly unsurprising replication of something you do in the earlier Arkham games, welcome familiarity gives way to an inescapable feeling of predictability.
There is one new mechanic in Origins: a significantly overhauled case file system. As someone who has always been fascinated by the detective facet of Batman's character, I had high hopes that this would make investigating crime scenes an involving process that would test my intellect. Unfortunately, it doesn't. You scan evidence to reconstruct the events of a crime and have to scrub back and forth through the reconstruction to track down more evidence to scan. There's some CSI: Gotham City entertainment value in watching the pieces of the reconstructed crime come together, but your role in the process is minimal.
The one area in which Batman: Arkham Origins delivers occasional flashes of inspiration is in its story, which establishes where Batman's adversarial relationships with the criminals who loom large in the Arkham games began, and how he forged an uneasy alliance with James Gordon, a good cop in a police force plagued by corruption. It dabbles in questions about whether Batman's presence only ends up fueling the fires of criminal activity in Gotham, and in its best and most genuinely surprising moments, explores how Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin. As Batman, new voice actor Roger Craig Smith is a bit flat, but as the Joker, Troy Baker fills Mark Hamill's clown shoes admirably.
Batman's eventful Christmas Eve begins, however, with a less outlandish criminal. The organized crime lord Black Mask, tired of the pressure Batman has been putting on his operations for the past few years, puts a bounty on Batman's head, calling eight world-class assassins to Gotham, including the muscle-bound Bane, the poisonous Copperhead, and the efficient Deathstroke. Boss fights with these and other characters have an elevated sense of drama because of the personalities involved, but mechanically, they aren't much different from fights with other enemies. Defeating Deathstroke requires good countering. Against Bane, you use stuns and beatdowns. And so on.
The world of Arkham Origins is bigger, but in this case, that doesn't translate to better.
Batman: Arkham Origins also includes a competitive multiplayer mode in which eight players are split into three teams: Bane's thugs, Joker's henchmen, and the dynamic duo. The Bane and Joker teams aim to eliminate each other, while Batman and Robin strive to take out enough criminals from either side to disrupt their operations. This unusual structure has potential; as a criminal, the need to be vigilant against heroes swooping out of the shadows while also trying to pick off opposing criminals should keep you on edge. But in practice, it all feels sloppy. Weapon accuracy is all over the place, and being able to sprint only a very short distance makes criminals feel weak and inept. Meanwhile, as the heroes, combat lacks the rhythm and impact that makes it empowering in single-player, and you go down so quickly to enemy attacks that you feel more like a Gotham City impostor than a real hero.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a deeply predictable game. It gives you exactly what you'd expect in another Arkham game, without doing anything to push the series forward. In the absence of new elements, the tried-and-true free-flow combat and predator mechanics feel routine rather than inspired. Origins is worth experiencing for the way it sets the stage for the events of the other Arkham games, but it also resides squarely in their shadows.