On hearing that Lego Batman 2 was going to feature full voice-acting – the first Lego title to do so – some fans might have been a little worried. The Chaplin-esque wordless, slapstick physicality seemed by this point so inherent to the Lego games that there was a risk Lego Batman 2 could ruin the franchise forever, or at least be a black mark on its reputation, a mistake hurriedly rectified in future releases. But the addition of speech actually makes for better story-telling. In fact – if you factor in the inevitable bias players will have towards one Lego-fied franchise or another – the various new features to be found in Lego Batman 2 may make it the best Lego game yet.
With the Lego Star Wars series there was no need for dialogue. People know those stories inside out, and fans would likely have been disappointed with anything other than audio taken directly from the film. But Batman has been voiced by more than one actor before, and anyway, this is an original tale. Lego Batman 2 brings together some big fictional heroes, who all need more characterisation than screams and incoherent mutters could provide. The necessary jokes and quips – whilst still helped along by little Lego facial expressions and body movements – really shine through in the professional voice-acting. That characteristic Lego humour is still very much there, whether it's the Joker cracking, well, jokes – including a delightfully self-referential moment at the start where he says, 'Look at that face! It's like, 'What is he going to say? What's going to come out of that mouth of his?' – or Robin's admiration for Superman being countered by Batman's disdain.
People other than Batman might also have worried about the inclusion of the all-powerful Superman as a playable character, but in a world where 'death' consists of nothing more than crumbling into individual bricks only to reappear moments later, his invincibility is hardly an issue. Perhaps more advantageous is his power of flight, which allows you to zoom straight over most obstacles, though that won't help you when you reach a security camera that only Batman in his Sensor Suit can sneak past. If you're playing the game on your own, this will mean having to switch to Batman – which luckily only requires a single button-press, and can be done at a distance – and make your laborious way across anyway, because the AI governing the second character is generally too dim-witted to follow if the path is anything less than obvious.
But really, the Lego games are meant to be played with a friend (locally, anyway – there’s no support for online co-op with this game). While there might be a little contention over who gets to play as the laser-shooting, ice-breathing, flying Superman or who has to be Robin, the vastly different abilities of the characters available make the game a much more involving co-op experience than most, where the option for a second player usually seems to have been dropped in as an afterthought. The constantly shifting boundary that splits the players' halves of the screen whenever they leave each others' sides, though clever – and probably much less of an issue on televisions bigger than mine – can be irritating. But the way two players can be using different characters and suits to do completely different things, while still working towards the same goal, more than makes up for having to get used to keeping your bearings while the dividing line spins around the screen.
Getting your head around the puzzles takes a little practice, too. Besides the occasional repetitive – and only sometimes helpful – tip from Alfred the butler, you're given very little help in working out what to do. Beginners – or children, likely recipients of a game like this come Christmas – may be put off at the start. With time, however, the puzzles soon settle into that sweet spot between challenge and simplicity.
Potentially more infuriating than any of the puzzles are the occasional progress-slowing bugs. These mishaps can show up right from the very first level, for example with Batman being inexplicably blown away and freezing on the spot every time he tries to jump down a big hole (which, thanks to a lack of direction, it’s never made clear whether you’re even supposed to be jumping down in the first place). Luckily, most of these bugs seem to be manifested in nothing worse than a character getting stuck somewhere, only becoming mobile again once another character has punched them a few times. You shouldn’t have to go so far as to restart a level, which is a blessing given that each one can be quite long and time-consuming.
In fact, the core of the game will take you a fair few hours to get through. You could probably make it to the end of the main story within a day if you didn't spend too much time running around collecting all the bricks, though that may be a difficult habit to break. After all, the real fun of the Lego games lies in smashing up the scenery to the tinkle of falling bricks, working out how to reach the more valuable ones, and collecting all the doodads and thingamajigs on your way to one hundred per cent completion.
With its sizeable open world, Lego Batman 2 is even more of a challenge for the completionist. You've got a whole Lego version of Gotham City to explore, and plenty of hidden secrets – including elusive golden bricks – to discover. You'll easily spend several more hours seeing what the city has to offer, and tracking down those collectables, and – especially once you’ve opened up Free Play mode by completing the game and unlocked all the characters (goodies and baddies alike) – there's just as much fun to be had out in Gotham as there is in the levels. Although, running people over with the Batmobile or any other (owned or stolen) vehicle – while entertaining – does seem a little out of character for the vigilante, particularly given the fact that at one stage he berates Superman for making a mess of a crime scene.
Replacing the simple hubs of previous Lego games with a sprawling Gotham City is a welcome improvement. Combine that with the decision to make this the first Lego game with full voice-acting, and it's obvious that the creators of these games are still willing to improve upon an already winning formula. There might be a few bugs and control issues (driving within the levels is much clunkier than driving around Gotham, for instance), and the split-screen can be confusing, but with a series that has a track record of self-improvement, things can only get better from here.
In which superheroes walk, talk, and fly.