Tag Archive: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment


Lego games are nothing if not consistent, and in today’s gaming world that’s an accomplishment. Here is a series that typically has multiple releases a year and yet still finds a way to maintain a certain level of quality in terms of its gameplay and its humor. Sure, there’s a really simple base to work from, and it’s not like the graphics will push modern hardware to the brink, but the Lego games always deliver an experience the whole family can enjoy from beginning to end. The latest game, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, once again maintains the course for the series, and although it also adds a few new bells and whistles, there are a few new issues that crop up along the way, too.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 revolves around classic Marvel villain Kang the Conqueror. Kang has decided to stitch together a world from across both time and the multiverse and dub the resulting mishmash Chronopolis, with all the worst characters from across the timeline pledging fealty to him. Of course, in all these worlds happen to be heroes, too. Now, Marvel’s finest (minus the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and all their related characters) must find a way to band together to stop Kang and his army, and send each part of Chronopolis back to their respective place in the multiverse.

Similar to the previous Lego Marvel game, the story unfolds chapter by chapter from a hub world, in this case the aforementioned Chronopolis. Kang’s powers served as the perfect opportunity to stitch together some favorite alternate Marvel universes like Spider-Man 2099’s Nueva York, Spider-Man Noir’s Noir Universe, Captain America’s Hydra Empire, and current Marvel locales like the Inhumans’ Attilan, the Guardians of the Galaxy’s Knowhere, and an Asgard on the brink of Ragnarok. Each world has its own dedicated story chapter and is full of the kind of childish humor that’s always punctuated the series, with the heroes constantly bumbling over themselves. Throwing in the different universes only adds to the topical humor—fourth-wall breaking references to the Noir world’s sepia tone palette, for instance, and the obligatory mummy jokes in Ancient Egypt. Plus, with 18 different worlds across 20 story chapters this is easily the longest standalone Lego game yet crafted.

Chronopolis is also the largest hub world TT Games has ever created for a standalone Lego game. It’s chock full of hours of content, including racing in the streets, stopping crime—petty criminals as well as villains ranging from well known rogues like Electro to relative unknowns like Sentry-459—taking quizzes about the game, and more. Succeeding at these bonus challenges serve as extra ways to earn classic gold bricks, which can then be used to unlock even more content in the game like bonus levels, and more of the heroes on what is easily the largest roster shipped with any Lego game.

To be fair, though, due to Disney and Marvel’s recent push against promoting the X-Men and other movie properties they don’t control, the roster is a bit artificially bloated with multiple versions of Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, and the like as well as some really obscure heroes and villains from Marvel’s history. As a long time fan of Marvel’s properties, these other characters are sorely missed at times. You can give me as many superhero versions of Gwen Stacy as you want, but I’d still much rather have Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, or Cyclops.

Of course, the lack of X-Men is more a matter of personal preference than something that seriously detracts from the gameplay. As in many of the previous games, there are few differences between a lot of the characters besides aesthetic or personal appeal and maybe a different voice actor. Gameplay-wise most characters fall into only a few categories. The different Captain Americas are somewhat unique because there are switches only their shields can hit, but other characters like Dr. Strange can also reflect energy when the situation calls for it. The family of Hulks are usually fine for whenever you need to smash a wall. And you have your pick of characters that can blast or blow things up with energy: Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Thor, and even Rocket Raccoon. And with the new Ms. Marvel replacing the likes of Mr. Fantastic, and Wasp and Ant-Man’s shrinking abilities, there’s very little from the original Lego Marvel that hasn’t been replicated with different heroes here.

There are a few new gameplay mechanics at least to also take advantage of new heroes, though. There are special mazes that only Ms. Marvel can stretch through, Dr. Strange can use his magic to open up special portals with a line-tracing mechanic, and Lockjaw can teleport to normally unseen parts of a level. This comes on top of the classic Lego mechanics of smashing anything and everything in sight, occasionally rebuilding some of the stuff you’ve destroyed into something new and useful, and collecting the in-game currency, studs, to purchase more heroes and vehicles. Collecting minikits and saving Stan Lee from obvious peril also return as extra ways to earn those precious gold bricks.

Besides the massive scope of Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2’s world and its predictably large roster of characters, the game also introduces levels where as many as five characters can be in your party at once. There are several levels where you’ll be working with the entire Guardians of the Galaxy team, or the entire family of Inhumans. This allows for more complex levels and puzzles with more elements than we’ve seen before. Each character in your party can bring something new to the team to help you progress through a level. For example, Star-Lord can fly, Drax has super-strength, Rocket has beam weapons, Gamora can use her swords, and Groot could turn into a ball and roll on certain switches. By switching back and forth between them, you have different characters interacting with different parts of a stage at different times more than ever before.

There’s a downside to this, however. Back when there were only ever two characters to your team, you knew exactly whom you were switching with when playing the game solo. With five characters on a team, even when you’re facing whom you want to control, you may bounce to entirely the wrong character. This only gets worse when, after leaving a character you were just controlling, the AI decides to run off away from where you left them, or worse yet, get stuck somewhere in the environment that you can’t get them out of without restarting the level. While the added complexity to the levels that the larger teams bring is an obvious way to up the ante from prior games, it’s clear that more bugs have made it through as a result. If TT wants to keep these bigger partiers for the next major Lego adventure, it needs to iron out some of these issues first.

The AI also bugs out with the villains on occasion, with cutscenes either being slow to trigger or boss battles not entering their next stage at all for some reason. With most levels being relatively short—few should take more than 20-30 minutes to complete offering up the game in nice bite-sized chunks for those strapped for time—there are few mid-level checkpoints. Although these bugs were few and far between, they were present enough to warrant a warning here. Having to restart large portions of a level because the game glitched is always frustrating.

The Lego games aren’t just solo experiences, though. Local two-player co-op has been with the series for as far back as I can remember and it returns here and is as solid as ever. When you get too far from your partner, the awkward split-screen returns, compounding the issue of a sometimes already too static camera, but it’s nothing some solid communication can’t correct. Depending on the age of who you’re playing with, though, good luck with that.

There’s also a new addition this go around with a four-player competitive mode for multiplayer. You can now communicate with the Grandmaster at Avengers Mansion in the game, and he will welcome you into one of two games. The first is a take on your standard Deathmatch, but with the added bonus of Infinity Gems falling occasionally from the sky and boosting a player or team. The second requires players to try to paint the ground in their color by walking over blank spots. It loosely resembles something from Splatoon, but quickly can devolve into confusing chaos as players desperately try to score in the tiny arenas. Each mode has four arenas to them as well, and although this isn’t the deepest multiplayer, it makes for a nice addition to the formula. It also raises the question, however, as to why there is still no online functionality in the Lego games.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is easily the largest and most entertaining standalone project the series has produced yet. There are literally hours upon hours of fun Marvel-themed content to keep games of all ages occupied for long periods of time. Some of the drastic expansion of the gameplay and world size, however, has led to some bugs that can become frustrating at times. If you can look past some of these new technical issues added on top of some pre-existing ones, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 should still be a fun action-adventure that the an entire family of Marvel Merry Marching Society members can enjoy.

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • Developer: TT Games • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 11.14.17
7.5
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is easily the largest undertaking, outside of Dimensions, for a Lego game yet. More characters and more worlds to explore are punctuated by a humorous story that’s enjoyable for gamers of all ages. Increasing the scope of the Lego games has opened the door for some less than enjoyable bugs to sneak their way at times, though.
The Good Tons of content to keep you busy in Lego Chronopolis for hours on end. The story is fun, and the local versus multiplayer mode was a pleasant surprise.
The Bad Some AI glitches for characters you don’t control, and then trying to switch to those characters, belie some uncharacteristic tech issues from TT.
The Ugly I’ve played way too many Marvel property games this year without the X-Men in them now.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Sometimes, when time is tight, or the event is a bit larger than life, you can’t always get that important one-on-one time you need with a developer to really take a deep dive into their game. Under these circumstances, journalists are bunched together, and several of us at a time have to machine gun fire questions. That happened this past weekend at San Diego ComicCon, when just a couple hours before Friday’s Injustice 2 panel, a couple dozen other journalists and I met with some of the voice cast and NetherRealm Studios’ creative director Ed Boon to chat about the game. Here are the choicest things each person had to say.

Superman1160

George, can you tell us a little bit about Superman in Injustice 2?

George Newbern, voice of Superman
Well, the first game ended with him in that [red light prison]. In terms of where Superman is in this story, there’s a lot more shades of gray going on this time around. Superman’s not in charge, and it’s not as simple as Superman is good and Batman is bad or vice versa. Depending on what is going on, you’ll side with one or the other and there’s a lot more gray this time, I think.

Laura, you’re playing Supergirl in Injustice 2, but you’re also Catwoman in Telltale’s Batman. What’s it like to hop between these two DC characters in these two very different games?

Laura Bailey, voice of Supergirl
They are such completely different characters. Supergirl is pure. She’s young and impressionable, and when she comes into this story, she’s learning about everything that is happening and has happened. Selina is old hat—she’s been doing this for years. She’s playing everyone, and is always in charge of the situation she’s in. So yeah, the [vocal] range might be similar, but the approach to all the dialogue is very different.

Aquaman1160

Phil, Aquaman has for a long time never been taken very seriously in the DC Universe, but the first Injustice game and your portrayal helped the character turn a corner, lending him some credibility. How was it to be part of that, and what was your inspiration?

Phil LaMarr, voice of Aquaman
For me, it’s about the writing. [NetherRealm] has come up with a really cool take on the character—that’s the thing. For so many years, you had this character that is ostensibly one of the most powerful heroes, but who just wasn’t cool. And they finally figured it out. He’s the ocean personified, but he is also a man. And also, I think, for me, the hook is the kingliness. He is a ruler. He has power, but he also has responsibility, and for him it’s always about that. Either personal responsibility, or to the people of Atlantis, and I think the battle stuff of Injustice is what really put him over the top. Because you had the character conception, but then you have the trident, and the power of Poseidon, and the baddest kill move ever. And if you have great writing, it almost acts itself really. I just have to make sure I get all the words right.

Ed, what was the inspiration for the armor system in Injustice 2 and how will that change gameplay?

Ed Boon, creative director of NetherRealm Studios
If you look back at Mortal Kombat X, we had three variations of every character, and that’s for players to choose what’s their favorite version of Raiden, their favorite version of Scorpion. It’s a little more personalization in it for each player, and we wanted to take that even further. So, in Injustice 2, here are a bunch of different costume pieces. You arrange them as you want, and they power up your characters in different ways. Some might increase offense, or defense, or special abilities, the damage they do with interactive objects, etc. And you piece together a costume to make your custom version of Batman, Superman, Aquaman, whoever. And you’re in a constant process of rearranging those pieces, finding better boots that increase your damage even more for example. So that continued customization and personalization of characters really kind of separates this one from our previous games.

Atrocitus1160

George, Superman is traditionally the All-American Boy Scout and we only see deviation from that in these Elseworld-like takes. Do you enjoy these alternate Superman roles a bit more because they allow for more nuances?

George Newbern, voice of Superman
Yeah, I think so, and I love that. I’m working on a TV show right now called Scandel on ABC where I play an assassin. Just a normal guy doing these terrible things, and you don’t suspect it. In the same way, Superman is most fun when you get to go a little bit outside of the cut, square corners. It’s more fun.

Laura, you’re also in Gears of War 4 this fall, and mentioned during that panel how you and the cast recorded together for some scenes, which is more of an animation style. You also recorded with the cast for Telltale’s Batman. However, you recorded solo for Injustice 2. Do you think video games will start moving more towards that animation style or that it just depends on the project?

Laura Bailey, voice of Supergirl
It’ll depend on the project. Video games by nature are very different from animation because of the option of dialogue there. So, the recording process can be strange, and even harder with other people because for so long it revolves around what one player is doing. So, it would probably be a waste of money for companies to bring in multiple people for a session. So, it’s never completely inclusive. Even for Gears of War 4, when I did my battle dialogue that was a solo session because Liam [McIntyre] or Eugene [Byrd] didn’t need to sit there while I screamed for a couple hours at a time. But definitely for the cinematics, I think a lot of games will start doing groups, and so many projects I’m doing now have motion capture and I feel like more and more projects will start going towards that because what you can do with that is so epic.

Supergirl1160

Phil, how hard is it to jump into the middle of a fight, but not have anyone actually there to play off of?

Phil LaMarr, voice of Aquaman
It helps to be a video game player, because you understand, for example, when your line might be right before you attack, to give it that oomph. But yeah, it’s tough sometimes, because you don’t know exactly what the context is. The other side of it is, though, if you do enough different lines, enough different versions of it, then they can fix it in editing. I’ll give you everything I got, and you put it in the right place…so we don’t end up with Resident Evil 2.

Ed, how will the armor and customization affect balancing for competitive play and tournaments in the game?

Ed Boon, creative director of NetherRealm Studios
Well, it makes our balancing task way bigger. Also, there’s the possibility of a player who has been leveling up a character since day one, and then another who picks the game up three months later, and how does the newcomer compete with the day one purchaser? So, our matchmaking is also going to be critical to make sure people who are in the same range are matched. And then, just our job of balancing is going to be a huge challenge. But the experience of constantly changing and molding your personal character, the novelty of playing with your character will always make it feel new as opposed to playing with the same character over and over again eight months after buying the game.

Knightfall

Editor’s Note: Because of the issues I had with the story, I will be referencing several major reveals from the game, as well as the prior game’s ending. If you wish to remain spoiler free, consider yourself warned. 

Whenever a modern, story-driven action game transforms into a successful series, particularly a trilogy, it starts to suffer from Star Wars syndrome. The middle game is always the best, and all the prequels aren’t nearly as good as the originals. We’ve seen this with Gears of War, God of War, and even Uncharted. Well, we can now add one more trilogy to that list: the Batman: Arkham games.

That’s not to say that Batman: Arkham Knight is an awful game. It’s just inferior to its predecessors (except for prequel Arkham Origins). Instead of bringing everything to a natural conclusion and tying up all the loose ends it left open from previous games, it tries to cram too many new conflicts into this final title in an attempt to needlessly raise the stakes—which were plenty high enough as they were. The results feel like a narrative mess, and I think a large part of this is the result of developer Rocksteady writing the script in-house instead of having it done by a veteran Batman scribe like Paul Dini, who also happened to pen both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.

Taking elements from some of the more epic Batman stories over the past three decades from various forms of media—including Death of the Family, Death in the Family, Under the Red Hood, and Batman Beyond: Return of the JokerBatman: Arkham Knight sees the Scarecrow filling the criminal void left by the Joker nearly a year after his demise in Arkham City. With his most potent Fear Toxin formula yet, Scarecrow threatens to detonate a bomb that would blanket the entire Eastern Seaboard in the stuff, sending every man, woman, and child into a state or perpetual terror.

This, in and of itself, would’ve been a fine conclusion for the Arkham series, revolving around Batman having to constantly overcome his fears. Also along for the ride, however, is the Arkham Knight—a “new” character whose identity Batman fans should easily be able to deduce based on his taunting dialogue and how well he knows the Dark Knight. But even those who don’t immediately uncover the Arkham Knight’s identity will surely notice the cavalcade of clues, because Rocksteady wanted to make sure they really spelled it out before the big reveal.

Easily the worst narrative decision stems from the fact that Rocksteady and/or Warner Bros. wasn’t brave enough to make a Batman game that didn’t feature the Joker as a major player, though. For some reason, the Joker’s spirit lives on inside of Batman and several other of Gotham’s less fortunate citizens through his contaminated blood (I guess that cure in Arkham City wasn’t good enough), and Joker’s personality is trying to assert itself over those bodies in an attempt to cheat death. As time goes on and they become weaker, the Joker’s personality emerges more and more.

At that point, even as a comic book fan, it was too much. To have three major villains vying for attention in your main story—one in an incorporeal form—left a bad taste in my mouth. At the very least, the game’s ending felt like a fitting conclusion to the series, but I just wish it weren’t such a mess of an adventure getting to that point.

Instead of trying to shoehorn so many foes into the main story, maybe Rocksteady could’ve just added more side villains to allow the primary plot a chance to breathe. Those that are included—referred to as “Gotham’s Most Wanted” in-game, since you have to actually drag them back to GCPD after defeating them—provide a nice respite from the muck that is the main narrative. I could’ve easily done with more, especially Hush, Man-Bat, and Deacon Blackfire—or at least some longer missions involving them. The game does feature more than a dozen side missions in total built around a double-digit amount of classic Batman rivals, which helps to take some of the focus off of Scarecrow, Joker, and Arkham Knight. It’s a testament to the size of the world that it never felt like any of Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery encroached on each other’s turf, and I still had to search long and hard at times to uncover my next set of clues.

That’s definitely one of Rocksteady’s most impressive achievements with Arkham Knight. Gotham City is absolutely massive and comes alive like never before. Whether it’s ACE Chemicals, Port Adams, the GCPD, or Wayne Tower, the game includes every building and street that Bat-fans want to see, and you can seamlessly explore them all with no loading times while you hunt down your enemies as Batman.

Plus, Detective Mode has been expanded to help you on those hunts. With new elements like deep-tissue analysis on murder victims, security camera footage reviews, and fingerprint reconstruction, along with the addition of crime scene reconstruction from Arkham Origins, prowling Gotham for clues is as rewarding as ever.

Combat remains the high point of the Arkham series here, though. The smooth, free-flowing battles return, meaning that you’ll pull off 50-hit combos with regularity, but the game also adds new throw counters that help with crowd control, and instant environmental takedowns that can immediately remove the toughest thugs from a fight. Arkham Knight even offers special missions where you’ll team up with Robin, Nightwing, or Catwoman and can take control of them mid-fight instead of Batman as seamlessly as you do a counter, or perform team-up moves for some truly epic action. With these added nuances to combat, no encounter ever plays out the same way twice.

Predator Room combat has also seen a drastic improvement. The new Fear Takedowns allow you to remove as many as five enemies from the field at once when you’re fully upgraded. This will have you planning out your knockouts well in advance in an attempt to get enemies to bunch up together so you can swoop in and wipe them out in a single flourish. New devices like the Disruptor also lend a hand in planning strategy before jumping into the fray, since its special bolts will jam any gun—and, when upgraded, it can even short out enemy drones.

I wish that every element of Arkham Knight’s gameplay were so stellar. On the whole, all of these additions and improvements almost make you forget about the muddled plot. Then you get in the Batmobile. This was one of Rocksteady’s most touted features leading up to the game’s launch, and at times, the Batmobile is everything it was supposed to be: a dual threat fast enough to chase down fleeing enemies that still packs enough firepower in combat mode to take on dozens of Arkham Knight drones. The Batmobile even helps with ground combat by unleashing rubber bullets that incapacitate enemies in the streets.

But Arkham Knight relies on Batman’s ride far too often—and in far too many missions. The car’s deficiencies easily become evident, and it’s revealed to be one of the least enjoyable aspects of the game. I get that it’s supposed to be this monstrous vehicle, but trying to control the Batmobile in pursuit mode is a chore; it pinballs all over the road. Even after putting 30 hours into the game, with more than half of them in that damn car, I still never felt like I was in complete control.

And the Batmobile’s tank mode is even worse. While it features a strafe ability, I still felt like I was a sitting duck most of the time during an enemy missile lock-on, since the strafe only moves you a short distance in a particular direction. Then you have to try to dance between the two Batmobile forms to sneak up on certain tanks. They wanted me to be stealthy? In the Batmobile?! I just wanted to hang up the cape and cowl at that point.

The problems don’t stop with the Batmobile gameplay, though: Arkham Knight includes its fair share of bugs. I played on Xbox One and didn’t experience all the glitches that make the PC version unplayable, but the Batmobile still fell through the world in several instances where I had to drive up walls. And the bugs weren’t limited to the car, either. Several times I had to restart checkpoints when necessary button prompts wouldn’t appear, and I couldn’t advance unless I reloaded.

As much as I loved Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, Arkham Knight is nothing short of a disappointment. Two things are clear: Sefton Hill and his team of writers pale in comparison to Paul Dini, and Rocksteady should stay as far away from car combat as possible in the future. The excellent gameplay foundations, however, still shine. The fighting, side content, and stealth are as polished as ever, and considering the massive world fans have to explore here, they should still find something to enjoy with Arkham Knight, even if it’s not the conclusion we all hoped for.

Developer: Rocksteady Studio • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 06.23.15
6.5
The main story is a convoluted mess, and the Batmobile gameplay is a serious detractor on the fun factor—especially since the Dark Knight is forced to use this clunky vehicle far too often. The combat outside of the car is better than ever, though, so exploring the game’s bountiful side content remains a bright spot in an overall disappointing conclusion to the Arkham franchise.
The Good The combat might be better than ever, the world is absolutely massive, and the story provides a fitting end to the Batman of the Arkhamverse.
The Bad There’s too much reliance on the Batmobile, the Joker aspects are unnecessary, and the game has a fair amount of glitches.
The Ugly Every Batman fan will be able to guess the identity of the Arkham Knight from his dialogue long before the big reveal.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.

Not a Flawless Victory

Growing up, whenever the subject of fighting games arose among my group of friends, everyone found themselves in one of two camps: Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. I readily admit I was in the MK camp (kamp?). The franchise seemed to put a larger emphasis on the story, which appealed to me, and of course, there was the blood and gore—and the controversy over that element would eventually lead to the formation of the ESRB.

Now, with the 10th main game in the series upon us—and as someone who’s been playing the series fanatically since the early days—it’s interesting to see that Mortal Kombat X is, in many ways, attempting to get back to basics when it comes to what the franchise has always been about.

The first aspect of this is MKX’s Story mode, which takes place primarily 25 years after the events of the previous game. Shao Khan is dead, and Outworld has been thrown into turmoil courtesy of a civil war between two of his lieutenants who’ve made claims to the throne—the ramifications of which are starting to spill over into Earthrealm. Meanwhile, minions of an old enemy, the fallen Elder God Shinnok, are moving in the shadows in an attempt to bring their imprisoned master back.

Whenever NetherRealm discussed MKX, the plotline was one of the key points of emphasis. We were told it would be an epic tale that brought kombatants old and new together against an unforeseen threat. But considering that it was a point of focus for the team and that MK9 provided a strong foundation to build on, I can’t help but see MKX’s Story mode as anything short of disappointing. Part of my frustration comes from the fact that NetherRealm touted a nonlinear story here, but MKX plays out the same way Injustice:Gods Among Us and MK9 did. It’s nothing new.

The nonlinear aspects simply come from flashbacks seen far too frequently that are meant to drive the main storyline forward in a singular fashion. They’re there to fill in the blanks, add missing backstory, and make desperate attempts at character development—necessitated by the drastic leap forward in time between games. If you lose a fight, whether in the past or the present, you still need to beat it if you want to move forward and see the next cutscene (or use a cheap “skip fight” token that can be earned in the Krypt, MK’s interactive way of unlocking extra in-game content via ‘Koins’ earned by playing the game).

The saddest part of MKX’s Story mode, though, might be the glimmers of greatness the game tantalizingly teases. Plenty of interesting subplots are hinted at throughout—like how character relationships between old fighters and new have evolved in 25 years, especially those with familial ties. There’s also Outworld’s civil war, which could’ve been more deeply explored and fleshed out, given how central a role it was supposed to play. Instead, it feels like Story mode tries to cram in too many ancillary tales that, while interesting, are never properly explored. And considering that MKX is 25 percent shorter in terms of chapters than MK9, I was left wanting more in the worst way.

On the flip side of that, admittedly, you can also get too much of a good thing. The game ships with 24 fighters, only a couple less than MK9, but each one has three variations that offer different abilities. For example, Kenshi’s three variations are essentially the moves he debuted with in Deadly Alliance, those he used in MK9, and a brand-new set for MKX that allows him to manifest the spirits that possess his enchanted blade and use them offensively. Personally, I found it too much trouble to learn all the variations for each fighter. Once I found one I liked, I’d simply ignore the other two.

The entire process of experimenting with the variations is frustrating in and of itself—I think people who are into fighting games want to figure out who their “main” is as quickly as possible, so giving them 72 options just feels like overkill. I’d rather have 10 more playable characters and none of the variations than to have all these degrees of gradation.

At the very least, the fighters who do show up—16 of which we’ve seen in previous MK games, along with eight new faces—all feel truly distinct, even if their own internal variations don’t. While a few elements seem lifted from Injustice, such as Ferra/Torr’s Bane-like charge attacks or Kung Jin somewhat resembling like Green Arrow, the returning characters feel like I expected (in a good way), while the debuting fighters all bring something new to the table.

The combination of Ferra/Torr, which sees the diminutive Ferra riding atop the hulking brute Torr’s shoulders as part of an odd symbiotic relationship, has amazing range when Torr swings Ferra around like a club. I also loved playing as Cassie Cage, because she’s such a smooth blend of her parents, MK icons Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage. She quickly became one of my favorites—not just for her fighting, but also her one-liners.

Takeda feels the most distinct of all the new characters in terms of gameplay with his whip attacks and arsenal of different weapons. Both Erron Black and Kung Jin took some getting used to, but they’ve got some absolutely punishing combos once you begin to master them. Kotal Kahn is your typical slow, powerful brawler, but his sun beam that heals him but hurts opponents makes for interesting zoning strategy in battle. Jacqui didn’t really move my needle either way, since she felt like just a faster Jax, and the insect-like D’Vorah was a fighter I just couldn’t get a handle on no matter how hard I tried.

When I finally figured out what variations worked best for me, what characters I wanted to stick with, and who I’d be comfortable competing with online, I found that perhaps the most important part of a fighting game—the actual fighting—was better than ever. The combos flow smoothly, and no character feels too overpowered. Some moves are tweaked from previous versions, like slowing down Sub-Zero’s ice ball and Scorpion’s spear, but only in the interest of preventing spamming. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to adapt to the changes, which makes me think they’re all for the better.

For as good as the combat is, though, the post-fight action might be even better. Fatalities are easier than ever to pull off—and, at this point, it’s almost comical how gory they’ve gotten. Of course, it’s still immensely satisfying to make someone’s head explode with Raiden, rip apart someone’s spine with Sub-Zero, or absolutely eviscerate them with new characters like Ferra/Torr.

What surprised me more, however, was how great it feels to pull off the returning Brutalities. While they’re not as bloody, Brutalities are sometimes more difficult because they need to be executed as the last move of the final round—and some of the conditions are as brutal as the punishment one could end up delivering with the moves. So, suffocating someone with Reptile, kneecapping them with Erron Black, or punching them in the face until their neck breaks with Kung Lao is sometimes even cooler. The game even includes stage-oriented Brutalities.

But that’s not all that will make you want to keep fighting until the wee hours of the morning. A new feature in the form of the Living Towers and an old one in the Krypt provide a tremendous amount of additional content. The Living Towers are three ladders that provide fresh battles with new stipulations every hour, day, and week, constantly pushing you to test your skills in different ways.

The Krypt, meanwhile, has been transformed from a glorified gallery into almost an adventure game within itself as you explore a graveyard, caves, a mausoleum, and more from a first-person perspective, with more of the world unlocking as you find iconic Mortal Kombat weapons—Scorpion’s spear or Kung Lao’s hat, for instance. There’s even random quicktime events that have you wrestling with threats that can pop out of nowhere now and that reward you with more Koins if you succeed. In the Krypt, you’ll find concept art, Test Your Luck modifiers, and more Fatalities and Brutalities for each character, but after unlocking nearly 100 tombs in the Krypt, I do wish there were a few more interesting things to find.

Mortal Kombat X feels, in many ways, like one step forward and two steps back. I can’t get over the lack of depth when it came to Story mode, and the fighter variations aren’t as interesting as I’d hoped. However, once I finally found my favorites, the actual fighting still felt great. And with the Living Towers promising to keep the game perpetually fresh, I found there’s still plenty here to keep me coming back for more in the future.

Developer: NetherRealm Studios • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 04.14.15
7.5
When it comes to the gameplay, Mortal Kombat X is a solid fighting game, but a small roster and shoddy story hold it back from being a complete experience.
The Good The combat feels smoother than ever, and the Living Towers keep the game fresh long after Story mode is over.
The Bad The narrative has a ton of interesting subplots—but not enough time for any of them to breathe or properly come to fruition.
The Ugly You fight against three fan-favorite characters in Story mode, but they’re not a playable part of the roster. I smell a second “Kombat Pack” already around the corner.
Mortal Kombat X is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, with versions for Xbox 360 and PS3 coming later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.

Back when the game was first announced, if you told me that “family” was going to be one of the key themes of Mortal Kombat X, I’d have looked at you like you had two heads. This was the franchise that 7-year-old me lied to his parents about the level of violence in order to get the game for home consoles. This was a series built on the decapitated heads and severed limbs brought about by countless arcade players with nimble-enough fingers to pull off some impossible Fatalities. I never thought something as wholesome as “family” could fit into Mortal Kombat.

But leave it to the developers at NetherRealm Studios to turn even this concept on its head. At GDC 2015, I learned that Johnny Cage would return as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X, and I briefly got to go hands-on with him in the first chapter of the game’s story mode.

I’ve always enjoyed playing as Johnny Cage, but part of his charm as a character has always come from his interactions with his beloved Sonya Blade, since she acts as a grounding force for Johnny’s over-the-top bravado. To my delight, she was present throughout many of his cutscenes, too. It’s always nice to see one of gaming’s earliest power couples reunited (and doesn’t CageBlade sound infinitely more badass than Brangelina?). Throw daughter Cassie into the mix, and you’ve got the whole Cage bloodline present and accounted for here.

As the story begins, Shinnok, the fallen Elder God and master of the Netherrealm, tries to invade Earthrealm. Among Shinnok’s army of winged, fire-breathing demons are the reanimated, undead bodies of Sindel, Kabal, Stryker, Jax, and others controlled by Shinnok’s necromancer disciple, Quan Chi. As the world goes to hell around them, Johnny, Sonya, and Kenshi take a helicopter toward Raiden’s temple (where Shinnok is focusing his attack) in the hopes of possibly ending this war at the source—but, as you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan.

Mortal Kombat X’s story mode plays out similarly to Injustice: Gods Among Us. You’ll control a character for several fights that clump together as a chapter; that moves the story forward, and you’ll then take over as another character on the roster. This way, players can become familiar with multiple fighters if they’re new to the series, as well as experience the story from multiple points of view.

In Johnny’s case, his chapter consisted of four fights before I switched characters—or I would have, but the demo ended before I found out who would pilot Chapter Two. Johnny’s signature moves like the Shadow Kick and Green Flame were present and accounted for, and I even got to try out some environmental hazards, such as jumping off a wrecked car to close the distance on a far-away Scorpion and deliver a jump kick.

The game looked like one of the best new-gen titles yet, with each level providing an exquisite amount of detail. Whether it was Raiden’s temple or a destroyed city street surrounded by crumbling buildings, Mortal Kombat X looks nothing short of gorgeous. How it plays might be another story, however.

For example, I was a little taken aback that Johnny Cage felt slower than I remembered. I adapted by the end of the demo and delivered some solid combos by the time the chapter was over, but I don’t know if Johnny’s just gotten slower due to his age or whether the game as a whole is a half-step off, since I only got to play as him in the demo. Of course, it’s also difficult to judge based on only four fights.

Aside from this, it felt really good bashing people’s faces in, and I couldn’t help but get more amped up for the final game, where I can mess around with some Fatalities and Brutalities. Since we had only a limited amount of time, however, I only pulled off an X-ray maneuver.

In regards to the little bit I saw of the actual story, I’m also curious to see where all that goes. Kenshi and Jax were confirmed as appearing in-game during my playtime (Kenshi in cutscenes, Jax as one of Johnny’s opponents), and their kids are playable characters, too. There’s also Kung Lin being related to Kung Lao somehow, and even Scorpion has a fatherly relationship with Kenshi’s son, since he trained him. From what I saw, there seems to be a stronger emphasis on character relationships in the story here than in any previous Mortal Kombat game.

I imagine I’ll get some sort of payoff once I get to play the entire story mode come review time, but for now, this theme of “family” in Mortal Kombat X’s story is an intriguing one. It could serve as a welcome continued evolution of the series, or it might end up as an overplayed premise that makes the experience more cheesy than cool. As someone who’s been a fan since that very first chapter back in 1992, though, I think giving these longstanding characters more depth can only be a good thing.

Dragon Age Inquisition pulled off an arguable upset to win Game of the Year at the 18th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards in Las Vegas last night.

With eight wins already in their pocket, some felt it was a foregone conclusion that Shadow of Mordor would pull off a Last of Us-like sweep. But Dragon Age Inquisition, which had won RPG of the Year earlier in the evening, was the title in the final envelope of the night, even to the astonishment of Inquisition’s executive producer Mark Darrah and Bioware Edmonton general manager Aaryn Flynn, who were clearly flabbergasted as they accepted the award.

Aside from the 23 awards given out in specific categories, the D.I.C.E. Awards also recognized Apple with the first ever Technical Impact Award for the creation of the App Store, and Ralph H. Baer and Al Alcorn were the seventh and eighth respective recipients of the Pioneer Award. Ralph Baer is of course considered the father of video games, and Al Alcorn created Pong.

For all of the nominees in each category, you can check out the list below. Winners have been bolded.

Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition
Destiny
Far Cry 4
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Transistor

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Destiny
Far Cry 4
Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Outstanding Achievement in Story
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
South Park: The Stick of Truth
This War of Mine
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
The Wolf Among Us

Outstanding Technical Achievement
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Far Cry 4
inFAMOUS: Second Son
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Sunset Overdrive

Outstanding Character
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare — Jonathan Irons
Far Cry 4— Pagan Min
inFAMOUS: First Light — Abigail “Fetch” Walker
inFAMOUS: Second Son — Delsin Rowe
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor — Talion

D.I.C.E. Sprite Award
The Banner Saga
Hohokum
Monument Valley
Threes!
Transistor

Outstanding Innovation in Gaming
Destiny
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Monument Valley
Project Spark

Outstanding Achievement in Online Gaming
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Destiny
Elite: Dangerous
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition

Mobile Game of the Year
80 Days
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Kingdom Rush Origins
Monument Valley
Threes!

Role-Playing/Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year
The Banner Saga
Bravely Default
Divinity: Original Sin
Dragon Age: Inquisition
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Sports Game of the Year
FIFA 15
Madden NFL 15
MLB 14 The Show
NBA 2K15

Racing Game of the Year
Forza Horizon 2
Mario Kart 8
The Crew

Fighting Game of the Year
Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-
Nidhogg
Ultra Street Fighter IV
Super Smash Bros. Wii U

Strategy/Simulation Game of the Year
Boom Beach
Dungeon of the Endless
Endless Legend
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

Family Game of the Year
Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes (2.0 Edition)
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
LittleBigPlanet 3
Project Spark
Skylanders Trap Team

Handheld Game of the Year
Bravely Default
Child of Light
Shovel Knight
Super Smash Bros. 3DS
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

Adventure Game of the Year
inFAMOUS: Second Son
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
The Wolf Among Us

Action Game of the Year
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Destiny
Far Cry 4
Titanfall
Wolfenstein: The New Order

Outstanding Achievement in Animation
Assassin’s Creed Unity
inFAMOUS: Second Son
Middle-Eart: Shadow of Mordor
Sunset Overdrive
Titanfall

Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Monument Valley
Sunset Overdrive
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Outstanding Achievement in Game Design
Dungeon of the Endless
Far Cry 4
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Titanfall

Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction
Lumino City
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Monument Valley
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Game of the Year
Destiny
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Far Cry 4
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Don’t rage against the dying of the light—just let it happen

I was a fan of the original Dead Island. I didn’t think it was the end-all, be-all of zombie games—and the open-world undead action-adventure has come so far in such a short time—but I thought developer Techland had laid a wonderful foundation of gameplay mechanics, and I was excited to see what they’d do next. Then they gave us Dead Island: Riptide, practically a carbon copy of their first game that did little to further the gameplay or lore of the world. It left a sour taste in the mouths of many, myself included.

The announcement of Dying Light gave me hope that maybe Techland had merely hit a sophomore slump with this genre and that a new franchise would be just what they needed to get back on track. Dying Light would offer the developer a fresh start, with a new open world to craft, new characters to explore, and new gameplay mechanics to tinker with. Unfortunately, it just serves as the latest failure to enthrall the zombie-enthused masses.

Techland’s biggest blunder comes with the story. Dying Light stars Kyle Crane, possibly the most incompetent special forces agent in the history of video games. In the opening cutscene alone, Kyle botches his insertion into Harran (the fictional city that serves as the setting of this latest zombie outbreak), gets himself infected, and allows the guy who saved him to be killed. As the game progresses, Kyle’s stupidity begins to feel like a running joke, more sad than funny (I mean, I think I murmur more intelligent things in my sleep than this guy said over the course of the entire game).

Kyle is only the start of the story’s problems, unfortunately. Dying Light is full of one-note characters like the primary antagonist, Rais, a man reminiscent of a cheesy B-movie villain who kills hapless henchman on a whim and angrily pontificates about order versus chaos. There’s also the strong independent woman/potential love interest, Jade, who’s pretty and nice to you—and, therefore, you must care about her and her plights.

At times, though, Dying Light does seem to stumble onto some potential emotional gravitas. On more than one occasion, Kyle’s ineptitude gets friends killed, usually as a result of unwittingly leading Rais’ men to where survivors are hiding out. Despite Techland dragging me around by the nose like Curly in a Three Stooges short, I still grew to care about some of these survivors. Techland mercilessly stomped on those moments by quickly moving into prolonged action sequences, however, instead of allowing me to feel the full weight of their deaths.

Whereas the story completely failed in its endeavor to entertain me, at least Dying Light’s gameplay remains as a bastion of sorts from the loophole-laden cutscenes and dialogue that haphazardly forces the story forward. Take the day/night cycle, for example. During the day, the zombies, while still hostile, are far more manageable than at night, where the horde has larger numbers, moves faster, react more intelligently, hit stronger, and several new types of purely nocturnal zombies come out—some of which can deliver one-hit kills.

Daring to go out at night in these worsened conditions rewards the player with double experience—and even an XP bonus if you survive until sunrise. This provides an enjoyable risk/reward system, and adds some much-needed tension to the story’s scripted nighttime sequences.

The best part of Dying Light’s gameplay, though, is its world-traversal system. I’m hesitant to refer to it as “parkour,” because you’re rarely ever truly parkouring—and even if you are, because of the first-person camera, you really can’t tell. But being able to actively climb on almost anything in the world, grabbing onto nearly every ledge, and quickly conquering the world’s verticality is an invigorating feeling.

The parkour makes traversing Harran more enjoyable, and it also gives you the option to run away from a fight if the zombies ever become too much to handle—you simply scramble up the nearest scaffolding or building façade. This helps keep the repetitive hack-n-slash melee action seen in the game—also an issue in Dead Island—feeling a bit more fresh.  

Not everything borrowed from Dead Island becomes less humdrum here, however. Dying Light uses a similar crafting and weapon degradation system, encouraging you to tediously look through or lockpick nearly every crate you find. Sidequests are also the same—unexciting fetch quests I’ve become far too accustomed to at this point. Some, infuriatingly, require multiple stops before you get the little bit of cash, XP, or item the questgiver will award you. Plus, the two distinctive areas of Harran don’t change or improve if you complete these quests. They just feel like a cheap way to lengthen the experience dramatically, since there seem to be about three sidequests to every story objective.

I did appreciate how different Harran’s two areas felt—they even forced me to change how I played. The game begins in the Slums, and about 60 percent of the story takes place here. The Slums have a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor to them, and although the area isn’t as graphically vivid as I’d like, the world feels crafted to take advantage of the traversal gameplay with plenty of ledges and easily crossable gaps between shacks.

Old Town, meanwhile, is the exact opposite, with grandiose buildings and towers that have a Western European feel. Bright colors and exotic signs are everywhere, and the area’s not nearly as scarred by the outbreak as the Slums. Old Town offers much wider streets, however, making it more difficult to traverse safely across the rooftops without the aid of a zipline. I found the differences between the two areas enjoyable, even if I’d rather play in the Slums.

Like with most of Techland’s work, I see the potential in Dying Light. But it comes across as yet another project where the developer can’t seem to get out of their own way. The parkour and risk/reward systems of the day/night cycle are nice aspects, but whether it’s in the writing or the game design, Dying Light tries too often to offer something for everyone—and instead offers nothing of real note to anyone because it never digs past the surface of its characters or mechanics.

Maybe one day, Techland will be able to put it all together and make that grand zombie epic they’ve been dreaming about. Given Dying Light’s boring, repetitive quests and complete mess of a story, though, we should just let it quietly fade to black.

Developer: Techland • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 01.27.15
6.0
The parkour and risk/reward of the day/night cycle are nice features, but they aren’t enough to overcome the abysmal writing or the boring, repetitive fetch quests that unnecessarily bloat this game.
The Good Risk/reward system of the day/night cycle; parkour is surprisingly competent.
The Bad Abysmal writing; the entire game is one long monotonous fetch quest.
The Ugly We’re starting to scrape the bottom of the zombie-naming barrel with descriptions such as “Biters” and “Volatiles.”
Dying Light is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.

In honor of the day we here in America eat copious amounts of turkey, watch giant balloons float down major New York thoroughfares, and decide we’d rather be saving $20 on a new TV instead of spending time with our loved ones, we here at EGM decided to push aside the negativity and ambivalence that can sometimes befall the game industry and look back upon those things that we were thankful for this year.

Pure West, Baby
01

It made sense that Stan Lee, the king of hamming it up, would make an appearance in Lego: Marvel Super Heroes last year as a playable character as well as replacing the series’ standard “citizen in distress.” But I was genuinely surprised that instead of just going back to a normal citizen for the role, TT Games brought in Adam West, one of the most celebrated men to wear the cape and cowl, to do the same this year in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. It was, without a doubt, a guilty pleasure gone amazingly right.

I’m someone who can point to West’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader from the ‘60s (I watched in syndication, like many folks my age, and now I’m rewatching with the long-awaited release of the entire Batman series of DVD/Blu-Ray) as what helped spur a lifelong obsession with not just Batman but comic books in general, and it thrilled me to see him still embracing the character and hamming it up for his fans—even serving as narrator in a special level dedicated entirely to the show!

It’s Not Just a Car
02

Yeah, I know—two Batman posts on the same list. But the honest truth is that, outside of specific games, there wasn’t a ton for me to be thankful for this year, and you’ll have to wait for our “Best of” lists in a couple of weeks to see what stoked my fire in 2014.

Anyway, back at the beginning of the year, we got what many Batman fans have been waiting for: the announcement of Batman: Arkham Knight. And this time, it’s headed up by true Arkham series developer Rocksteady (even they ignore Warner Bros. Montreal’s Origins effort). Looking to cap off what they’ve said time and again will only be a trilogy, they’ve opened up Gotham like never before and given us what we’ve asked for all the way back when we first saw Arkham Asylum: the ability to drive the Batmobile.

I actually got to go hands-on with this multi-use behemoth at E3 this year, and in the small snippet of gameplay I got to try, it blew me away. Not only was it great for combat against other cars, but it helped with crowd control when Batman got into a hairy situation at Ace Chemicals. What’s more, I could even solve puzzles with the vehicle’s winch. The only thing I’m not thankful for is that the game’s been delayed several times, and now I have to wait until June 2015 to go hands-on with it again. Considering all the recent launch disasters, however, maybe it’s a good thing Rocksteady admitted they needed another nine months with the game.

Flip Side of the Coin
03

I’m completing a couple of trifectas here. This marks my third Warner Bros.related property, and I’m now the third person to mention something from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

Normally, I’m not the biggest Lord of the Rings fan, but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor really surprised a lot of us here in the office. While Josh may appreciate the new patch that lets you play as the female leader of the resistance and Andrew loves protagonist Talion, for me, it was all about the Nemesis system.

This feature offers incredible systemic gameplay, with each victory or defeat changing dialogue, power levels, and how you need to approach your target—and it’s a potential game-changer for the action-adventure genre. It offered me immense replayability well after the completion of the main story as I began to develop my own narrative within the game. Now, here’s the only question: Who will be the first to try to ape this gameplay revolution?

Holy Lego Bat-Trilogy!

Batman, as a character, has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Growing up, I had Batman bedsheets, a Batman lunchbox, and I’d watch the syndicated reruns of the 1960s Batman during dinner with my mom and go absolutely bonkers each episode, shouting out each onomatopoeia as it flashed on screen with joyful enthusiasm. So, it was with a near-equal childlike glee when I found out that Adam West and the ‘60s TV show would be getting a pretty fair-sized tribute in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. Working one of my all-time favorite TV shows into a series that’s already established itself as a great jaunt for Bat-fans of all ages? Sign me up!

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham picks up right where the last game in the series left off. After his failed team-up with the Joker in Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes, Lex Luthor is still trying to become President of the United States, but he knows he’ll have to knock off the Justice League if he has any hopes of following through with the misdeeds he’d have to commit to get there. Enlisting the aid of other DC villains to his cause like the Joker again as well as Cheetah, Firefly, Killer Croc, and Solomon Grundy, Luthor sneaks into the Hall of Justice—and, from there, teleports his team of rogues to the Justice League’s orbital space station, the Watchtower.

Unbeknownst to the heroes and villains as they clash high above the Earth, though, is that a new villain, Brainiac, an android obsessed with collecting slices of various civilizations and preserving them in his personal macabre museum, has been up to mischief of his own. He’s gathering the seven spectrums of light in order to power up his shrink ray, and he plans to make Earth doll-sized and add it to his species-preserving collection. Only through the heroes and villains coming together to tackle Brainiac as a team—and visiting the homeworlds of each Lantern Corps—does Earth have a hope of surviving the unstoppable android.

What TT Games is able to accomplish here with this, their third Lego Batman, is nothing short of impressive. Sure, the gameplay’s mostly the same as it ever was: Go around smashing pieces of Lego bricks around the world to open up new pathways, collect a variety of items, or rebuild them into something useful to take on the bad guys. Along the way, you collect “studs,” the series’ form of in-game currency, to unlock extra characters and other goodies.

But the scale of this Lego Batman compared to the previous entries is what blew me away. There may only be 15 story levels, the same number as all other Lego games, but each one’s far larger and more intricate than before. What’s more, they offer myriad new puzzles that really put you to the test in Free Play mode if you want to 100-percent the game.

And the story itself is yet again one that Bat-fans of all ages will appreciate. It starts off pretty slow, not really hitting its stride until about the seventh level, but it’s chock-full of the simple-but-enjoyable slapstick humor we’ve come to expect from the Lego series of games. It also stays very true to the source material, so you’ll be hard pressed not to relish the twists and turns of this latest adventure.

Besides the story, though, the game also offers nearly another 15 levels just to run around in and find a variety of DC or Lego themed collectibles. Whether it’s the Legion of Doom headquarters, the Moon, or each and every homeworld for each respective Lantern Corps, you’ll be blown away by just how much you can explore—and how much detail went into each area. From the lava rivers of Ysmault to the emerald fields of Oa, or the exotic forests of Odym to the prisons of Nok, Free Play mode will suck up your time as you undertake sidequests and hunt for the 250 gold bricks scattered about the DC Universe.

There’s also a special post-credits level. Not only can you rescue Adam West 30 times in the game (much like you had to with Stan Lee in Lego Marvel), but you can play as him, too. The post-credits level is a tribute to the 1960s Batman, with Adam West as the narrator. You can (briefly) drive the ‘60s Batmobile and then take on the Joker—redesigned to look like Cesar Romero. He even has a little Lego mustache poking through his white facepaint. It’s an epic showdown worthy of the Batusi!

Beyond all the extra story content, there are also 150 different characters to collect and play with. You’ll find variations on the main characters, like Batman of Zur-En-Arrh and lesser-known villains like Music Meister—even the reality-altering fifth-dimension inhabitants Bat-Mite and Mister Mxyzptlk. If they were ever a part of DC lore, chances are they might be here. Beyond Adam West, a few other random celebrities make an appearance, like Smodcast host and legendary Bat-fan Kevin Smith, the Looney Tunes’ version of the Green Lantern, the Green Loontern (Daffy Duck dressed as Green Lantern), and Conan O’Brien. With the first two, I can at least see some loose connection to the DC Universe, but have no idea why Conan was there, and he proved to be extremely annoying while serving as the guide for many of the hub worlds. He’d often repeat himself to the point where I almost muted the TV when he was around.

But, as the narrator of the 1960s Batman TV Show used to say at the start of each second episode of the two-part stories: The worst is yet to come. For as much as TT Games was able to cram into Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, there are a lot more technical issues than normal. You’ll see framerate drops on almost every other level, and they often crop up at the worst times. I can’t remember experiencing this with a Lego game before, so it was really jarring for the issues to pop up as often as it did here. It’s also still a little mind-boggling that TT Games hasn’t instituted online co-op into their games yet. I understand that local co-op probably works better for a game like this, given its chaotic nature, but I think offering players the option would be nice.

The camera also remains a greater threat than anything the Legion of Doom could hope to throw at you: quest-givers hidden away behind the scenery, your hero falling off an edge because the field of view doesn’t follow them into a blind corner, or just trying to keep all the action onscreen as you take projectile damage from enemies you can’t even see.

The technical shortcomings don’t sabotage the overall package, though. With dozens of hours of post-story content to keep players coming back for more, plenty of new worlds ready to explore, and a story that somehow finds a way to entertainingly tie it all together, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham remains as reliable and enjoyable for fans as Bat-Shark repellent.

Developer: TT Games • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 11.11.14
8.5
Despite some technical shortcomings, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham does a fine job of continuing to build on what the series has established while also hitting all the right notes to keep pleasing Bat-fans of all ages.
The Good Massive universe to explore. ADAM WEST!
The Bad Camera is a nuisance more than ever; surprising amount of framerate drops.
The Ugly Just how much I know about a TV show that originally aired 20 years before I was born.
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, OS X, iOS, Wii U, 3DS, and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. for the benefit of this review.

Three years after the game’s release, players are still finding hidden messages from Calendar Man in Batman: Arkham City.

Julian Gregory Day, a.k.a. Calendar Man, is best known for committing crimes centered on holidays, seasons, and anniversaries. He first appeared in Detective Comics #259 (September 1958) and was long considered a joke villain until he was reimagined by Jeph Loeb in Batman: The Long Halloween. This more sinister take on the character would follow him into Batman: Dark Victory, the 80 Page Giant Batman Special Edition “All the Deadly Days”, and, of course, the Batman: Arkham series.

Locked away beneath Arkham City’s courthouse, Calendar Man would taunt Batman even though he was trapped inside a cell for the entire game. If you approached him on various holidays throughout the year in Arkham City, his dialogue would change as he recounted some past crimes. If you did this once a month for 12 months on specific holidays, you’d unlock an achievement in the game.

Fans of the game, however, have not stopped grilling the cryptic criminal, even three years since its release. After a mysterious YouTube channel—which many fans think is actually a dummy account for series developer Rocksteady—uploaded a clip titled “Arkham City Secret?” where Calendar Man was seen spouting never before heard dialogue before it faded to black halfway through, fans sprung into action to unlock the riddle of how to trigger it themselves.

Several days later, it seems the Batman Arkham Videos channel on YouTube has solved the mystery. By setting your console or PC’s calendar to December 13, 2004, and then visiting Calendar Man, the dialogue starts. The significance of this date is that is when Rocksteady was founded.

To hear the new dialogue, you can check out the video below, but it once again features cryptic messages talking about the beginning and the end of things. Could it tie into Batman: Arkham Knight somehow? We’ll have to wait until June 2, 2015, to find out.