A Disappointing Experiment

Steam’s current midweek sale offers selections from the Arkham franchise: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Arkham Origins, Arkham Origins Blackgate, Arkham Knight, LEGO Batman The Videogame, LEGO Batman 2 DC Super Heroes, and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. Of these, I already owned Asylum and City, and really wanted to pick up the rest of the franchise. Funds being what they are, I opted instead for Origins and LEGO Batman, and bought the same for my wife. We were very excited about LEGO Batman, and since neither of us had finished Asylum or cracked City, we were content to let Origins sit by the side while we fired up LEGO Batman.

The music was very familiar: the Batman score by Danny Elfman. This was a great start to the game, we thought. We adjusted options for our graphics settings and dove into a new game. We were met with three separate cutscenes, one for the game workshop’s logo, one giving the backstory, and one setting up the first episode of the game. The cutscenes were fun and lighthearted – I especially liked how Clayface was more interested in spinning around in a chair than the strategy meeting he was attending. And after a fairly comical introduction, our heroes, Batman and Robin, took center stage for the game play.

The object of the game is to fight your way through enemies (when you defeat them, they disassemble into their component LEGO pieces and quickly fade from the screen), pick up studs as game “loot,” destroy certain items to generate more studs as loot, build certain components to help you in your mission, and solve puzzles to get to the end of the episode.

On solid ground, the WASD control keys are effective enough. The other controls are fairly easy to follow – one key attacks, another jumps, a third is a catch-all “action” key, a fourth allows you to trade between playing Batman and Robin. But unfortunately this game has an up and down component to it, and that’s where I started running into problems.

There’s one point where you pull a lever to open a gate, revealing the component pieces of a grappling hook jump point. A key grapples you to the top of the line, another two keys (jump and direction) swing you over to a ledge. You pull another lever on the ledge, opening a gate in another part of the game below, and continue along to a landing with a ladder. At the top of this ladder, to the left and right of the ladder, are two collection items that will help you progress through the overall game. You just climb the ladder, jump up to the left or right, and pick up your loot.

Except it really, really is not that simple.

The camera angles are fixed in LEGO Batman, and the angle that the game has you in at that point in the game make the WASD keys less than intuitive. Using jump and A does not move you to the left side of the upper landing, it just has you jumping off the ladder to the landing below. Same with jump and D. If you climb too high on the ladder you automatically jump down. Lining up to actually climb the ladder in the first place is an exercise in patience, but it’s nothing whatsoever compared to actually reaching your goals on the upper landing.

I tried once. I tried twice. I tried again. And again. And again. For over fifteen minutes solid, I tried to climb this ladder to the upper landing to collect my prizes. If I climbed that ladder once, I climbed it fifty times – no exaggeration. I just could not get the controls to do what I wanted them to do in any configuration of button pushing. I finally figured out that if you jump just before you get to the top of the ladder, and continue hitting jump, you’ll stay there long enough to make an attempt at clearing the upper landing, but that actually making that jump is very much hit or miss. I finally made it to the right to pick up my prize there, and then tried to jump across the space on the landing that the ladder was coming through. I missed and fell back down to the lower landing. I tried again and again to get back on either side of the upper landing and somehow miraculously made it, got my second piece of swag, and finally jumped down that ladder on purpose for the first time during the whole ordeal.

Later on in the episode, Robin uses a special suit to control a toy car that’s required to unlock a puzzle preventing you from going any further. The WASD controls do not in any way correspond to whatever secret handshake of button mashing I was using to get the car to move in the direction that I wanted it to. Another ten minutes later, and I’d managed to achieve my goal – drive it from a small door in one building to a small ramp in the next building over, drive in, hang a right, and hit three switches on the wall to open the locked doors and allow the main characters themselves in. Previous and subsequent attempts to steer a vehicle in this game were likewise fruitless.

Even the most basic of tasks often required several attempts to get it done right. The fighting was basic enough – move around, get close to the bad guys, mash the button until they disassembled, and repeat. This was complicated considerably once the bad guys discovered firearms, and one of them required a well placed batarang throw to disarm from a distance.

Oh, the batarang mechanic. Press and hold the punch button, move the WASD keys around to target your enemy, and then release the punch button – all while being shot at from multiple foes. Did I mention that your aim moves somewhat independently of the control keys and a successful throw means timing when your reticle lands on the desired target before it swings back to the original position? The reticle is never not in motion, you’re having to aim on the fly. (To be fair, I am absolutely terrible at first-person shooters, where this kind of aiming is second nature.) But my in-game Batman felt a lot like his on-screen counterpart from The Lego Movie, when they attempt to pass through the laser gate – chucking batarang after batarang at the problem until one just happened to hit the target (“first try!”).

It took me over 90 minutes to complete the first episode. Nothing whatsoever in the gameplay felt intuitive or natural. The pace of the game crawled while I started and stopped and started again trying to accomplish even the most basic tasks.

Steam’s return policy dictates that you return the game within two weeks of purchase, having played less than 120 minutes total. After a short discussion with my wife, we submitted both editions of the game for refunds, which were granted sometime later in the evening.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a growing collection of LEGO Architecture sets, so it would stand to reason that I had very high hopes about the online games. Sadly, I found it to be unplayable. Sadder still, every other LEGO game works on the same control mechanic, so this pretty much eliminates the entire LEGO series from my wishlist. And there were many games on there.

Remember, your mileage may vary. You might download the game and be a whiz at it. It might not frustrate you to the point of distraction. But it did me, and it did my wife, so we no longer own the game. If you wish to try it or any other LEGO online title, I wish you better luck than we had.

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