Sometimes, it's good to be bad - and LEGO Batman was a game that knew that more than most. Letting you play as not only the DC Universe's heroes, but a selection of its finest villains too, it was nice to finally take the anti-heroes out for a spell - and seemingly, the team over at Traveller's Tales agreed, as DC Super Villains brings a whole lot more baddies to the mix.
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While you'd perhaps expect the plot in a LEGO game to be easy to follow, DC Super-Villains is anything but. When a group of bad-guys-pretending-to-be-good-guys from an alternate Earth appear, they secretly send the do-gooder Justice League off to the back end of the universe, and proceed to try and take over the world, all while pretending they're the good guys. Meanwhile, the traditional DC villains - think Penguin, The Joker, Harley Quinn and co - are for some reason put out by this, and decide to do their best to expose the villains in disguise for what they are. Cue a story that has far, far too many obscure characters for anyone to really keep up with it, and that'll have you scratching your head to remember who everyone is.
Into the middle of this mess comes a brand new super-villain - you. For the first time in a LEGO game, along with the hundred odd characters you'll have at your disposal (including series staple heroes like Batman, too), DC Super Villains actually lets you make your own character, and puts them... well, not quite front and centre in the story, but certainly on the sidelines. With a character creator as good as those found in any LEGO game so far, you can change everything about your neuvo villain, from haircuts and outfits, to capes, voices, accessories, and a wide range of weapons. And although you'll only start out with a reasonably limited selection of items, unlocking more as you go along, we never really found much reason to go back and tweak our creation, as we'd already managed to arm him with that most deadly of weapons - a sausage. All we needed now was a fitting super-villain name. Yes, that's right - Pork-Eye.
However, it wouldn't be a LEGO game if everything worked exactly as intended, and it's probably worth mentioning that this whole create-a-villain thing has a few teething issues when you're playing in co-op. For starters, only one of you can make your own villain to begin with, with the other having to play as one of the more famous folk until you've finished the second or third level - and even then, you'll only learn you can make your own character if you stray off the beaten path and go exploring. Even if player two does make their own villain, though, they won't actually ever see them in cutscenes, and none of the characters will address them (unlike player one), so it's fair to say player two gets a bit of a raw deal. To make things even weirder, every single time the game gets chance, without fail, at the end of every story cutscene, it'll put player two in charge of player one's created villain, while player one gets to be a DC original. If you have easily irritated kids - be warned: there could be arguments on the way.
Happily, though, outside of the created character issues, LEGO DC Super Villains is a lot better. In fact, this is easily up there with the best LEGO games yet. A mile away from LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2's repetitive bad guy bashing, DC Super Villains has substantial levels filled with puzzles, requiring co-operation, exploration, and a lot of bad guy powers. As is always the way, each character has their own special set of abilities, so while Flash can activate treadmills, and Poison Ivy can manipulate plants, Clayface can grow to giant proportions to smash his way through walls, and the Joker can use one of the all new "powers" for this game - the ability to recruit minions. While that may sound like the beginning of an open world "beat the gang boss" style mode, it's actually much simpler - all you need to do is walk up to bad guys you see wandering around the level, and at a touch of a button, they'll follow you. Gather enough, and you'll be able to solve one of the puzzles - maybe using two bad guys as a trampoline, or having four of them form a human pole.
As with most LEGO games, it's not just the 20 levels on offer here, either, as there's a whole open world full of quests to explore too. Again, this all feels much more well put together than in things like LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, with a world that's sprawling, layered, and full of secrets, yet one which doesn't feel like quite as much of a maze to get around. Perhaps more compact, it's a world that it's fun to explore - and not just because of all the extra characters you'll unlock once you start having a look around.
There's a few really nice touches here, too. For starters, the vast majority of vehicles are now co-op, so a second player can hop right in as you shuttle across the city. Photo mode makes its triumphant return too, letting you capture the residents of Gotham City in their most embarrassing moments, while the player characters pick up in the incredibly high standards set by the prior LEGO games too, with amazing animations, and often a fair few hidden tricks for you to find out - like Harley whipping out a boom box blasting "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" if you hold circle. There's even a wanted rating, where "borrowing" a cop car, or accidentally attacking a civilian will see increasingly persistent cops on your tail - although it's nothing like as frustrating as on something like GTA.
Perhaps unusually, however, one of the areas the game seems to have almost moved back in is accessibility. LEGO games have always prided themselves on being easy to pick up and play, and this time around, there's even two different difficulty levels - a kind of "expert" or "beginner" mode, which is said to alter the amount of tutorials you get. However, we've been playing through on beginner, just to see what it's like, and we've still been being stumped by certain puzzles. Ordinarily, if you go to interact with something as the wrong character, an icon will pop up over your head showing you who you need to be - but often, that character will be one you don't actually have in your team. Similarly, some things are just badly labelled - like the Joker's remote control hatches, where he's meant to send his remote controller pair of exploding teeth in to cause havoc (bear with us, it's a LEGO game), but which are marked in such a way, you won't be entirely sure what to do. On the same note, we're not sure who decided to put bosses health bars down in the bottom right hand corner, so player one doesn't even really know it's there. Bit of an odd choice, right?
But outside of the odd niggle, LEGO DC Super Villains is a real tour de force from TT Games, and a much more confident outing than LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2. Though it's always a bit odd to see Batman back to being his uber serious self rather than his self parodying LEGO Movie incarnation, there's a lot to like here, with a gorgeous open world to explore; expansive, puzzle filled levels; and a great character roster waiting for you to get stuck in to. It's at times like this we're kind of glad LEGO Dimensions died - were that still around, we wouldn't be getting LEGO games anywhere near as good as this.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4