Batman Gets Top Billing, But This Could Be a Great Justice League GameS

Let us begin Kotaku's Day of Video Game Preview (May 22nd edition) with a caveat about the information we may bring you about Lego Batman 2: DC Super-Heroes. I can't tell you if this game, which includes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Martian Manhunter, Cyborg and Green Lantern also includes Hawkman.

They're not talking about that yet.

You hit information brick walls like that when you're previewing video games.

The confirmation that Hawkman's in or out of this game is a secret?

It's nearly as astounding that they'll tell you the exact height of the terrific-looking open-world part of the game. Lego Batman 2's massive Gotham City—which you can actually play in split-screen—spans three islands. With a behind-the-back camera angle usually seen in Grand Theft Autos or Tomb Raiders instead of Lego games, you can drive through it in the Batmobile, find quests, switch to the Flash and run through its streets, don the Superman role (cue John Williams theme, delightfully enough) and soar to the sky above the city, and... how tall is this place?

"We knew how long we wanted it to take for you to travel from the top of the world to the bottom of the world," Jonathan Smith of Lego studio TT Games told me. "You start flying and when you get bored, you say, 'That's too long.'"

What's that time?

"It's a minute and a half."

That's the science of it?

"You just need to play the thing and you know what's fun."

Lego Batman 2, as we've covered before, is a new, original, linear Lego adventure that allows one or two players to punch through a gallery of rogues as Batman and/or Robin, changing into many super-powered gadget suits along the way. It is also a massive open-world game, connecting its levels together through an immense and fully explorable Gotham City, the first open environment in a Lego game and one that will let players romp through it as Batman, Robin, members of the Justice League or even some villains. Superman is a show-stealer in the game, introducing free-form flight in the open Gotham City, a switch from the generally land-bound gameplay of the long-running Lego series.

During a showcase for the game in Santa Monica last week Smith showed some new levels of the game while chuckling at the series-first voice acting. An in-game news anchor made a crack about the plot of Batman: Arkham City, a villain told Batman "I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to die," and Batman and Superman, while trying to waltz past a receptionist at Lex Luthor's headquarters struggled to explain whether "Superman" and "Batman" were the first names or last names. We saw Batman and Robin struggle to make it through the destruction of the Batcave, and we saw Superman and Batman tangle with the receptionist, who turned out to be an evil robot receptionist.

Batman Gets Top Billing, But This Could Be a Great Justice League GameS

Lego games don't deviate wildly from their formula: you smash lots of enemies with your fists, break bricks, build things with scattered pieces and carry on the next screen's worth of the same. The appeal of the games tends to be their colorful variety and their steadily improving level design. Missions flow in surprising ways, easter eggs of interaction strewn off the main path. Batman 2 has a pleasantly varied set of animations and a combo system that rewards slightly-careful brawlers with some wonderful pro-wrestling-style finishing moves.

After Smith's demo, I played Robin to Penny Arcade reporter Ben Kuchera's Batman as we ran, bashed and flew through Gotham. It's extraordinary enough to see a Lego game switch to behind-the-back open world action, more astonishing to watch it open to split-screen. This game's Gotham isn't lacking in detail to compensate. It's rich with Lego studs and clues that lead to nooks and crannies where new villains await. Smith activated some cheats for me so I could try the Flash—he runs in a red-and-yellow blur and beats people up double-time. Green Lantern merely flies, though Smith says that in the game's story mode he'll beat bad guys with giant hammers. Wonder Woman can fly too. She's also got a lasso and a boomerang tiara. They're mostly cooler than Batman, who remains relevant beside his Justice League pals only because he's the one (well, Robin, too) who can use the gadget suits to open doors and perform other more scientific actions that his mighty League fellows can't. They can fly to the top of Wayne Tower, as it were, but only he can get in—and he's gotta climb.

Batman Gets Top Billing, But This Could Be a Great Justice League GameS

But what about Hawkman? What's that guy good for? Who knows. Maybe he's downloadable content. Or maybe he's just too weak a character to make the cut. He sure isn't Aquaman—who is in the game.

Lego Batman 2 continues to look like one of the better games in the long-running Lego series. It will be out next month for all major consoles and handhelds.