As sure as a new day will come, a new year brings with it a LEGO game. Like Call of Duty, the release of a new LEGO game is a yearly certainty, but unlike Call of Duty, they actually hit more than miss.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is the latest superhero title from British studio Traveller’s Tale, and possibly its biggest. Taking place in the world of Chronopolis -- a gigantic open-world hub where 18 different Marvel locations are linked through time and space -- the game sees superheroes from different eras and alternate dimensions unite to fight against the evil time-travelling Kang the Conqueror.
Unlike other LEGO games, Marvel Super Heroes 2 uses one giant location as the central hub, instead of several different levels.Thanks to the move to next-gen, you can seamlessly walk as Iron-Man from Asgard to Noir New York before taking to the skies and flying straight to the orbiting asteroid/derelict giant head known as Knowhere. However, missions themselves are still largely linear and revolve around the staple mix of combat and puzzle sequences, interspersed with cute and harmless cutscenes.
At gamescom 2017, I had the chance to play an Asgardian level of the game set on a half-crumbled stone platform surrounded by lava -- basically one big boss battle against the flameful baddie Surtur. In control of a team consisting of Captain America, Loki, Captain Marvel, Thor, and another, female Jane Foster Thor, I set about taking out the $1 store fake Balrog and save Asgard from unclear but certain doom.
In typical LEGO fashion, enemies are more of a nuisance than an obstacle. Meant to be accessible to both children and adults, the boss battle plays more like a puzzle where each unique hero has a specific part to solve. Cap can throw his shield to activate switches, the Thors can charge up Mjolnir and send electricity coursing through things that need to be electrified, and Loki can freeze stuff with his magic cane. This adds a very welcome degree of teamwork to the formula, and while it isn’t very exciting alone, it really shines when you have someone else playing with you.
In this specific battle, I had to use Captain America’s shield to activate switches that dropped flaming LEGO pieces, before using Loki’s staff to put out the flames and build a catapult that fired wet boulders. Using Cap’s shield again to fire the siege machine at Surtur angered the great beastie, so he of course destroyed the thing and forced me to take control of a Thor to charge up a water barrel dispenser machine (bear with me). As water barrels are heavy, I needed a super-strengthened character to throw them at the boss, which meant Captain Marvel. After a couple of barrels, big Surtur transformed into small Surtur, which came at me for a 1v1 and lost, so kicking his ass made him go back to big Surtur.
At this point, I was becoming exasperated. The battle had lasted nearly 10 minutes, and it was neither challenging nor exciting. The actual animations were a joy to behold -- watching Cap throw his shield or skate upon it or the way the Thors lift up their hammers and charge them with lightning from the sky before discharging electricity into everything in front of them are quite good -- but they don’t change the fact that this is basically a kid’s game. Having a boss battle with this many steps and lasting this long -- even if Surtur’s endurance was far from bullet-spongy -- with no challenge or meaningful interaction quickly grew irksome.
As Surtur went back to his big form, the arena caught on fire once more and pieces disappeared, removing all the tools I had been using. The one piece that remained was a Captain America Shield Throwing Spot (name my own), which is the only place from where you are actually allowed to throw your shield at a scenery object. I rushed to the top of the Throwing Spot and pressed the activate button, which made me grab the nearest enemy -- for some reason, it’s a contextual action. I threw the skeleton away and pressed the button again -- which made me grab another enemy. *Sigh*. I threw this one away too, punched everyone around me, then pressed the button again. Cap takes off his shield and starts aiming. There we go.
I aimed the shield at the massive crosshair on the screen, and threw it. The vibranium roundel flew through the air and hit the object -- a bell -- before bouncing off and hitting two other identical apparatus. All of them ringing, an Asgardian firefighter flying skiff came from outside the screen and squirted water onto Surtur’s face. Whimsical, but not to Surtur -- he transformed back into little Surts and charged at me for retribution.
After punching him till his health depleted, a cutscene started -- Jane Foster Thor flew in and bumped the big (now small) baddie into the lava, where he disappeared. The team reunited to talk about important plot stuff, and the demo ended.
Overall, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 was an enjoyable -- if not exactly dynamic -- experience. It follows the evolution of the LEGO franchises and clearly learned a lot from it -- there are easily over a hundred characters to unlock, and they all have their own skills, powers, and quirks. Of all the characters I saw, my favourite was the Steam Age Iron Man: without JARVIS’ AI and technology to auto assemble an armour around him, changing between Tony Stark and Iron Man prompts a random helper character to come running off-screen with the pieces and throw them around Tony before screwing them in place. It’s a lovely touch that exemplifies how much heart all LEGO games have.
I for one look forward to it, most of all because of the open world hub. I reckon it acts as little more than a simple connecting tissue, given how little attention Chronopolis has been given, but I nonetheless am excited to explore it.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is out on the 14th of November 2017.