Batman and Robin return from their adventures in the original title to take on major baddies with a little help from their friends. The story takes place in Gotham City, where the Joker and Lex Luthor decide the best way to rig a presidential election in Luthor’s favor is to drug everyone with Joker gas.
The campaign takes players through several different set pieces, but also allows for free roaming throughout Gotham City in between the missions. Everything is built with LEGOs, which means nearly everything is breakable into blocks and bits, the currency of the LEGO world.
Break more things, get more bits, and get more unlockable vehicles, heroes and villians.
The story is fun and brings in Superman as a playable character. The Man of Steel is really powerful and can fly, which makes some of the puzzles a little easier than they should be. Obviously, there is kryptonite in the game and he gets weakened – so much that he’s almost a hindrance at times.
Batman and Robin can use special suits to grant them unique powers during the missions. Batman can be stealthy, powerful or electrified depending on his suit, while Robin gets aerobatic, cold powers or a hazmat suit with vacuuming powers.
Each scene has special items to be collected – gold bricks, saving a citizen in peril, minikit parts to build and unlock new vehicles. You aren’t going to get everything on the first playthrough though. The set pieces are designed for players to come back with new characters and find places previously unavailable to them.
The dialog, which LEGO says is a first in the video game franchises, is great, even if it is slightly exaggerated in its tone. Batman is extra broody; Robin is extra peppy; Superman is extra nice. In previous games, LEGO characters grunted or emoted instead of speaking words.
Some of the voices may be recognizable to those who have watched the cartoon. Clancy Brown provides the voice of Lex Luthor in the game, just as he’s done for the “Justice League,” “The Batman,” and “Superman” cartoons. Tara Strong, Claudia Black, Nolan North, and many other strong voices offer depth and meaning to the dialog.
The speech is only during the cut scenes and not during the action. That’s fine, because I have a feeling we’d be hearing a lot of the same battle cries during a fight, which would get old in a hurry.
Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, Alfred, also makes an appearance as the hint icon, helping players figure out new powers or tipping them off on what to do next. He’s pretty persistence so do what he says or he’ll repeat himself often.
Toward the end of the campaign, members of the Justice League join Batman and Superman (and Robin) to put an end to the reign of terror in Gotham City. Wonder Woman, Flash (my favorite), Green Lantern and Cyborg all become playable characters, each with their own special powers.
At one point in the game, six different characters were on the screen. While players can switch to any character they see during gameplay, it got a bit crowded when a puzzle required as specific ability. For example, if I needed super strength to pull open a robot’s chest, I had to track down Cyborg or Wonder Woman and stand next to them to switch. Not a deal breaker, but a little delay in the action.
But what to do once the campaign is finished? Sure, you could go back through and collect all the items you missed along the way, or you could venture outside into the open spaces of Gotham City to see what you can find there.
There are locations in the open world marked by spotlights that direct players to special items, like connections to the Batcomputer or unlockable heroes and villains. Those heroes and villains can be bought using bits and used in the game. There are 50 DC Comics characters and 10 other characters available to be found and used.
Those special gold bricks, minikits and citizens in peril are available out here as well. If you are a completionist game who has to get 100% for the game, you’ll spend a lot of time running around Gotham City looking for items.
The one major criticism I have is how characters move in the open world. Players can use vehicles if they want, but if they choose to walk or fly, the LEGO character will automatically speed up and make it difficult to control. I understand why developers sought the need to make characters run (there is a lot of ground to cover), but I wish they would have made a button to run instead of making it automatic. Collecting bits in the open world requires a bit of touch, which is lost when the character breaks out into a full sprint.
Drop-in/drop-out co-op play makes it easy to share the fun with a friend. Just make sure they don’t turn on you and start using their powers on you (it was a mistake, of course!).
Overall, the vocal quips and additional characters is enough to make “LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes” worth playing. The cuteness of the LEGO characters combined with the “seriousness” of the Joker and Lex Luthor is quite the contrast.
Open world exploring offers players the chance to fully utilize all the characters in the game. Superman is a bit overpowered during freeplay (can’t be hurt, just flies everywhere) since there isn’t kryptonite just laying around, but it doesn’t affect the game unless you want it to.
And of course, as with pretty much every super hero movie, there is a special teaser reveal at the end of the campaign mode. Bring on the next LEGO superhero game!
“LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes” is available now in North America, Europe and Australia. It is available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita and PC. The game is rated E 10+ for everyone 10 years of age and older due to cartoon violence. This review was done with a provided copy for the Xbox 360.
Religion and espionage have long been influential in the development of nations since man first started gathering together. “Civilization V: Gods & Kings” reintroduces those two elements to their successful turn-based strategy franchise in their new expansion pack.
Spies and religion have returned, and raised the level of strategic, long-term planning for players. Both elements impact the game, but at different times in history – faith and religion early in the game and spies later on.
Losing (And Regaining) My Religion
Religion was included in “Civilization IV,” still one of the most popular games in the franchise, but was left out when “Civ V” was released. Faith is a resource that is grown much like gold or science. Players can gather faith by building shrines, temples or mosques. Accumulate enough faith and you can start your own pantheon.
The pantheon will be the basis for creating a religion later and gives players bonuses mainly based on your surrounding terrain. Choose wisely, because you may need to clear-cut some of that terrain later in the game and lose some of your pantheon benefits.
Gain enough faith and you will get a Great Prophet, who will help you found a new religion. This opens up more benefits through founder and follower beliefs. You can also customize your religion with its own name and icon.
The beliefs offer additional resources when your religion expands, or benefits to cities who follow your faith. There are also benefits if you decide to go to war or maintain peace on the homefront.
Spreading your religion happens naturally within friendly cities. Players can also “force” religious change through the use of missionaries (to spread the good word) or inquisitors (to eliminate other religions in cities).
Religion also helps dealings with city-states, and can make other civilizations that follow your religion look at you more favorably. There is also a social policy branch called Piety offering faith bonuses.
You’ll want to develop your religion early to take advantage of its benefits. As the game moved toward the later eras, the value began to wane as new science advancements make some beliefs useless. Also, not every country gets to found a religion so don’t be late and get left out.
Secret Agent Man
Spies were also conspicuously missing when “Civilization V” was released, but have been re-imagined and included in the expansion pack.
Instead of an actual unit on the map, spies are stealth units that you can place using a menu in cities and city-states to see what’s going on. Players recruit their first spy when any civilization hits the Renaissance era. Actually, all civilizations get a spy at that time, so be prepared for sneaky stuff from that point on.
New spies are recruited as each player crosses over into a new era. One new spy also becomes available with the construction of the National Intelligence Agency wonder.
Utilized well, spies are great for evening up the technology race. Place them in a foreign city and they can steal new tech for your nation. While in that city, they can also listen to intrigue and find out what the other country is planning.
Are they plotting an attack on a neighboring country? You can rat them out and gain favor with their opposition. Spies will also let you know if you may be the target of a troop build-up near the borders.
Be sure to keep a spy or two in your own cities to thwart opposing espionage. Moving spies around also lets you keep an eye on all your opposition and also find out who might be ready for an invasion of your forces.
Your spies can also influence city-states by rigging their elections, winning your favor (and resources) while reducing the influence of other religions.
Is It Enough?
There are nine new leaders and nine new civilizations to conquer in ”Gods & Kings.” Each has their own special units and abilities that will need to be accounted for and exploited whenever possible.
The reintroduction of religion and spies will help fill the gaps many fans of the franchise felt existed in “Civilization V.” The use of religion early and spies later in the game adds another level of thought and planning that long-time players will enjoy.
Will the additions bring back those players who lost faith in the franchise after the fifth title’s release? Maybe, but, as some have said on forum pages, faith and espionage should have been there all along.
“Civilization V: Gods & Kings” is an expansion pack for “Civilization V.” It will be released on June 19 for Windows PC and Mac OS X. It is rated E 10+ for everyone 10 years of age and older due to drug reference, mild language, suggestive themes, and violence. This review was done with a provided digital download through Steam.
“Diablo III” has the unique distinction of being a great role-playing game with excellent gameplay and action while at the same time causing such angst and anguish among gamers when technical problems arise.
This diametric split among fans changes from moment to moment, and reflects the passion and desire for a game that took nearly 12 years to make it into their hands. It is a love/hate relationship with Blizzard Entertainment for creating a fantastic franchise and causing so many angry words on chat boards and Twitter when game servers go down.
The game takes us back to Sanctuary and everyone’s favorite scholar, Deckard Cain. Cain claims the End Times are coming with the rise of the Evil. You are tasked with searching out and destroying demon lords bent on taking over the world and literally bringing hell to Sanctuary.
Players can select one of five classes – demon hunter, wizard, witch doctor, monk or barbarian. Each has specialties and advantages that the other classes do not. Characters level up as they gain experience, making new abilities available and new powers active. To get the most out of the experience, pick a class fitting your play style – barbarian or monk for up close and personal; demon hunter and wizard for distance mayhem; witch doctor for a nice mix of both.
Nearly every action is done with the “Diablo” tried and true method of point and click. Make sure you have a sturdy mouse because the left button and your index finger are going to get a workout.
Want to attack? Point and click (repeatedly). Want to talk with someone? Point and click. Want to walk along a path? Point and click, although holding down the button and dragging it along your chosen route works as well. Want to trade with a merchant or rearrange abilities, inventory or spells? You get the idea.
Special abilities and health potions are tied to buttons on your keyboard. Depending on your class, those special abilities will cost you mana, hatred or some other measure of power, so they aren’t inexhaustible. After a brief pause, those power reserves will refill fairly quickly.
The enemies are varied and numerous. There are also leveled enemies, meaning some are more powerful with special abilities than others. This creates a bit of strategy when wading into battle – go for the obvious leaders while the minions are swarming around you or take out the little guys before powering up for the big baddie?
The demon lords are your reward for reaching the end of each act and present their own challenges. While they can take some punishment and dish it out pretty good, smart players will find the cracks in their armor to take them down.
Speaking of armor, you will find a lot of that after a battle. You’ll also find a lot of gold, weapons and health globes. If I have a complaint about the game mechanics, it is there is too much loot. You will make multiple trips back to town (thank goodness for the portal spell) just to clear out your inventory.
It gets a little monotonous. I guess you can choose not to pick up the loot, but you’ll need that gold if you want to train with the blacksmith or jeweler. The former allows you to craft your own weapons and armor, while the latter help create gems that can enhance the abilities of your clothing and implement of destruction.
There is a new auction house system allowing for the buying and selling of your loot using in-game gold. Blizzard has also been working on a real-world money auction house where players would buy and sell in-game items for real cash. That system was repeatedly delayed while they worked on implementation, but is currently up and running.
There are four different difficulty settings to the action, from normal to Inferno. The challenges progressively increase as the difficulty is raised, but the rewards in armor, weapons and more also increase appropriately. Tactics that work on the normal level will likely get you killed in the Hell level. When you complete the game, it allows you to keep your character and restart at a higher difficulty level. So all your hard work and loot gets carried over into your next attempt.
Players can also create Hardcore characters, which progress as regular characters through skills and levels with one important difference – death of the character is final. Once you die, your character stays dead. It won’t be revived at the last checkpoint and Blizzard will not recreate your character under any circumstances.
This creates some pretty intense and crazy moments in gameplay. You always are keeping an eye on your health globe and trying new tactics to take down bigger enemies.
During my regular run, my character would just plow through rooms, knowing that if I went down, I would be reborn to try again. During the hardcore run, there was much more caution and strategic retreating. Getting surrounded was not an option.
Along your journey, you can meet and recruit companions to help you along the way. Three different types – a templar (like the barbarian class), a scoundrel (like the demon hunter class), and a sorceress (like the wizard class) – provide support during attacks, offer passive benefits during battles, and act as comic relief with some of their dialog. The artificial intelligence for these characters is good and they act appropriately with no direction (even if their dialog gets a little repetitive).
If AI helpers aren’t your style, three friends can join in your adventures through online play. Make sure the party is close to the same character levels. A wide disparity in power can make some people feel left out or overbearing during combat – neither is very much fun for anyone.
The graphics, both indoors and outdoors, are well done. They are bright, vibrant and alive when they need to be as well as dark, foreboding and gloomy when it is called upon. The physics engine really shines through during combat as body parts go flying during strong hits, and walls and masonry collapse realistically. It raised the level of immersion for the player and evokes an appreciation to the sense of detail. Of course, after 12 years of waiting…
However, for all its grand flourishes and spectacular battles, none of it matters if you can’t play the game.
Blizzard was plagued with server issues from the very start. “Error 37” quickly became the buzzword among players, indicating problems logging in. While the company worked quickly to resolve the issues, the Internet lit up with players proclaiming their hatred of Blizzard and frustration with the always-logged-in requirements.
Maintenance time and patch updates have also recreated harsh feelings among “Diablo III” players. Forum boards reached their limits after players voiced their displeasure.
From my own experience, I only received the Error 37 once and it was resolved quickly. I’ve only been shut out due to scheduled maintenance one time, and I did something else while it was going on. While I understand people who want to play when they want to play, the venom and anger at being temporarily inconvenienced seems excessive.
And no, I do not have a direct line to the Blizzard servers, as was jokingly suggested. I treat the idea of downtime like going to an amusement park and finding my favorite ride has a line two hours long. Either I can stand in that line and complain for the next two hours or I can find something else to do until the wait is over.
The amount of excitement and adventure to be found in “Diablo III” is worth the wait – two hours or 12 years. The action is crisp and clean. The quests are enjoyable without feeling repetitive. It is one of those games where you can easily lose track of time as you get lost in the never-ending battle against evil.
It took me almost 21 ½ hours to get through the normal level, raising my demon hunter to level 31 in the process. The Hardcore mode option is one that should be experienced to really get the flavor of the action as it unfolds. But if final death isn’t your idea of fun, hit the next difficulty level and challenge yourself with stronger monsters and greater rewards.
That is the true testament of “Diablo III.” Play it the way you want to by creating the character with the abilities and skills that work for you, by picking a difficulty mode you want to enjoy (regular or Hardcore), and by playing with friends or AI characters. It is flexible enough to find a way to play your game.
Treat the server downtime as an opportunity to do something else; because once you get in, you’ll never want to leave Sanctuary.
“Diablo III” is available now for Windows PC and Mac OS X systems. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, and violence. This review was done using a provided digital copy for the Windows PC system.
This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles was a fantastic mix of great games, exciting innovation and a blend of sights and sounds to tempt the senses.
The annual trade show brought together game designers and publishers as well as gaming tech companies to show off what they hoped to bring to consumers for the next six to 12 months.
In case you missed it, here is a list of the stories produced for CNN.com/Tech while at E3.
Wii U, ‘Halo 4′ boost anticipation for E3
As gaming grows more casual and mobile, developers scramble to adapt
Microsoft hopes to enhance games, TV with Xbox SmartGlass (co-written with Doug Gross)
Sony highlights mature games, cross-play at E3
With new titles, Nintendo works to explain Wii U (co-written with Doug Gross)
Our hands-on demo with the Wii U
Sneak peek: The evolving universe of ‘Halo 4′
My 5 favorite highlights from E3
Over the next few days, I will share with you more stories that didn’t make it to CNN.com, but that are interesting and informative. Some will be interviews while others will be impressions on games I got to see and play.
Truly, it is an exciting time to be a gamer.