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Exploring an open-world Gotham in Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

Xav de Matos, @Xav

Lego bricks inspire creativity, but that sense of discovery and creation is all but lost in the video games from developer Travelers Tales. The experiences are largely linear affairs, with not much in the way of making your own fun.

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes has a different design philosophy. Rather than give players a list of levels they can select, TT Games has removed the barriers around Batman's hometown. While the vision of an open world is welcome, a short demo of the game during GDC showed there's still a lot that tethers The Dark Knight to Gotham.

Gallery: Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (3/15/12) | 8 Photos

A series of signals allows the Dynamic Duo to call down special variations of their costumes, granting them special abilities in order to solve puzzles. Robin's Breather Suit, for example, allows him to enter an area completely submerged in water. From there he's able to flip a switch and grant Batman access to a blocked area above.

When The Riddler appears, he hides behind a Lego brick wall. Thankfully, Batman's trusty X-Ray Suit lets him to see through the obstacle and force The Riddler out into the open.

It's certainly a fun idea, but TT Games says the correct suit will always be waiting for players. If that's the case, there isn't any sense of discovery here; just use what you're given when it's given to you. It's somewhat in conflict with the freedom an open world suggests.

In this vision of Gotham, connected islands make up the landscape of Batman's hunting ground. Giant Lego characters are carved into blocks holding massive buildings on their backs -- a cheeky nod to over-the-top, gothic aesthetic seen in Joel Schumacher's cinematic butchering of Batman.

If you're not keen on seeing the city on foot, the Dark Knight can jump into any of his legendary vehicles. TT Games told us there would be plenty to chose from, but would only confirm the Batmobile, Batwing, and Batboat.

Lego Batman 2's story follows the path you'd expect: Joker and Lex Luthor have teamed to wreak havoc on Gotham City, forcing Batman and Friends into action. One unintentionally funny problem is having Lex Luthor envisioned as a Lego character. Draw The Joker in any style or inject him into any medium and the character is still recognizable. Lex's defining quality is his baldness, making him difficult to point out. When the character flashed on the screen during a promotional video, a TT Games rep loudly proclaimed, "That was Lex Luthor!" It's really hard to tell, because he looks like any another random Lego character sporting a nub for a noggin.

Perhaps this is why TT Games has decided to add voice acting to the game, a first for its Lego franchise. No longer will characters rely on silent movie-style sight gags to interact -- they'll have complete conversations. We didn't see this new element in the game, so it's unclear if it will change the lighthearted tone the series is known for, but TT Games told us they're handling the alteration with kid gloves. TT Games wouldn't confirm voice actors -- will Kevin Conroy reprise his role as Batman? -- but said we'd learn details soon.

Superman, who can be one of the least interesting characters in the DC Universe (simply because he can do just about anything and everything), turns out to be a highlight in Lego Batman 2. With his ability to fly, the Man of Steel can freely soar through the entire city at any time, using his complete arsenal of abilities when he chooses. To secure some hidden goodies throughout the world, however, TT Games said that players would have to use Batman and Robin -- along with their special suits.

TT Games promised a big list of playable characters to choose from -- "Everyone you'd expect will be there" -- but wouldn't dish out the details. We do know, however, that core characters like Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern will make an appearance.

Gotham City has become something of a regular retreat for gamers this generation. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes has its own vision of the city, but so far it looks lovingly crafted, brick-by-brick.

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is coming to the PlayStation 3, PSP, Vita, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Xbox 360, and PC (phew!) later this year.

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