Game of the Week: Lego Batman 2
Brick by brick.
Bethesda makes its first release since Skyrim this week: Quake 4. This is no remaster or Game of the Year edition, it's a straight reissue - and although it does have a budget price tag it doesn't say 'essentials' or 'classics' on the box. That's because it's not essential, or a classic. It's a dependable, rather boring first-person shooter from seven years ago that has passed into dim memory for a reason.
It seems like an odd choice, but the games business is so hit-driven that it's nice to see a publisher do something as simple as keep a title in print. So often, last year's hit becomes this year's drinks coaster and next year's sequel. If games are permitted to stand on their own two feet in the big bad world for a little longer - maybe, like 360 launch title Quake 4, a whole console generation! - then perhaps developers won't have to spend so much of their time following them up or rehashing them, and can get on with making more Actual New Games instead.
Unfortunately for my argument, this week also fields two brilliant releases that directly counter it. Just look at what iteration can do!
Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers is an adaptation of the popular collectable card game, now into its fourth year and third version. The 2013 edition's iPad version is a revelation, but otherwise this is merely an excellent update to a great interpretation of a timeless classic. Ban this sick filth.
"Magic is a game of huge depth, but thanks to the way it has been constantly added to and refreshed over two decades, it is also one of enormous breadth," wrote Rich Stanton in our Duels of the Planeswalkers review. "If that makes Magic sound intimidating, then it's also why Duels 2013 is such a great Magic video game. It doesn't contain every card, not by a long shot... but it is a generous shard of that greater whole, one that manages to incorporate most styles of card alongside solid starting decks to build from. For curious players, there couldn't be a better introduction."
This is the games developer as curator and tinkerer, and - much as I wrote about the humble art of the remaster last year - it's a noble calling when the source material deserves it. In keeping Magic trim and relevant for a new generation of players, Stainless Games is doing great work.
Of course, Magic is not really a traditional video game and Duels 2013 is not exactly a sequel. But our game of the week very much is, and in more ways than one, too. It's the latest offspring of one of gaming's most ubiquitous broods.
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Since the first Lego Star Wars came out in 2005 - a bit before Quake 4 - Traveller's Tales has released 11 more Lego games. It's translated the worlds of Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and DC Comics into its universal language of kid-friendly action and irreverent fan service. Later this year it will add The Lord of the Rings to the stable. It's the definition of a franchise factory working to a formula.
But it's a great formula - and TT knows exactly which parts to keep and which to change. It's done the opposite of what many developers do and left the systems as they are while messing around with the structure. Lego Batman 2 takes the series into an open world for the first time.
"Given this much gameplay real estate to fill, the designers have risen to the challenge and created a true sandbox, a play area brimming with stuff to find and things to mess around with," wrote Dan in our Lego Batman 2 review. "It's simply a phenomenally assured game, a pleasure to explore, and bursting with barely contained enthusiasm for its comic-book universe... Consistently charming and funny, and constructed with the same carefully layered challenges that have come to define the series, Lego Batman 2 is an absolute joy even for adult gamers. For kids, it'll be a revelation."
Lego Batman 2 is a sequel within a sequel, chipping away at the possibilities of a game that TT first figured out seven years and 11 revisions ago. It's definitely a lot better than Lego Star Wars, and it's better than the first Lego Batman, too - but it is still the same game, not an Actual New one. Regardless, I'll play it all weekend and feel happy I live in a world where it got made.
Sequels are a part of gaming, and that's not just grim marketing economics. Game makers get addicted to optimisation and embellishment and tuning, because the process suits games well - it's a game in itself - and makes them better. I can think of worse habits.
But a habit it is, and even the good ones need to be broken sometimes, if only to get a change of perspective. Yeah, I'll play Day Z instead. Right after I find that next gold brick.