Everyone has their favourite LEGO game - but for us, it wasLEGO Marvel Super Heroes. This was the LEGO game that just seemed to get everything right, providing a fantastic array of levels, alongside a huge LEGO recreation of Manhattan for you to explore as your favourite super hero squads. Whether you were diving off the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier as Iron Man (or flying back up to it with his jet boosters), swinging through the streets as Spiderman, or trying to drive a car through the bustling streets with Hulk awkwardly perched on top of your bonnet (improvised co-op cars!), there was just so much to do - even by the famously vast LEGO game standards - that you could sink hours in without even noticing where the time had gone. In fact, we were genuinely sad when we finally hit 100% completion, and our LEGO Marvel fix drew to a close. Thankfully though, another dose of LEGO Marvel fun is now on the horizon, as LEGO Marvel's Avengers is just over a week away - and it's looking better than ever.
At a recent event in London, we went hands-on with LEGO Marvel's Avengers, which, as you may expect, has been given a decidedly more Avengers focus. While the basics of the game are the same - it's still the same great split-screen co-op, there's still oodles of collectibles to be found, there's now over 200 characters to unlock and play as, and there's still a huge recreation of Manhattan to explore, the game's story this time around promises to take in the events of the current two Avengers films - and then some. While most of the story missions will take place during Avengers Assemble and Age of Ultron, LEGO Marvel's Avengers will also feature missions and hubs inspired by events from Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iron Man 3 and Thor: Dark World, bringing a big chunk of the Marvel "cinematic universe" together in one game.
The eagle eyed amongst you will notice we mentioned hubs, plural, and there's a good reason for that, as not only will LEGO Marvel's Avengers be packing its traditional giant Manhattan to explore - but there are several smaller hubs around the world for you to check out too. From Washington DC to Tony Stark's Malibu mansion, from Asgard to Sokovia, these are much smaller than the main Manhattan hub - but still have plenty to do. During our demo, we were given a private tour of Tony Stark's Mansion, which has that same uncanny "just like the films" look to it, even though everything's made of virtual LEGO - and once you've solved a quick puzzle, you can even go inside. Everything's as you remember it - there's the hub where he keeps all his Iron Man suits, a lounge to relax in - and Pepper Potts waiting outside to give you a quest.
Along with being packed with collectibles, the hubs are also home to plenty of quests, and this Pepper Potts one is pretty typical of the LEGO formula. Taking inspiration from Iron Man 3, Pepper Potts has her eyes on the giant rabbit Tony bought for her in the film, and wants to use it as a publicity shot. In traditionally silly LEGO style, it turns out Hulk has become something of a fan of selfies - and so she wants you to get Hulk, and take a picture of the two of them with her rabbit. What she probably didn't expect was to be held upside down by her foot while Hulk gives his best smile - but still, she gets the photo she's looking for, and you get a gold brick - and collect a Hulk selfie in return. Even better, far from just being a collectible, these Hulk selfies actually serve a prupose in game, as each selfie you take will show up as a giant picture in the Avengers tower.
It's these quests, collectibles and hubs that'll keep you coming back for more, as the developers have packed every inch of the game full of things to do. Manhattan looks as busy and bustling as ever, with civilians wandering the streets, traffic driving around, races to complete, quests to do, citizens in peril, and hundreds of gold bricks to collect. And, to stop us having to worry about our old fashioned co-op car improvisation, there's also two player co-op vehicles too, so you don't have to leave your friend behind when heading to a mission. Cheshire based developers TT Games have done their best to listen to fan feedback, too, and have made whatever modifications they can to make getting around easier - a great case in point is the new Helicarrier pads, that let you leap straight up to the Avenger's floating base, that stays ever-present, hovering over the city - although personally, we still think it's cooler to fly up there yourself. And, once on the Helicarrier, one of the big new features is the Space Quinjet, which is used to access the aforementioned hubs.
Of course, it wouldn't be a LEGO game without hundreds of characters to unlock, and LEGO Marvel's Avengers doesn't disappoint here, with over 200 characters on offer, drawn from a wide variety of sources, as Assisstant Game Director, Stephen Sharples, explained: "There are so many awesome characters in the Marvel universe, and so many of them haven't been shown in a LEGO game yet. LEGO Marvel's Avengers isn't just about the movies, it's about the wider comic book universe [too]".
New figures include Detroit Steel - a giant stars-and-stripes emblazoned big-fig mech with a gatling gun, who can also fly; Luke Cage and Jessica Jones from the respective Netflix TV series; and a character that we're sure is the first Marvel hero to roll off anyone's tongue, Fin Fang Foom, an "alien space dragon" that can not only fly, but that can also scale up to several times the size of a big figure (with all the inevitable destruction that might cause), earning him the title of largest character in the game. In other words, Fin Fang Foom is Fin Fang Fun.
Even returning figures have been given a once over. Holding triangle when playing as Iron Man gives you the "inside the head" view from the films, and lets you change suit using a handy radial menu. The Hulk Buster is now a full LEGO model version rather than a big fig ("thanks to LEGO for building this, as it meant we could put it in the game", said Stephen Sharples), while another variant suit adds jackhammer drills to Iron Man's arms, letting him dig his way from one point to another in certain spots. Daredevil can swing from ropes that appear from his billy clubs, kind of like Spiderman - and not only can Hulk now climb buildings, but he also has a super jump, letting him leap twice as high as your average house at the touch (or rather, hold) of a button. Or, to put it another way, "nowhere is safe from the Hulk!"
But while we may have spent the majority of this piece talking about the open world, the collectibles, the characters, and all the other things you can do, we've only really scratched the surface. There's also the full series of story driven levels to talk about, that take you on a quest through both Avengers films, and beyond - and that we got to go hands-on with on the day.
The level we played was based on the very first section of Age of Ultron - the Avengers' raid on the Hydra base in the fictional Eastern European city of Sokovia. After a suitably action packed intro showing the gang in action, it was on to the level proper, as the team split up into three pairings, giving the game ample time to make use of everyone's unique abilities.
Starting off with what's arguably the naff group, the first section saw Hawkeye and Black Widow teaming up to take on some of Hydra's goons. As in previous LEGO games, each character has their own set of special abilities - so while Hawkeye comes equipped with his trusty bow and arrow, and can fire explosive tipped arrows to blow up silver LEGO, Black Widow has the technical know-how to hack computer terminals - which we soon put to good use, hacking a terminal in order to take over a turret, and turn it against the Hydra baddies. As is usually the way with the LEGO games, it didn't take too long for us to find our first mid-leel collectible either - scattered around the first area were small mine-like objects, that gave off that telltale silver "metal" LEGO glisten. All we had to do was hunt them down as Hawkeye, strap an explosive rocket to all five, and our first mini-kit piece was ours. Each level still has 10 mini-kit pieces hidden within, often requiring several play-throughs to get them all. One blown up truck later, courtesy of Black Widow's turret, and it was on to the next section, as the Avenger's A team - Iron Man and Hulk.
As in other LEGO games, co-op is a major part of LEGO Marvel's Avengers, as this section proved. After doffing up a few goons, we were faced with a bridge that had been mostly destroyed, exposing some nasty looking electric cables inside, making the bridge completely impassable by foot. Of course, that wouldn't present a problem to Iron Man, who could choose to simply fly over and continue the level on his own - or rather, he would, if he didn't need Hulk on the other side of the bridge, to tear a door off its hinges. Luckily, where there's a will, there's a way, and usually all you need to do is take a close look at your environment in the LEGO games to spot something that might help. Before too long, our eyes spotted some glistening from some barrels positioned on a cliff, just above the bridge, and a well placed shot from Iron Man's laser brought the whole thing crashing down, forming a protective layer over the bridge, and letting Hulk pass through.
But it's not just the puzzles that take advantage of co-op, either - in LEGO Marvel's Avengers, the combat does too. Once you've built up your combo meter (by defeating baddies), you can perform a special co-op attack if you stand next to your friend - and each character combo has a different move. With Iron Man and Hulk, the big green dude grabs Iron Man, shakes him like a spray can, and then pushes down on his head to fire a laser in a circle. With Iron Man and Thor, Thor will leap into the air, and whack his hammer into Captain America's shield - the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object - smashing up everything nearby. It's a really nice touch, and one the developers were keen to add - "double team moves were something we really wanted to push, in terms of working as a team, because that's ultimately what the Avengers are all about"
And these co-op moves actually work themselves into the gameplay, too. In the final section of the level, approaching the castle, the game play switched to Captain America and Thor, who found themselves going up against a particularly tricky tank. This tank was all but indestructible to our standard LEGO powers - but luckily, there was a team move switch on hand. With Thor distracting the tank by going and hiding behind a tree (which the tank kept shooting), Cap had chance to sneak by and activate the team move switch - all it took then was for Thor to join him, and whack - a massive explosion rang out, and the tank was reduced to its constituent parts. Mission accomplished.
And while that was all we got to play of LEGO Marvel's Avengers, it's safe to say it left us wanting a heck of a lot more time with it. With so many characters to play as, so many new extra features, more hubs to explore, more collectibles than ever before, a different, completentary version on the 3DS and PS Vita, and a story that takes in all the best bits of both Avengers films and beyond, this should be at the very top of your "must buy" list for 2016 - whether you're a Marvel fan or not! For more on what LEGO Marvel's Avengers has to offer (and speculation about the next LEGO game - Guardians of the Galaxy anyone?), be sure to check out our exclusive interview with the game's associate producer - and check back next week for a full review!