Justlice League Heroes (or JLH) is the latest in the line of games that began with Snowblind Studios back with Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Snowblind is back to play in the type of game they made famous, and this time they’ve got the forces of the Justice League at their beck and call, to fight the menace posed by Brainiac and Darkseid.
The question is, can Snowblind recreate the magic that they’ve found so many times before (with Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and others) and make this the World’s Finest Justice League or will it be more like the joke that was Justice League Europe? Stay tuned, true believers! Wait…that’s the wrong comic company, isn’t it? Anyway…
For the most part, the graphics in Justice League Heroes are on par with every other game using this and similar engines going all the way back to Baldur’s Gate. In itself, that isn’t a bad thing, until you realize that Baldur’s Gate came out back in 2001.
During combat, everything is pretty clear, and you can tell which character is which, and all of the distinctive looks are there. There’s also a nice amount of eye candy as far as the environment goes, with a fair amount of destructable items both on the walls and floors.
The cut scenes, however, really suffer. The characters are, quite often, simply ugly. Wonder Woman’s hair…and dear god, her bustier, look horrid. Wonder Woman in general just doesn’t look right in the cutscenes, but none of the characters look especially good. It’s not just Wonder Woman, either, as both The Key and Killer Frost, early on, look rather atrocious. The redesign for Brainiac as well doesn’t seem to do it.
In their defense, though, there is quite a bit of detail during the cut scenes, with emotions, expressions and the like easily visible. Combined with the writing, the cut scenes are probably one of the high spots in the game, once you get past some of the horrible character designs.
In JLH, these are really two different stories. The voice acting in this game is actually rather solid, which is to be expected considering some of the talent brought in to voice the heroes and villains. All of the heroes sound rather good, with the possible exception of a few of the unlockable heroes.
The sound effects in the game are likewise pretty solid, with explosions sounding as they should and with the proper placement, and all of the powers sounding like you would expect them to if you were hearing them in your own head while reading a comic book.
Where it all really breaks down is the music. None of the music really sounds that good, and in fact there were times that I wasn’t sure if I was listening to Justice League Heroes or … X-Men Legends. That really isn’t something that one can look past. True, music can be turned off…but if people are going to turn your music off, why bother having it in the first place?
If you’ve played any of the games similar to JLH, such as Baldur’s Gate, X-Men Legends or Champions of Norrath, then you’re probably used to the control set. Moving the left analog stick controls your character, while pressing it in moves the map to follow you. Pushing in the right analog stick will open the minimap to one of three positions. X, Square, Circle and Triangle along with R1 activate your powers when used with the L1 button. R1 by itself blocks, and pressing up on the d-pad changes characters, while left and right on it cause your partner to be either aggressive or defensive. The camera can be manually controlled by moving the right analog stick, as well.
There’s nothing in the controls that hasn’t been seen before, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s exactly what Snowblind has done here, and it works pretty good for the game, with the exception of the camera. You have three camera views (high above, a bit above and behind, and right atop the characters) and none of them really do a good job in tight confined areas, which there are a lot of in this game. It’s somewhat depressing that we continue to have the same camera issues after so many games and so many years.
The story of JLH is a pretty solid one. Brianiac has somehow found out about a great source of power, and has enlisted a number of super villains to help him secure what he needs to enable him to gain that power. Of course, there are various twists and turns along the way, and both the writing and the dialogue are all very good and play out quite nicely.
The problems begin rather early on when you start to play. The first level features Superman and Batman fighting against some robots. The problem is that first, it becomes quite apparent that about 75% of the game revolves around various punch/kick combos, with power usage being heavily monitored by an energy bar. The problem with this is, if Superman and Batman are teaming up, and Batman can take out something with fists and feet…then Superman should be able to blow through the same something without a second thought. The same applies for a later teaming of Zatanna and Wonder Woman. Green Lantern? Fists? Please. Another mischaracterization comes with Flash. He’s the fastest man alive, but he moves barely faster in the game than anyone else, and punches only twice for each button press (and for less damage in general).
The next problem comes when you start running into the villains. It’s less of a ‘Justice League vs. the Baddest Bad Guys’ and more ‘Justice League vs. Brainiac and some low-rent guys’. You have The Key, Killer Frost, a clone of Doomsday, White Martians, and Gorilla Grodd. This lends to the feeling, along with the reliance on melee combat, that this game isn’t about superheros, but instead about people in costumes. This is bad, because if you’re going to make a game about superheros, then they should be superheroic, using powers with abandon…since that’s generally what they do (depending on the hero, of course). By making every character a copy of every other outside of stats and powers, you take away the idea of playing different levels differently because of who you’re using.
Another issue is that you can only play two characters at a time. After X-Men Legends and the more recent Marvel Ultimate Alliance, having only two characters on the screen really doesn’t cut it anymore, and also makes the game more boring than it really needs to be. The heroes involved are pretty solid, with Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, John Stewart as Green Lantern, The Flash and Zatanna rounding out the main cast. There are unlockables, but there’re issues there as well, as some characters are actually unlockable (Green Arrow, Huntress, Kyle Rayner, Aquaman and Hal Jordan), while others are merely costume changes (Walter West and Jay Garrick). Of course, there are other costumes to unlock as well.
The characters and costumes are unlocked by picking up enough JLA shields to pay for each item. Also, your powers can be augmented. Every level, you gain two points which add slots and strength to your various powers and stats. You can then slot boosts into the power slots to increase them further. Also, you can combine any three boosts to create a more powerful boost. However, there’s really not much difference in what boosts you use, what level you use them at, or anything else.
The game sports a total of five difficulty levels, with only three available at the start (Easy, Normal and Hard). Some of the boss battles, even on normal difficulty, can be rather difficult, and it also seems that at times the game will shunt you back to an easier mode if you keep dying, although there’s no way to really verify this.
While the game does feature some solid replay value due to the two difficulty levels that are only unlocked after beating the game, the game itself really isn’t engaging or fun enough to go through the game once much less three times. The gameplay really hasn’t changed all that much since 2001, which would be fine for a brawler, but not so much for a game featuring DC’s most powerful superheroes. In the JLA, Batman’s greatest weapon is more his mind and less his fists, especially considering the powerhouses on the team. Flash’s key is his speed, and Zatanna’s her magic, while the rest of them have some pretty amazing abilities to bring forth. Making the default attack for everyone feet and fists means that the game really plods along and gets quite boring.
This makes a solid rental unless you can find it on sale, and then only if you’re really a fan of superheroes in the first place. Even then, the game can get pretty frustrating.