Just like its predecessor, LBP2 leans heavily on its title sequence to make its big statement. But although the original had the weight of enthusing a generation to the idea of material creativity on console, the message this time around is more complex, and perhaps even more urgent. Media Molecule needs to convince players that, despite the familiarity of Sackboy, the return of narrator Stephen Fry and some kooky ’70s tunes, LBP2 is much more than DLC packaged on a Blu-ray disc and sold at full price.
And that message is that LBP2 is more dynamic. The intro is again accompanied by Left Bank Two, but not the original version. Instead we hear a rinky-dink rendition made with the in-game sequencer, lending it a dash of homemade electronic vitality and a first hint of LBP2’s new toolset. Then it’s into a rolling set of interactive playthings which celebrate the team that made the game, from jumping on a bounce pad, setting off little animations over a revolving wheel of staffers, to a neon-lit scrolling shooter in which your shots blast the portraits away to reveal their names. The aesthetic, meanwhile, has switched from LBP’s material world of machines to an electronic one of filigreed circuit boards.
This, then, is a digital revolution. And the analogy is apt. If the industrial revolution introduced a new world of physical hardship, the electronic one brought ease and power to all; if LBP offered some powerful but simple tools that required tenacious dedication to fully understand, LBP2’s biggest accomplishment is that it democratises what made LBP a landmark in console gaming, making what was once arcane accessible through considered refinements and astute additions.
As with LBP, the place to observe what an impact they make is in story mode. Though LBP’s story levels were bursting with ideas, they weren’t so hot on pacing and variety. LBP2’s are the product of far greater maturity and experience. The main track may only provide four or so hours of play, but it’s far more coherent, using the new cinematic tools to tell a simplistic but delightfully surreal tale about an attack on Craftworld by the evil Negativitron. The cutscenes, all made using the tools to which you have access, are short, dramatic and funny, pulling you through with almost as much impetus as your curiosity to see what mechanics and tricks Media Molecule will try next.
The story levels are more tightly designed than LBP’s, too, never lasting beyond their welcome and all hinged on exploring one idea. They’ll have you shooting water to put out fires in a lush jungle garden and clearing the way for your faithful sackbots to shoot enemies with their positive rays; you’ll be escaping an exploding base in a scrolling shooter and riding a laser-toting llama. Along with an infectious love for creative geekery – one character is called Higginbotham, a nod to the creator of Tennis For Two and characterised as a Withnail And I refugee – the story mode’s wit and imagination is fantastic. The contrast between a series of high-octane vehicle levels to a gentle platforming section in which you must both avoid and use flaming fireflies to light your way proves just how far LBP2 has come from the genre that birthed it.
Of course, entertainment aside, the story levels’ real purpose is to deliberately reveal the capabilities of the new toolset, which is entirely a reflection of and a reaction to what LBP’s players made. Knowing the difficulties of making logic gates, timers, counters and randomisers, which would require vast, memory-clogging machines in LBP, Media Molecule has reduced down many functions to simple chips. A sequencer makes easy the task of controlling repeating progressions of behaviours, from patterns of lights to mechanical processes. Few of these nuts and bolts were impossible in LBP, but they remained outside the scope of casual creators. Other tweaks include the ability to edit objects that are behind others (in LBP you’d have to move foreground objects out of the way), while a glue tool allows you to select a series of objects to join together, helping you better manage what’s attached and what’s not.
LBP2’s big new ideas, though, go far beyond what was possible in its predecessor. Sackbots come equipped with flexible AI which, with a little jiggery-pokery on their circuit boards, can be trained to do whatever you want, from helping out to hunting you down. They can even be made to speak and act along to your recorded actions, features that work well with the cinematic tools – which allow for transitions and camera pans – and the simple music sequencer. The Creatinator is Sackboy’s head-mounted gun which can shoot anything you want, from fire, plasma and water to created objects. Sackboy is also newly empowered with the Grabinator and Grappling Hook, allowing him to throw objects and swing. And the Controllinator takes players outside of Sackboy’s distinctive control (which has been made very slightly more responsive), providing comprehensive options to create avatars and vehicles which move in just the way you want them to.
These additions take LBP2 far beyond mere premium DLC. So, yes, it’s more dynamic than the original package in every way that makes sense – at least within that same world that Media Molecule constructed in 2008. And therein lies LBP2’s inherent restriction. It provides a revolution, but only inside its own idiosyncratic attitude and aesthetic. Sackboy remains Sackboy, and he won’t convert those who didn’t like the way he behaved in LBP. And for all the fascinating flexibility of its toolset, clearly this is still a framework: you can stamp a creation with your own style, but the overall vibe will ultimately be Media Molecule’s. For those who are happy to embrace it, though, LBP2 represents a dazzling new opportunity for creating deep, diverse and ingenious play.