Game: Lego City Undercover
Developer: TT Fusion
Available on: Nintendo Wii U
Like a guilty pleasure, Lego-branded software has accumulated an audience that spans all ages and for good reason, too. Quirky takes on popular licenses like Batman, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are a joy to behold, for the most part. With Lego City Undercover, TT Fusion are venturing into the unknown – originality. Rather than take an already established property and tweak it, this Wii U exclusive sees the UK-based developer spread their wings and successfully create a new world with endearing characters. There are some caveats to that, though.
STORY: Players assume the role of 70’s cop show parody, Chase McCain. McCain has come back to Lego City after a few years off the beat and is instantly back on the job to track down his arch-nemesis, Rex Fury. The recently escaped convict isn’t McCain’s only goal in Lego City however, as the officer of the law is also keen on recapturing the heart of former beau, Natalia Kowalski. As the plot unravels, the cast of characters continually grows, with personality practically jumping out of the television. Lego City is full of eccentricity at every turn and should be applauded for that.
GRAPHICS: There’s no denying that seeing a fully-realised open world constructed from Lego bricks can transport one back to the thumb-sucking stage of their life. Lego City has all of the charm one would expect from a game world that is inhabited by little yellow men and women. Elements of the world are destructible, and smashing something until you see its original form of some random Lego pieces never gets old.
SOUND: The game’s audio is split into two categories, with one excelling to a degree that was almost impossible to predict, whilst the other sadly falters – but with more attention could have really added to the entire experience. The music is fun at the beginning, with a delightfully cheesy soundtrack adding to the player’s ramble around the city. However, as the game continues, that music repeats itself far too often. One omission from the game that would have been welcome is a car-radio of some sort. With this being an open-world game, travelling long distances from point A to point B in a vehicle are common and the monotonous hum from your fellow motorists is the only accompanying sound a lot of the time.
However, the writing and, subsequently, the dialogue that occurs between characters is terrific. Humour is the main component that pushes the narrative along and the interaction between these outlandish individuals is bliss to watch. Lego City Undercover is undoubtedly one of the funniest games I have played in a very long time, with Chase McCain stealing the show. The charismatic star churns out one-liners at a rapid pace that are delivered superbly by the voice actor. Across the board, picking out a weak link in LCU’s line-up is rather difficult. The writing stays strong throughout with only a few minor dips. Even when a gag misses the mark, you know that the next one could have you cackling like a lunatic as the comedy is spat out at such a rate it would make Bob Monkhouse blush.
GAMEPLAY: Spread across a number of chapters, the main campaign of the game incorporates things we’ve seen in other, more adult-orientated sandbox affairs such as exploration. Lego City isn’t restricted to urbanised areas either, as McCain makes his way to the countryside, down sewers and across a map that may not be as big as some game worlds seen in the past, but which is still quite large with plenty of varied environments.
As the name of TT Fusion’s effort suggests, Chase McCain must go undercover in order to succeed in completing tasks and getting one step closer to locking up the burly Rex Fury. The disguises are locked to events within the main game and can be used from that point forward. Each costume-change brings about new abilities that could previously not be performed and that in its essence is also a minor problem. Chase’s disguises will not make LCU’s protagonist a chameleon who’s stealth skills are like that of a true undercover cop. There’s no real sense of espionage in Lego City Undercover as Chase can appear dressed as a robber whilst trying out for the fire department and no one bats an eyelid. Not an issue that halts enjoyment, merely an observation that may irk some.
Flipping through your wardrobe is a regular occurrence in the game as these aforementioned different skills are used in abundance. For example, there may be a section where McCain needs to break down panels of wood across a door (fireman disguise), then go in the room to unlock a safe (robber disguise) and after that, grab some dynamite to blow up rubble that’s blocking your way (miner disguise), and so on. All costume-specific events are signified with a colour-coded ring on the ground next to them, taking out any challenge that might have been present. This is true for a lot of Lego City Undercover. It holds your hand for the majority of the tale, with enemies also posing no threat and just becoming an annoyance. With this being an open-world title, driving plays a pivotal role and is sadly one of the most poorly-executed aspects of the game. The handling is atrocious and will lead to frustrated players as they see their articulated lorry careen into a building. Again.
Without question, the worst things in the game are the loading screens. In this day and age, a situation where the player is waiting over 30 seconds to resume play is rarely encountered, but in LCU it most certainly is. This doesn’t happen at every loading screen, but it transpires a criminally-high percentage of the time. In a game that only appears on one console, this really shouldn’t have been an issue. On occasion, the camera’s flexibility will change from free moving to locked in a 2.5D style position. Judging platform sections here can be a pain and the decision to do this seems misguided.
However, loading times and camera issues aside, being a Wii U-only joint, many will be hopeful that the developer has done some interesting things with the Wii U GamePad, and I can safely say that, although TT Fusion haven’t redefined how the peripheral is used, they’ve utilised the tablet controller in fun ways. In-game, Chase McCain has his own GamePad-looking device that he uses to communicate with fellow LCPD employees or criminal overlords he is working with at the time. Mostly, the map of the gameworld is displayed on the GamePad screen, but the device is also used in more interesting ways such as a directional microphone to eavesdrop on criminals’ conversation, or as a scanner to track down super bricks.
Along with studs – which have no discernible value other than to purchase trivial things like extra disguises at police HQ – super bricks are the currency with which you can build new constructs at pre-defined points. Super builds, as they are called, range from mission objectives such as dragons or dinosaurs, to areas where the player can call-in vehicles.
LONGEVITY: The key to success, of course, in any open world game is to ensure that the player has things to do within the environment. Whilst certain activities are unlocked throughout the main campaign, it’s not enough to keep playing once the story is over. For example, upon completing specific missions where free-running plays a role, that same section will be unlocked as a parkour time trial exercise. Earlier on in Lego City Undercover, there are visible passages that require disguises which aren’t available until later in the story, so players have the option to go back and seek out what goodies are waiting for them. There are also other collectibles scattered around which add no veritable weight to your play through as they’re simply extra padding. Retreading over old ground may entice some, but instances such as this don’t add much to the world – whereas fleshed-out side missions would have made Lego City feel even more welcoming.
VERDICT: Like a fine Pixar movie, there’s something here for everyone, no matter what age. Shoddy driving, easily-dispatched enemies and some of the most excruciatingly-long loading screens I’ve come across in quite a while are offset by charming visuals and a script full of wonderful dialogue, and some terrific referential humour. Whilst some kids may scream at the top of their lungs for the latest GTA, they’ll feel much more at home in this world of bricks.