LEGO City Undercover is the dark horse of the Wii U’s line up. It’s gone under the radar a bit, overshadowed by the likes of ZombiU, Mario and Rayman, which is a real shame given what’s been shown. It’s a hilarious game full of personality that I have high hopes for.
Within the first half an hour of the game, the game has parodied clasics such as Titanic, Sherlock Holmes, Baywatch, Dirty Harry and even Starsky and Hutch, as well as the crime/detective genre as a whole. LEGO humour is always throwing itself at you, and it makes the game a joy to play. While other open world games would have you in a gritty shootout with hardened criminals or the police, LEGO City has you chasing down a troupe of bank-robbing clowns, who take down the police with confetti, squirting flowers and hand buzzers. This is the first case of the game, which awaits the protagonist, Chase McCain, when he returns to LEGO City after being sent off following a mistake on his last case, and introduced the game’s mechanics in a way that’s still fun to play. You’ll follow trails of clues, ram criminal vehicles, scan the area with the GamePad and chase evil clowns.
The missions play like the kind of mission you’d expect from an open world crime game like this, but with LEGO twists. At one point in said clown robbery mission, you have to search for a clown in hiding. To do this, you use Chase’s scanner ability, in which you scan the environment for the escapee ala ZombiU, moving the GamePad around to find him. You’ll then have to climb vines, build platforms and break debris to free a hose to grow plants to climb in order to pursue him. The sections in between the chases, combat etc feel like typical LEGO levels incorporated into an open world, with a mix of platforming and having to use the unique abilities of each character (or in this case, Chase’s various disguises that grant him abilities) in order to solve puzzles and progress. It feels really natural a lot of the time, but occasionally some of the puzzles feel placed there for the sake of it. At one point you’re essentially told “Hey, I know you’re a police officer, but I’m not letting you in until you find my sandwich!”
Thankfully the game uses humour to make these sections still enjoyable, so you don’t really notice the forcefulness of some puzzles. It does seem like it could be an easy game. Some of the puzzles don’t require too much thought, and in chase scenes, the target will just wait for you if you get too far away. We did only play the beginning sections, but it’s something to be wary of.
The open world you can explore feels like one giant LEGO game hub level when you’re not on a mission, with lots of things to do and find, sometimes requiring the abilities of Chase’s disguises and vehicles. From what we’ve seen there’s plenty of studs to collect, which remain the currency of LEGO world, Gold Bricks (which I didn’t see a use for in what we played) and Super Bricks which are used for ‘Super Builds’, structures that can be built in certain spots. At the point we were at, we could only build Vehicle Calling Stations, but the menu implied more structures could be built later.
These stations are used to spawn any vehicle you’ve unlocked, in a colour of your choice (I spawned a lovely pink police car). There are 100 vehicles to unlock, including sports cars, bulldozers and helicopters. The menu says there’s almost 300 characters to unlock, which is interesting as it means you won’t just be playing as Chase. I’m assuming that’s what this means, as the Disguise Wheel only has about 10 spaces on it. The unlockable menu has a minifigure head with a number out of 290 or so, which for us was two, as we had 2 disguises for Chase unlocked at the time. Even when you’re not doing anything in the world, it’s fun to explore, doing stunt jumps, or harassing the city’s citizens.
The one problem though is that you can’t really cause much carnage. You can wreck the cars of NPC’s, but running them over just knocks them flat and they get up right after, and trying to attack them has no effect. Sure, it makes sense that a cop can’t go destroy the city he has to protect, but having Light Jedi murder everyone in the Cantina didn’t make sense in LEGO Star Wars either.
Graphically, the game looks great. The TV didn’t support the full 1080p resolution, but it was a good looking game regardless. The world sports some varied environments, from the high tech Police HQ, to the sprawling cities and peaceful woodland areas, and we didn’t even have time to explore the whole map! In terms of draw distance, it’s a mixed bag. Landmarks and the landscape can be seen from really far off, with most details fading into view quite nicely.
Some of the details (plants and the like) and studs however, don’t fade into view until you’re relatively close to them. It’s a bit weird driving along a wide open road amongst pedestrian cars, to see LEGO studs suddenly fade into view out of nowhere. The game also uses the Wii U’s controller quite well. As well as the aforementioned scanner function, it also acts as a GPS, taking clutter off of the TV screen (your path is still highlighted on the road so you know where to go though), and a communicator, with contacts appearing on the GamePad’s screen, and their side of the phone call coming through the GamePad’s speaker. It’s a bit of a novelty, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a fun one. It adds to the game’s child-like charm, which is probably what I love most about the game. It brings back the nostalgia and excitement of the early licensed LEGO games (Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc), which started to wear off in later installments.
LEGO City Undercover is looking to be a great addition to the Wii U’s arsenal. It’s a mix of the LEGO gameplay you know and love, and the freedom and structure of an open world game. Is it GTA: LEGO City Stories like people are expecting? Honestly? At this point I’d say not. That’s not a bad thing, it’s an open world LEGO game in a city setting, it doesn’t feel too much like GTA in action. Nonetheless it should be a good bit of fun for blockheads young and old.
Lego City Undercover is out in Australia on March 28th.