A Man of Many Guises: LEGO City Undercover Review
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii U.
Wii U owners haven’t had the easiest of times with their console since its launch in November of last year. A lack of killer console-exclusive titles, mixed with anticipation for the announcements of Microsoft and Sony’s next-generation console, has led many to hold off on buying Nintendo’s offering.
A sparsely populated release schedule for the first part of 2013 hasn’t helped matters, and it’s only now, towards the end of March, that the Wii U receives its first major exclusive release of the year. Enter Chase McCain and the LEGO City Police Department, here to arrest bad guys, keep the streets of LEGO City safe, and tide Wii U owners over until the next big release on the console.
LEGO City Undercover places players in the shoes of Chase McCain, a police officer who returns to LEGO City in an attempt to re-arrest Rex Fury, a recently escaped criminal who McCain was instrumental in locking away in the first place. As he follows in the footsteps of Fury, McCain is required to go undercover in the criminal underground of LEGO City, working a variety of different organisations. While doing so, McCain visits a number of LEGO City locales – including museums, banks, mines, mansions, and even the moon itself. Story missions will prove familiar to anyone who’s played a LEGO game before, with a mixture of light puzzles, simple combat, and plenty of LEGO-smashing action. The main difference between LEGO City Undercover and previous LEGO games is in the inclusion of Bricks, a new form of currency to the series. Whereas in previous games smashing LEGO objects would provide the player with Studs, doing so in LEGO City results in these Bricks, which are used to build items within levels and LEGO City itself (in the form of Super Builds, a new addition to the LEGO series), from vehicle drop-off points to narrative-centric items. Studs are still present and used for buying cheats or unlocking characters, but they are often found in the world itself, as opposed to within objects.
LEGO City Undercover is the first LEGO game in recent memory to not come with an accompanying license, something which could be seen by some to be a downside, as the LEGO games aren’t exactly known for their in-depth character-driven dramas and exposition. However, developer Traveller’s Tales Fusion has managed to reverse this expectation, and although some of the characters are a little one-dimensional, those that work do so in a big way and will most likely be fondly remembered by players for years to come. One such example, and easily the most enjoyable character throughout LEGO City Undercover, is Frank Honey: Chase’s fellow officer on the LCPD, and best described as a bumbling fool. Honey is always breaking things, messing up plans and generally making an (unintentional) nuisance of himself, but his lines, in both the way they are written and delivered, make you unable to do anything but fall in love with him. He is almost certainly the star of the game, and more than a couple of belly laughs were had at his expense.
Indeed, the vast majority of LEGO City Undercover is packed full of charm, from the moment you arrive in the city via Captain Bluffbeard’s boat, to the point where you collect your final gold brick. A lot of this charm comes from the dialogue, which although amusing, can be a little heavy on the use of puns sometimes, but the influence of both the audio and visuals shouldn’t be ignored. The music choices are well made, often matching the activities depicted on-screen, whether it be a car chase or a detective moment, with even the loading screen’s music provoking a good deal of foot-tapping. The one downside to the audio is that, even though the voice-acting is well-delivered, some of the lines can get quite repetitive, particularly those coming from Chase McCain himself. I lost count of the number of times I heard him yell, “Stop, or I will keep running after you,” whilst chasing a criminal.
Visually, LEGO City Undercover is what we’ve come to expect from the LEGO series, with adorable LEGO characters running around landscapes that are made out of a mixture of both LEGO and ‘normal’ objects. Undercover does add a couple of neat twists to the formula, though, most noticeably with the use of slow-motion during certain fights, or when Chase is jumping through the air, having used one of the newer additions to the series, blue and white objects. These objects provide the player with the chance to indulge in a spot of free-running, whether it’s running along the side of a building, jumping over and under pipes, or being thrown through the air. The inclusion of Super Builds also adds a nice touch, even if it’s a shame that you don’t get to build the objects yourself. Using the Bricks that you obtain by smashing objects, you get to watch the quick assembly of particular objects, such as space shuttles, airplanes and cable cars. The building occurs in hyper-motion, bricks quickly falling into place, and the model assembling before your eyes. Even the vehicles, which you’ll be spending quite a lot of time in, fall apart in an authentic LEGO fashion, losing more and more bricks as they sustain more damage, with the end result looking a lot like your character is driving four wheels held together by only a couple of bricks.
The number of vehicles that you can drive in LEGO City Undercover is admirable, and the fact that most of them handle differently from each other is quite impressive. Vehicles are broken down into a number of categories, including Emergency, which contains police cars, ambulances and fire trucks; Performance, which is full of sports cars; and Worker, which is mainly construction vehicles, such as diggers or cranes. There’s even the option to pilot flying vehicles, such as Helicopters, VTOLs or UFOs, giving LEGO City Undercover a foot-up on the Grand Theft Autos of this generation (so far). Getting around LEGO City isn’t too difficult, thanks to the map that is ever-present on the Wii U’s gamepad (the gamepad is also used for scanning areas for criminals or hidden objects). The map provides a good deal of information on what there is to do around LEGO City, even if it doesn’t quite hold your hand to lead you there. By pressing the information button located at the top of the screen, a drop-down menu informs you of the activities that are still left to do in a particular area of the city and also how many are left in the city as a whole.
The four main items that you’ll be looking for within LEGO City Undercover are Characters, Vehicles, Red Bricks, and Gold Bricks. Characters and Vehicles are fairly self-explanatory, whilst the Bricks will be familiar to those who have played a LEGO game before, with the Red Bricks operating as cheats or modifiers, such as Stud (currency) multipliers or more powerful items. Gold Bricks, on the other hand, are rewards for performing certain tasks, and while they don’t perform a function by themselves, they are a good indicator of how much progress you’ve made in the game. With 450 to collect throughout the entirety of LEGO City Undercover, you’ve got your work cut out for you if you want to get them all.
While some of the Gold Bricks can be obtained by playing the story levels, by filling your Stud meter or collecting all four pieces of the level’s police badge (by completing puzzles) the vast majority of Gold Bricks and other items can be found in LEGO City itself by performing a huge variety of activities. These range from catching criminals and preventing vehicle robberies, to robbing vehicles yourself, rescuing cats from trees, and blowing up statues. There is a massive amount of stuff to do in LEGO City, which is proven by the fact that, even though the story mode takes about 12 hours to get through (a respectable number in any game), the progress bar at this point only hovers around the 20% mark, depending on how many side-quests you have completed. The sheer size of LEGO City, and LEGO City Undercover, allows for hours upon hours of collecting items and performing tasks, if you’re so inclined.
The only downside to the size of the game is in the loading times, which are fairly long and far too frequent. Upon starting the game, you are presented with a loading screen, just to get to the section where you select whether to start a new game or load an existing one. Once you’ve made your choice, you are presented with another loading screen as LEGO City loads. Then, when you enter a story level, the game loads again, followed by another loading screen when you return to the city. These loading screens are fairly lengthy when taken individually, but when combined, it’s a relatively painful experience.
LEGO City Undercover is potentially the game that Wii U owners have been waiting for. Though some will turn their noses up at its child-friendly nature, a good deal of the game’s humour, particularly in the form of movie and videogame references, is aimed at an older audience. Whilst there is an abundance of slapstick humour, LEGO City Undercover works as a perfect example of finding that balance between aiming for children and aiming for adults: there’s genuinely a lot here that will appeal to either crowd. With enough content to make a 40-hour stay in LEGO City feasible, LEGO City Undercover will keep players occupied for a good while and, even without a well-known licence, could quite reasonably be seen as the best LEGO game yet. If you own a Wii U and are complaining about the lack of games, you owe it to yourself to pick up LEGO City Undercover, and, though it may not be a title that inspires people to buy a Wii U, it’s certainly one of the stronger titles currently available on the console.
LEGO City Undercover scores a 4.5 out of 5
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