Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins – Review
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.
Late last month, I played LEGO City Undercover for the Wii U, the first LEGO game by Traveller’s Tales to come without an accompanying licence. I had a great time with the game, revelling in the banter between Chase and his fellow police officers (especially Frank Honey), and I particularly enjoyed travelling around LEGO City itself, picking up a variety of bricks and doing my best to rid the streets of crime. So, when I saw that the prequel, LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins, was coming out for the Nintendo 3DS, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on it. I wanted to see how Chase McCain came to be one of the most respected police officers in LEGO City, and why Rex Fury was such a feared criminal.
First off, I feel the need to point out that although Rex Fury is featured prominently on the cover of the game, LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins isn’t really an origin story for him. Although he does show up towards the end of the game, most of The Chase Begins sees you thwarting the plans of minor gangs within LEGO City, none of which seem to have much connection to each other, and certainly not to Fury himself. Furthermore, rather than taking on the same mission structure as previous LEGO games, where missions are a largely separate entity from the gameworld hub, The Chase Begins has the entirety of its missions take place within the open-world environment, and the regions of LEGO City taking the place of story chapters.
LEGO City on the 3DS is recognisably different from what we saw on the Wii U, both in terms of physical structures and the game’s visuals. In an effort to disguise decreased draw distances between the systems, LEGO City has suddenly become a much foggier locale, with the camera often being unable to see towards the top of a hill, or even to the end of the street. What’ll appeal to fans of the first game, though, is that a number of the buildings and locations present within The Chase Begins are quite different to what we saw on the Wii U. The best example of this is the police station, which here is still under heavy construction. In one particular set of story missions, Chase is also required to personally assist in the building of the suspension bridge between the regions of Auburn and Fort Meadows. The handheld version of LEGO City is almost the same beast that some of us have come to love, but in a pared down form.
Though the vast majority of LEGO City is featured in The Chase Begins, the game actually suffers because of it. Having the various sections of the city broken down into different story chapters is useful, as it means that you can focus on a single area before moving on, and allows players to avoid the crippling load screens that separate each area. The problem is most evident at later points in the game, when Chase is required to travel from his chapter starting point of Cherry Tree Hills across the map to another region, especially when you need to cross two or three region barriers. Taken by themselves, the loading times are an annoyance, but when you have more than one in quick succession, it almost makes you question your motivation to continue with Chase’s story. As this is a handheld game, the problem can be viewed as that much more serious than on a console. A quick burst of gameplay can be severely hampered by one of these loading screens, especially as the boundaries between regions aren’t particularly well signposted.
Despite the issues with loading times, once you get Chase inside a certain area, the gameplay doesn’t stray too far from what we’ve come to expect from the LEGO series, although it does tread a little too close to familiarity if you played LEGO City Undercover. Instead of separate missions, Chase remains within LEGO City proper, and meets various characters that provide him with quests. Some of these range from rescuing a kidnapped dog, returning pigs to their pen, or helping out with setting up scarecrows, and the majority only take a couple of minutes maximum to complete. You’ll start to find that most of the tasks offered to Chase come in the form of fetch quests, or in beating up and arresting a certain number of criminals.
Combat is very similar to that seen on the Wii U, with Chase performing a series of throws and counters, before slapping a pair of handcuffs on an offender. Strangely, although I greatly enjoyed the combat in LEGO City Undercover on the Wii U (particularly once Chase had upgraded his skills at the Dojo), I found the combat in The Chase Begins mind-numbing and fairly tedious. Every fight can be won by waiting for a counter prompt to appear above an enemy’s head, pressing the X button, and then repeating the action until his health is diminished enough that he can be arrested.
It’s not the ease of the combat that fatigued me (as LEGO games aren’t exactly known for their difficulty), but instead the fact that every fight feels exactly the same as the last one. Alongside that you have to throw each and every enemy two, three or four times, making the fights drag on for a lot longer than is strictly necessary. Each chapter or region is topped off with a boss fight, which vary slightly from one to the next (requiring you to dodge dynamite, or hit buttons in a certain order, for example), but often only serve to compound the issues with combat, as you face multiple waves of enemies, and multiple waves of frustration and tedium.
Outside of the story, there’s still a lot for Chase to do, mainly revolving around collecting or activating hidden objects. These range from destroying ATMs, to mining Gems, though some do require Chase to build ramps or buildings otherwise missing from LEGO City’s skyline. In a similar manner to the game’s big brother, many of these tasks can only be performed when Chase is wearing a particular disguise, such as a construction worker or a firefighter. The disguises here are exactly the same as in LEGO City Undercover, although the order in which they are unlocked is altered, and some of their abilities are changed slightly, mostly to draw on the functionality of the 3DS. For example, while playing as the robber, the touch screen is used to crack safes, while Chase is now able to use a wiretap at certain locations, which is configured by moving the 3DS around. In reality, you often end up flailing the handheld around wildly in an attempt to find a sweet spot, as the wiretapping mechanic really isn’t precise enough to do it any other way. The console’s main selling point, its 3D functionality, isn’t really used for any game-specific purpose, although it does look pretty cool when you activate a Super Build and are able to watch the pre-rendered cutscene of the bricks falling into place in three dimensions.
The Chase Begins features the same mix of demolishing and building LEGO objects as every other LEGO game, and also brings Chase’s ability to ‘free-run’ across from the Wii U. Unfortunately, though, much of the time Chase feels as though he is running or performing actions in treacle, as he moves at a much slower pace than in LEGO City Undercover – something which seems completely at odds with the high-paced nature of the tasks that he’s supposed to be performing. It doesn’t seem to be a design decision, but rather a frame rate issue, and it isn’t the only sloppy mistake within the game that will force you out of your immersion. Vehicles frequently clip through each other or objects, and characters often get caught on seemingly nothing other than mid-air, producing admittedly amusing yet still aggravating jerky movements. There are also some incredibly annoying sound effects that play throughout the game, with the screams of citizens needing help, and one section with a Geiger counter, making me particularly glad I wasn’t playing the game in public, as I would have probably been thrown off of public transit for disturbing the other passengers.
Although it has more than its fair share of issues, LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins isn’t a bad game overall, and does a good job of scaling down much of the sensibilities of LEGO City Undercover into a handheld title. The loading issues would prove a nuisance on a home console, but for a handheld game they are nearly enough to ruin the experience entirely, especially if time isn’t on your side. Most of the other issues are more a case of sloppiness than outright game ruination, but they’re certainly not hidden away in hard-to-reach places, and often occur with a deal of regularity. Despite all this, I enjoyed my time with The Chase Begins even if the story, at just over five hours long, is fairly short. There is plenty to do once the narrative is finished, but the question is whether or not you’re willing to put up with the game’s issues in order to see it all.
Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins scores a 3.5 out of 5
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