LEGO City Undercover: review

If the phrase “Grand Theft LEGO” sends you into a proper tizzy, then you’ve got something to smile about. LEGO City Undercover takes the old open-world formula and gives it a delightfully silly spin, not only taking a well-deserved break from the typical LEGO game fare, but inviting the younger crowd into an entire genre usually reserved for drugs and/or murder. To top it off, this is one of the first Wii U games worth popping in the disc drive, so it has a seriously funky console’s success riding on its shoulders. There’s a new horizon in every direction and the enthusiasm is enough to make you feel like a kid again– growing pains and all.

You’d best start by shaking hands (or nubby plastic claws) with Chase McCain, a cop who’s come back to the beat after a reluctant exile. He’s not adapted from a popular blockbuster franchise, believe it or not; in fact, LEGO City is based on a toy line of the same name. Giving up beloved pop culture parodies for unfiltered LEGO branding is at first a bitter pill to swallow, but genius writers with a laugh-out loud sense of timing easily make up the difference in no time. The sharp dialogue never talks down to the player and uses its PEGI-7 repertoire of gags for the forces of good, tugging you along a drama of danger, intrigue, and a fair share of pig jokes.

As an undercover cop, Chase has been given unparalleled authority to pretty much do whatever he wants. Hijack some vehicles, takes a swim in the ocean, complete a checkpoint race or two, slide down some playground slides… your usual open-world fare. The Wii U gamepad has several clever uses, including a camera function to save screenshots, a handy GPS-integrated map, and a channel to receive incoming messages from your buddies. Chase uses an adorable micro version of this gadget to complete objectives, but most of the copious items hidden every which way are locked behind special abilities. That’s where the “undercover” bit comes into play.

Chase McCain wears many hats, and each one comes with its own set of powers. His criminal form can bust into locked doors with a crowbar, for instance, while the miner can handle explosives and the farmer can– naturally– glide through the air with a chicken on his head. Although the handful of colourful personae does a lot for variety, it functions as an overly familiar legacy system leftover from the core series. Constantly switching between disguises is a burden, and without a lovingly animated Gollum or goofy gonk droid to smile at, the dozens of characters don’t mean as much.

A firefighter fighting fires. This is self-explanatory.

These disguises trickle out as the story unfolds, which suffers from its own overzealous attachment to traditional LEGO tropes. Linear levels full of simple platforming and bad guy punching give the game some meat, but it turns out to be chewy beef stroganoff and doesn’t taste as good as you remember. Step-by-step puzzles in pedestrian locations suffocate the pacing, a problem tempered but not solved by some exceedingly silly kung-fu ripped straight from the Batman Arkham series. None of these pieces are deep enough to hold up their ends of the bargain, leaving the so-so creativity of level design to carry the day alone. The lack of multiplayer– a key strength of the franchise– only twists the knife.

During these dark moments of regret, the problems seem to multiply. Loading back into the outside world takes far too long (the characters even take a crack at slow progress bars), which hardly justifies the poor frame rate and random hard locks that require a pulled plug. You’d think the taxed engine is busy generating massive heaps of plastic bricks, but as it stands, LEGO City isn’t especially well-named. For the admittedly logical purpose of differentiating the smashable from the unsmashable, most of the mountains, trees, and buildings are disappointingly modelled out of dull, everyday materials rather than snap-on building blocks. With some of the greatest LEGO adventures behind it and the modern day standards for an open-world game barely met, what keeps LEGO City Undercover from flailing in a sea of better games? The answer is amazingly simple: collecting stuff. Never, ever underestimate the power of collecting stuff.

Every inch of the city is swarmed with shiny objects to discover; some may unlock new characters or vehicles while others are there simply for the joy of finding. Exploratory antics are endlessly linked between mini-games and missions that never take more than a few minutes to complete, encouraging you to peer around every corner and poke anything that catches your fancy. The sparkling studs handed out for every success can be cashed in at the police station, the go-to hub for buying and customizing everything you dig up in the city. Money generally isn’t hard to come by, but the new brand of currency offers a much more interesting challenge.

Deciding where to go next can be overwhelming, but when in doubt, find something to break.

Just about anything breakable can be bashed into its component LEGO bricks, giving you ammo to unpack huge pre-made models placed strategically throughout the city. Ranging from useful vehicle call-in points to elaborate loop-de-loops, these constructions are a convincing incentive to stuff bricks down your pants by the armful. It doesn’t hurt that ploughing through everything in sight with a turbo-charged sports car is the fastest way to rack up brick-absoribing combos. Madcap treasure hunts like this– when the silliness meter cranks up to eleven in a constant stream of ridiculous fun– are shining moments.

Because of its devotion to hilarity and collect-a-thon junkies, LEGO City Undercover makes it in this tough world of competition, growing pains and all. Breaking those pesky ties to the past would go a long way to giving this promising spin-off a real identity of its own, but this is an admirable first step into a larger world.

critical score 7

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

Leave a Reply