|System: Wii U|
|Dev: TT Fusion|
|Release: March 18, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor|
by Becky Cunningham
The popular LEGO game series by Traveler's Tales has always featured simple co-op fun, but failed to fully capture the spirit of LEGO. Featuring a strict level-based structure that focused on platforming and simple puzzles, they were never quite infused with the full spirit of “play” that fans think of when they imagine a LEGO game.
Enter LEGO City Undercover. Playing as Chase McCain, a disgraced undercover cop brought back to hunt down his nemesis, career criminal Rex Fury, gamers have an entire city as their playground. From the first steps into the city, things just feel right. For the first time, the LEGO and non-LEGO objects fit together aesthetically, and everything LEGO looks like actual plastic. The city itself is expansive and features excellent draw distances, giving the player the sense of wonder that you get when seeing a real city laid out before you for the first time. Most importantly, though, the city's designers remembered that the original LEGO City sets were kids' toys.
LEGO City is everything a ten-year-old might imagine a city should be. The bright, shiny buildings house everything from burger joints to arcades, you can smash or climb on anything with impunity, vending machines hand out mostly-harmless dynamite, and the criminal underworld is more funny than nasty. Chase has access to a plethora of costumes that are straight out of a kid's play session: cop, robber, firefighter, jewel miner, etc. Each major costume opens up new abilities for Chase, such as a grapple gun, a pickaxe that busts rocks, and a color gun that is used for solving puzzles. There are also a bunch of cosmetic costumes to collect, allowing the player to customize the look of Chase's main disguises.
Gamers have been describing this game as “LEGO GTA,” and that description holds true to a certain extent. The game starts a bit slowly, but after a few missions the basic tools needed to get around the city are unlocked. After that point, Chase has free rein of the city whenever the player hasn't started up a storyline mission. He can stop and commandeer any vehicle, go anywhere that has been unlocked, (and most of the city is unlocked early on) and explore to his heart's content. The city feels quite large, and there are a ton of hidden items, minigames, and challenges stashed everywhere, with more things unlocking after every mission.
Vehicular gameplay takes center stage in this game as well. Chase will drive an enormous variety of vehicles over the course of his adventure, and the game does a great job of making each one handle appropriately. Like the detectives in L.A. Noire, Chase can stop and commandeer any car he sees on the road. Jumping into a red hot-rod delivers a different driving experience than tooling around in a jeep, tanker truck, or motorcycle. There are lots of races and car chases throughout the game, which actually awards the player for creating vehicular mayhem by mowing down LEGO objects on the side of the road. It certainly feels like LEGO GTA when driving full speed down the highway, plowing down street lamps while being pursued by a criminal gang, watching LEGO pedestrians leap desperately out of the way as you veer onto the sidewalk.
This is still a LEGO game at heart, however. What the player can't do is take on actual storyline missions in any order but the linear path spelled out by the main campaign. Don't expect any branching story paths or dialogue choices, and don't expect to be able to go into most of the LEGO buildings. Exploration is largely an outdoor affair, except in the cases of buildings that house actual missions. In true LEGO game tradition, missions can be replayed in Free Play mode after they've been completed, and you'll never be able to grab all the goodies available in a mission the first time through. There's still no way for players to custom-build anything in the game, although the large assortment of costumes and vehicles helps make up for the lack of free-building somewhat.
It should go without saying that there's very little violence in LEGO City Undercover. Fighting is a cartoonish hand-to-hand affair that generally results in arrests rather than deaths, and there's nary a gun to be seen. Chase spends more time exploring, racing, chasing, and solving puzzles than fighting, anyway. Criminal acts tend to involve things like comically botched kidnappings and property theft, making the game perfectly family-friendly. The game relies on clever homages to cop TV and movie history as well as wink-nod humor to appeal to the adults in the audience, and it mostly works. Sure, it's often corny, but it's knowingly so. Go into it with the expectation of goofy fun, and the ride is quite enjoyable.