LEGO City Undercover Hands-On Preview
LEGO City Undercover Box Art
System: Wii U
Dev: TT Fusion
Pub: Nintendo
Release: March 18, 2013
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p ESRBRATING
The Long Plastic Arm Of The Law
by Becky Cunningham

Developer Traveller's Tales has been putting out franchised LEGO games for years now, and the company's formula has become quite familiar. Even if the games have been slowly improving over the years, gamers can be forgiven for thinking that they probably already know how LEGO City Undercover will play. We recently had some hands-on time with the game in order to find out whether that assumption was true, or if this open-world game of cops and robbers breathes fresh air into the franchise.

We stepped into the shoes of Chase McCain, a well-meaning but goofy undercover police operative. He's on the trail of his nemesis, criminal mastermind Rex Fury, which involves scouring LEGO City for clues. Our preview segment occurred early in the game, during which McCain is tasked with shaking down criminals on a prison island (think LEGO Alcatraz) for information.

LEGO City Undercover Screenshot

Stepping out of the police station, McCain is greeted by a shiny open-world LEGO city. This open environment replaces the hub world and individual levels found in most LEGO games. A green arrow on the interface points to the next step in the main story, but the player can ignore that story at any time in order to explore the city.

At this early point, LEGO game veterans will find a number of recognizable elements. Familiar buttons on the Wii U GamePad are mapped to attacking, jumping, and building structures out of loose LEGO bricks. Instead of featuring multiple characters with different abilities, LEGO City gives Chase multiple undercover outfits. We were able to play with a police outfit that features a grappling hook gun and the ability to search for clues, a civilian outfit that changes his attack to a punch, and a robber outfit that allows the use of a crowbar.

In one noted improvement over earlier LEGO games, the dodgy platforming challenges are gone. Instead, Chase can find or build blue-and-white parkour areas all over the city. Simply pressing B allows him to climb, hang, slide, or run up along these areas in order to get around obstacles or access new areas. This is far more flexible and entertaining than making easy jumps that are only failed when a poor vantage point or an A.I.-controlled character gets in the way.

LEGO City Undercover Screenshot

We used several of these parkour points to make our way towards the ferry docks, only to find a blank LEGO platform instead of an actual dock. That's where we learned that LEGO City Undercover makes use of two currencies: the usual coin currency and a brick currency used to create new structures on various build points spread throughout the city. These build points are vital to opening up new areas and progressing the main story, but collecting enough brick currency to use them will require exploration.

Since we didn't have enough brick currency to build our ferry dock, we took some time to explore what the city had to offer. In a feat of questionable city planning, there was a childrens' playground right next door to the police station. Half the structures there were unbuilt, so Chase punched open crates in order to finish off the playground and gain currency in reward. We also took advantage of the GamePad's scan mode: holding the GamePad up to the TV screen allows the player to scan for the plentiful hidden objects around the city. Further destruction, structure building, and exploration yielded enough bricks for the ferry dock, and we took off for the island prison.

LEGO City Undercover Screenshot

At the prison, we were able to experience the game's lighthearted character interactions. The wordless babble of earlier LEGO games is gone, replaced by actual spoken dialogue, and plenty of it. Since this is a LEGO world, even hardened criminals are more silly than scary. The humor used in the conversations was clever and full of sly cultural references. Although humor is always highly subjective, we found it to be well-done and appealing to both kids and adults.

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