Published on April 3rd, 2013 | by Shawn Long, Features Editor
LEGO City Undercover Review
Developer: TT Fusion
Release Date: March 18, 2013
The Lego games have become widely popular in the past few years, and the reason why is obvious. It is truly an age-defying system developers have worked out. Kids enjoy the fact that it’s Lego, and adults can enjoy the witty writing and dialogue among the characters. The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Batman have all been transformed into Lego counterparts, but developer TT Fusion decided to try something different. LEGO City Undercover brings a Grand Theft Auto-inspired sandbox game to the Wii U, and for the most part, does a damn good job.
LEGO City Undercover has you assuming the role Chase McCain, a savvy cop that returns to town after a hiatus. Chase was forced to leave after capturing his arch rival, Rex Fury. Rex’s girlfriend, Natalia Kowalsk, testified against the criminal to put him behind bars. Due to the testimonial, Natalia’s identity was accidentally revealed leaving her to flee under the witness protection program. Now Rex is back on the block, kidnapping Natalia’s father, so Chase returns to right some wrongs. The story reeks of a campy ’80s cop movies, and therein lies the charm.
LEGO City Undercover has some of the best writing and dialogue I have seen in a game. Some of the jokes are misses, but most are hits. There are tons of pop culture references, such as when you go to learn kung-fu. It’s basically a rip-off of the “Matrix” film and was done in an over-the-top fashion, leaving me to laugh my ass at it. The game has tons of references to movies, music and other games. Some of these may whiz over a younger gamer’s head, but anyone in their mid-20s or older will enjoy and laugh at all the references.
The game has bright and crisp graphics that are very appealing to the eyes. Since this is a Lego game, most things in the environment can be destroyed and turned into blocks. Characters have great facial animation and the vehicles are all unique to each other. Besides a few frame-rate dips when you are driving in a congested area, the game looks pretty good.
The voice acting is also top-notch and keeps in touch with the great writing. Chase has the typical ’80s cop voice: gruff and serious (mostly). The woman in charge of setting up your missions, Ellie Phillips, is a sweet southern belle fresh out of Mayberry. Characters are very over-the-top with either extreme silliness, seriousness or stupidity, and each one of them has quality voice acting to reflect this.
LEGO City Undercover uses the Wii U Gamepad very well. Besides being a map, it allows you to receive calls from your cop friends who provide mission updates, to scan areas for hidden items while holding the pad up to the TV screen, use it as a GPS, and many more features. The GamePad is the only way to play the game, so you can put away the other controllers.
Fans of GTA games will feel comfortable with the controls, as LEGO City Undercover does tend to mimic it. The combat system is unusual in that you don’t really fight, but rather counter enemy attacks and use throws to take them down for an arrest. As the game progresses, you gain more abilities. This keeps the pace moving while still providing achievements for over the entirety of the adventure.
The mission variety is also very well done, thanks in part to the disguises you acquire. Instead of just being generic costumes, each disguise has a gameplay feature involved. Chase, as a cop, can use a grappling hook to climb up to higher places. But as a robber he can break into locked areas with a crowbar. There are a ton of different costumes, and every one has a game play ability that not only adds to the missions, but is crucial to progression in the game and exploration. You can swap costumes on the fly delivering a streamlined experience.
Lego City is a bustling city not just filled with missions. There are reasons to explore the nooks and crannies of the urban jungle. The game’s main source of monetary income is dealt in blocks. By acquiring blocks you acquire the ability to build things on. pre-determined platforms throughout the city. Some are optional, such as places to have cars dropped in, others mandatory.
The mandatory blocks usually mean story progression and cost much more. So get out your scanning beam and look for hidden blocks to access further missions. The city walls expands as you play the game, with some areas not being accessible until further missions completed.
So the game sounds pretty perfect right? Well, not exactly. I have a serious problem with the jumping mechanic in-game. While never a high note in other Lego titles, in this game it’s very noticeable. Platforming feels way too loose, almost like a game of chance instead of precision and timing. At first, it’s not that big of a deal, but many times I was trying to explore an area and the jump action impeded progress. Also, the camera can be a bit restricting at times, furthering the frustration during platforming areas.
One of the staples of the Lego franchise was the local multiplayer, which is non-existent in this game. No online multiplayer is included in this game either, which is a shame. I would have loved some online cops and robbers in the Lego universe.
Lastly, a more minor issue, when entering a vehicle there isn’t any radio access. It was almost expected seeing the game take similar steps as the GTA series. It feels that this is a missed opportunity to have done something really fun with the radio.
These issues aside, LEGO City Undercover is a solid game for Wii U owners. While it doesn’t redefine the sandbox game genre, it does add a new twist with not needing violence and drugs to be entertaining, but quality writing and fun missions.
I hope we do eventually see another game for the Wii U in the Lego City franchise (one is being released for the Nintendo 3DS later this year), because it’s a game that everyone from 8-80 years old can enjoy–and enjoy together. Put the blocks away, grab a cheesy mustache and play this game.
[xrr label=”Rating: 8/10″ rating= 8/10]
+ Some of the best writing in a video game
+ A sandbox game that everyone can enjoy
– The platforming is too dodgy
– Where is my multiplayer?!