For a number of years now, Traveller’s Tales have made a small fortune developing LEGO based adaptions of blockbuster (get it?) franchises. The likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman and Pirates of the Caribbean have all been built in this way, and they’ve all been well received due to their humorous takes on their respective source material.
One of the most common complaints of these games of course, was that they were becoming a tad stale. They all followed the same basic blueprint and featured similar gameplay mechanics. With LEGOCity Undercover though, TT has been able to spread their wings and show far more creativity than ever before.
This time, they’ve created their own characters, story and setting. LEGO City Undercover sees players take the role of hero cop Chase McCain, who is tasked with catching escaped convict Rex Fury again. Unlike the previous titles, this plays out through an open ended version of LEGO City. Although there is a set mission structure to follow, the player is granted freedom to explore as they see fit. Comparisons with Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise are inevitable, but actually, Lego City feels considerably different in this respect, although this is primarily because it’s a title that’s aimed at a younger audience and sees you playing as one of the good guys.
Many of that series’ mainstays are here though, with Chase being able to take control of a number of vehicles and explore the open world at his leisure.
LEGO City itself is a fairly large place, and features a number of varied locations filled with secrets to find. At times the game can feel restrictive, making you go from one mission to the other without really granting you the freedom to explore. Once the main story is beaten however, you’ll have more free reign. Alternatively, you’ll often find yourself off the beaten track anyway, and this is where the game starts to come into it’s own. Being a Wii U exclusive, there’s various nods to Nintendo’s own franchises here, but it’s the other references littered throughout the game that really bring a smile to your face.
The LEGO games have always been praised for their humour, and LEGO City Undercover certainly delivers in this respect. The script is well written, the characters are well designed and well voiced (especially Chase’s assistant, Frank Honey, and there are a number of witty plays based purely on his surname) and some of the one liners are genuinely funny, regardless of your age. A particular highlight takes place in a prison, where movie classic The Shawshank Redemption is heavily referenced.
Gameplay wise, everything feels very similar to the previous LEGO titles. As you progress, you’ll build solutions to puzzles and collect hundreds of thousands of LEGO studs. Instead of having different characters to fulfill certain requirements as in the previous titles however, in LEGO City Chase will don various disguises that grant him different powers, including (interestingly) a robber who can break into places.
There’s a few additions here too, including some free running sections, but for the most part the gameplay remains fairly unchanged compared to the previous titles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re a fan of the series, but at times it can feel a tad repetitive. What’s more, given the games primary target audience, it can feel a little overly simplistic at times. I’s perfect for younger gamers sure, but for those with a little more experience you’ll rarely get stuck, whether it’s with the puzzles themselves or in combat.
Of course, being a Wii U title, one of the major questions revolves around how the title uses the unique gamepad controller. In short, not terribly well. For the most part, the gamepad’s screen serves as a map of the city, and whilst this is helpful, it just feels tacked on. The concern really is that a large majority of Wii U games, especially those which are multiformat, will fall into the same camp. Given that this is an exclusive however, you’d expect a few more interesting uses.
Within the game itself, Chase actually has his own gamepad to aid with his policing duties, and actually uses it as a scanner to track down criminals and hunt for clues. Whilst this does provide a welcome distraction on your own screen, these sections often feel a little underwhelming, and it would be nice to see the controller utilised in more interesting ways in future releases.
The other major downside here is the loading times. A number of Wii U titles have come under fire for this since the console launched, and LEGO City Undercover is another culprit. Unfortunately, the load times can take a couple of minutes at a time, sometimes only going between title screens. Perhaps it’s due to the size of the game world, but nevertheless, it’s a gripe.
If this review is sounding a tad negative, then it really shouldn’t. Sure, it’s got it’s shortcomings (as did the previous LEGO games) but it does well, it does very well. The game itself, despite being simplistic, is great fun to play whether you’re following the mission structure rigidly, or taking some time out to explore the city itself. In some respects it feels like a child friendly version of the Grand Theft Auto series (right down to the awkward vehicle controls) but it still has enough new ideas of it’s own to set it apart from that behemoth of a series, as well as the previous LEGO titles. Without having to follow the plot of a film, Traveller’s Tales have been able to produce their best LEGO title so far. It takes the best bits of their previous titles and combines it with a well written and well paced story.
If you’re a fan of the previous titles, then this one is a must buy. For those that haven’t played the likes of LEGO Batman and LEGO Harry Potter, then actually this is a very good starting point. It’s got it’s flaws, that’s for sure, but the game itself is solid and the humour is spot on.
I’ll give it 7 out of 10.