Lego City Undercover is two things, and does both very well. It is an all new Lego adventure in the theme and concept of your favourite titles to date, improving on that design. The game is also possibly the first youth friendly Grand Theft Auto inspired title. It really ends up feeling like you’re getting two games in one with all this content. It took me over 24 hours to get through the story, and I still have side objectives around the city to complete.
Undercover focuses on Chase McCain, a police officer just returning to Lego City after years away. In true GTA fashion, this brings you into the world not knowing how it has changed, either. So you’re exploring along with your character. There is very little I took issue with in Lego City Undercover; I really did love the game. It begins with a broadcast from a radio station, and this is quite a tease since the game itself includes no radio stations. So much otherwise reflects GTA wonderfully. The music in Undercover is great, but for those big action scenes that called for it, they could have faded out the radio stations and got back to the original soundtrack.
GTA fans will notice lots in this game that they can relate to. There are stolen car recovery missions, hidden items, and even vehicle names are displayed when you commandeer one. Missions are started when you reach highlighted markers with an icon in them. There is the fine line that keeps Lego City Undercover similar to GTA without making you a criminal in full. You do criminal things, but you’re undercover and in the name of the law, usually with permission from your police station. Considering the target audience, this is a good way to say you’re pretending to be a criminal.
Chase really sells that feeling with so much comedy in this title. The whole cast is enjoyable, but he plays a wonderful lead, almost with a Zapp Brannigan from Futurama sort of gusto. He gets that he’s in an awkward situation and relates to the gamer when he’s unsure he should be doing something. And that’s when the Wii U GamePad mechanic gets interesting.
So Chase is conflicted in the middle of nowhere. He gets a call on his high tech police device that looks like a Wii U GamePad! The first time this happens it feels awkward and cheesy. You’re looking at your friends, and the GamePad is playing the audio to you from an onscreen video communication from one of the in-game characters. Really though, after you give it a chance it really does feel cool. Instead of everyone raising an eyebrow to you, they’re gathering around to see what wacky things fellow officer Frank Honey has to say. The fact that the writing can make you forget how childish this can feel is a credit to its quality.
The GamePad is also used for your map and various scanners. As many of my Wii U previews and reviews have said, this sort of content really shows the strength of the system. So the GamePad is a device in the game–that’s not a big deal; however, the innovation behind it is. Chase is perched on a rooftop across from a building suspects are in. He, and you, take your GamePad and hold up it towards the building in question and search around for listening icons by physically pointing the controller around while looking at the onscreen display. That’s cool! It gets players interacting with the game world by using the new device Nintendo has created in fun ways.
Missions range from chase content to even basic driving tasks between your regular Lego game levels. Basically, think of the game world as the furthest evolved version of the franchise’s open world content. This one very much feels like a GTA world and controls smoothly. That isn’t to say there won’t be times you might miss a jump or have to take a few attempts at a tricky ceiling climb, but the world plays the way you would expect a sandbox action game to play.
Some missions load a Special Assignment level instead. These are your typical Lego stages where you collect studs to get your True Hero status (I think it is Lego City Hero in this one), as well as progressing through enemies and puzzles in a closed environment. In true GTA-like fashion, you do sometimes drop out into a car pursuit after these levels. Instead of defeating enemies normally, you handcuff them. Battle consists of some basic moves you can learn, as well as finishing moves which focus on taking out the last bad guy in a slow motion attack, which usually has a good variety to what you’ll get.
New to the franchise are super builds which require you to collect blocks as well as studs. Blocks come from many sources, and for some of you Lego fans, it may get confusing when you bust apart an object and realize it’s not going to drop studs, but brick parts instead. These are all grouped into a generic count, but they are used to buy a variety of new buildings and objects around the city. Gold bricks and red bricks are still here, as well as super bricks that add to your super build brick count.
Just like other Lego titles, you have abilities that will allow you to unlock various things around the city. Instead of having multiple characters to change into (though you do collect those as well, just not for their abilities), you gain new undercover outfits. Each outfit usually has a few different perks to it and usually a different weapon. Vehicles are also unlocked as the game progresses, and you can use super build call-in points to access. You do not have garages or safe houses in this game.
The only downside to Lego City Undercover are the load times. They can be pretty hefty at times, especially when loading back into the city from a special assignment level, but at least the wait music is groovy. It would have been nice to have at least a slide show of what has happened recently, or something like that during these moments. Even game hints would have been neat, or tourist information about Lego City areas.
When just exploring the game and driving around, the city is fairly large. I’m not positive, but if I had to compare the area to a game, I’d say it’s similar to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in terms of open world exploration. The variety is good too, from San Francisco, New York, and Miami; there is even farm land, and in short, there is a lot to do here. Rare Nintendo related items to notice are scattered about the world as well.
Lego City Undercover is a quality title. Occasionally climbing or jumping across ledges may feel off, or worse, glitched, having to leave the area and return to get poles Chase was leaping across to send him in the right direction. Another incident focused on gangs not fighting Chase, and again, all it took was leaving the area and coming back for them to trigger. These problems are few and far between, and not game breakers. Considering I played the game for virtually a day, two glitches is hardly a problem, especially when they can be fixed by just walking away and returning to that area.
It’s hard to find faults with this game. I loved it! For long time gamers or youth, there is content to be enjoyed here. From movie parodies, to just the comedy in general, the writing is fun, clever, and keeps you interested throughout the game. This is a great title to have on the Wii U, and hopefully more will follow it. It’s also great to see that even though the world seems smaller, Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins for the 3DS, will give Nintendo gamers a chance to experience some of this world on their other system. Great work by everyone involved on this title, and it’s well worth your time.