Months after its lackluster launch, Wii U owners has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first must-own exclusive title. While Traveler’s Tales’ LEGO series has relied on a stagnant formula coupled with popular licenses like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Batman and Star Wars, LEGO City Undercover allows them to expand their portfolio with an original and enjoyable open-world LEGO adventure with a cheesy 1970s cop flick vibe.
As super-cop Chase McCain, you are called back into action to recapture notorious criminal Rex Fury after his escape from Albatross Prison. To do so, you’ll have to play both sides of the law, completing varied missions for the cops and various gangs. Although this is a tale about cops and robbers, there is an overall light-hearted tone filled with corny jokes, parodies, and pop culture references that adults can appreciate. None of the humor feels forced, which helps keep the cutscenes feeling succinct. The voice acting is superb, and similar to the recent LEGO titles, it really enhances the experience.
From a gameplay perspective, it’s easy to put off LEGO City Undercover as a kid-friendly version of Grand Theft Auto, but it offers enough variety to keep gamers of all ages entertained. While past titles slowly introduced an open-world settings, none come close replicating the expansive scale of this game. The world of LEGO City is a mash-up of real-life locations like New York City, San Francisco, and Miami as well as farmland, forest, and sandy beaches. There’s some mild draw-in and occasional frame-rate drops, but the look of the world is diverse and colorful. The city is bursting with life and is packed with an assortment of story-driven missions and optional content like vehicle races, speed runs, and collectible gathering.
There are nearly 300 disguises to unlock, but Chase has eight principal disguises: Civilian, Police, Robber, Miner, Astronaut, Farmer, Fireman, and Construction worker. But you don’t have access to every disguise at once, you unlock a one as you complete story missions. Depending on the outfit you’re wearing, you’ll perform three or four unique abilities like plant dynamite, use a crowbar, a grappling hook, or teleport to different locations to bypass inaccessible areas. When facing the opposition, the combat system is simple and engaging. Chase can block, counter, punch and wrestle foes to the ground to arrest them. Platforming continues to improve, but there are still occasional moments where you are limited to how you can interact with your surroundings – vehicles can’t be used as a platform to reach higher places, and you are limited to where you can exit helicopters. It’s a minor complaint, but if I am playing an “open-world” title, I enjoy not being limited to what I can achieve.
You are free to roam around the world on foot, but eventually you’ll want to commandeer one of the hundreds of vehicles composed of sports cars, motorcycles, trucks, boats, horses, and segways. Each form of transportation handles differently, some with the occasional speed boost, but the driving controls are ridiculously loose. This is disheartening since you will send a majority of your time behind the wheel. Which ever way you decide to get around, you’ll find yourself collecting a plethora of Lego studs to purchase characters, vehicles, and cheats. It’s easy to get distracted and break everything you come across, but Undercover also introduces collectible bricks that allow you to create “Super Builds.” Scattered around the city are empty LEGO platforms where you can build structures like vehicle stations or enormous objects like bridges, lighthouses, roller coasters (which you can ride!), and dragons. These builds aren’t just eye-candy, but also the focal point of many mission goals. It’s a simple way to bring another element of building to the LEGO universe, and the creation of these impressive visual spectacles will have you searching for these elusive super bricks.
As one of the rare Wii U exclusives, Lego City: Undercover nicely incorporates the GamePad’s touch screen and gyroscope functionality. Pointing the GamePad at the screen during pivotal events allows for virtual stakeouts as you listen in on conversations, take photos to post them directly to Miiverse, or scan the environment for suspects and collectibles. The screen on the GamePad also displays the map of the city, where you can zoom in and to set waypoints with a simple touch. This keeps the action on your television screen free from clutter and reduces the pause in action. Where you will experience a break in the action is during the frustratingly long loading times. The game begins with a long load, which is customary with open-world titles, but when you transition in and out of the open world for missions, you’re almost guaranteed to watch a loading bar slowly fill up on your GamePad screen.
During these missions you’ll solve simplistic puzzles that usually revolve around breaking and repairing parts of the environment, leap over platforms and disposing groups of bad guys. The setting is perfect for putting Chase through numerous locations — there are museums, sewers, mansions and construction sites. Once you’ve beaten the game and unlocked all the abilities, you’ll be compelled to re-explore the environment to keep your inner kleptomaniac pleased. I spent hours exploring the world of Undercover and I’ve barely scratched the surface of accumulating all the collectibles. It’s also surprising that LEGO City Undercover doesn’t feature co-operative multiplayer of any sorts, which feels odd since past entries focused on drop in/drop out co-op play.
Overall, LEGO City: Undercover is quite possibly the best LEGO game in the entire franchise. There are some technical issues, but nothing that will ruin the experience.