The Wii U game drought is over, and Lego City Undercover is here to remind gamers of the promises made at E3 2012. At Nintendo’s press conference, we saw an open-world Lego game that made good use of the Gamepad. Now that it’s here, I’m pleased to say it is everything we hoped it would be. The game is silly, fun and will offer weeks, if not months, of entertainment.
Chase McCain is a good cop. A bit ditzy and even accident prone, but he has good intentions and gets things done. In fact, he was practically single-handedly responsible for the capture of notorious criminal Rex Fury. Still, that arrest didn’t go really well and as a result, Chase left Lego City.
Now, Rex has escaped from prison and the mayor has called Chase back to assist the investigation. Crime has surged as a result of the jailbreak. Chase resumes his post in the hopes he can bring order to the city and put Rex back where he belongs. Maybe he’ll even find love or learn how to break into buildings while he’s at it.
The script and voice acting in Lego City Undercover are perfect. The actors are well cast and aren’t all the same 10 or so people you hear in every video game. It’s a perfect send up of cop dramas and the Morgan Freeman impersonator did such a good job that I did a double take when I heard him. At times, I almost wondered if the humor was too over-the-top to the point where it felt forced, but then I’d hear an especially clever bit of dialogue and I’d toss aside any concern. TT Games goal was to make the player smile, and smile you will.
I’d also recommend paying close attention to every cut-scene. Lego City Undercover references many different movies and TV shows and if you don’t watch, you will definitely miss something. The first police meeting upon Chase’s return is a good example, as the police department staff contains parodies of Columbo, Dirty Harry, Sherlock Holmes, Starsky and Hutch. These references aren’t limited to cop and detective shows though, as it also references Stir Crazy, Titanic and Shawshank Redemption, for starters. It’s a pop-culture palooza.
Still, you’re not going through the game just to see all the awesome references. You’re there to explore Lego City! Gameplay is pretty similar to prior Lego games, with Lego Batman 2 being most similar. While there is an open world with missions and secrets, there is also a chapter-based storyline. Once completed, these chapters are available in a free play mode so people can revisit them after additional disguises and abilities have been found. Notable changes include Chase being able to whistle to stop traffic, so he can appropriate any car for "police business" and his ability to arrest offenders to boost his score and generally save the day.
Lego City Undercover also features oodles of collectables. Aside from the personas Chase unlocks, such as the fireman with the axe to tear down blocked doors or the dynamite wielding miner, there are people. 290 of them, to be exact. (I’ve only found about 50.) These can be assigned to Chase’s IDs, so when he visits a Disguise Booth he can change what he’ll look like when he’s in that persona. Aside from that, there are also over 100 vehicles to unlock, 40 Red Bricks, 450 Gold Bricks and 65 Super Builds. The side quest challenges are plentiful as well, and my favorites are the cat and pig rescues, though there is a certain satisfaction from taking coffee breaks and smashing ATMs.
The Gamepad is also integrated well into the Lego City Undercover experience. Its main function is as a map and GPS. Unfortunately, just like real GPS units, it doesn’t always give you the shortest route to a destination, so keep an eye on it from time to time while heading to a specific location. It also acts as a communicator, a scanner to find and tag enemies or items in the world and a tracer. TT Games found a good balance with it. I didn’t feel like I always had to be staring at the Gamepad, but I also didn’t feel like its usage was tacked on or unnecessary.
For all my raving, I did experience some disappointments. Chief among them were the load times. Depending on the circumstances, they can be brutal. They aren’t as bad before events and during missions, typically lasting about 30 seconds, but I had to wait one minute each time I decided to enter or exit the police station. As a result, I only visited when absolutely necessary and otherwise waited until I had unlocked a lot of items before I’d go back. It would have helped if the loading screens hadn’t been so boring. I’d rather have seen Chase running around or doing silly things instead of watching a spinning badge on the TV and progress bar on the Gamepad.
Also, I was frustrated by Lego City Undercover‘s constant mission statements. I’d have Chase running around, heading to replay an earlier mission or just exploring for fun, and get constant reminders telling me to head to the next mission. Given that this is an open world game, I’d appreciated a small reminder at the bottom of the screen, like the ones constantly telling me how to parkour or perform certain tasks, instead of hearing Chase or other characters telling me what to do all the time. It felt counter-intuitive. I’m playing an open world game, but the game is continually pestering me about what I should be doing next instead of just letting me race a firetruck through some foodcarts!
Still, these both are minor issues. I tuned out the reminders and I’m sure other players will too. As for loading times, I adjusted to them. They’re there and to cope, I’d remember how long loading times were during the PS1 and PS2 days. Compared to that, the load times were about average and when I considering how much I enjoy the other aspects of Lego City Undercover, it stopped bothering me.
Lego City Undercover is an enjoyable, family-friendly game and encourages players to do what makes them happy. Granted, some time must be invested to unlock Chase’s abilities so it is possible to access everything, but the story missions are entertaining so it’s worth going through them so I could experience every extra. At it’s heart, Lego City Undercover is a game Wii U owners desperately need. It’s the kind of game that will consume days and weeks of players time as they attempt to earn and see everything. Then, even when everything has been done, I’m sure people will still return as they do to Grand Theft Auto and other open-world games just to reexperience everything they loved again.
Food for Thought:
1. Occasionally, the Gamepad had display issues like the one pictured above. Pressing the Home button, going to Miiverse, then returning usually fixed the problem.
2. I love the Nintendo in-jokes and items. They fit in well and it felt like a quest to find each one. I’ve seen stars and bob-ombs so far, and I’ve heard you can catch Cheep Cheeps while fishing.
3. I like that subtitles for Gamepad calls appear on the TV screen. It’s helpful in case you accidentally have the volume down on tablet.