Developer: TT Fusion / Publisher: Nintendo / Played on: Wii U / Price: $49.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor]
Owners of the Wii U have been hurting for the last few months. The glow of having a new console has more or less faded, and we’ve played most, if not all, of the exclusive games worth playing. Simply put, we need another title to help us justify the purchase of Nintendo’s newest console. LEGO City Undercover might just be that game. It isn’t quite a killer-app, but it is a ridiculously fun game. Any Wii U owner would be crazy not to add it to their collection.
The title says it all: the game takes place in Lego City, which is, of course, composed entirely of the plastic building bricks and populated by Lego people. You take on the role of Chase McCain, a supercop who’s been called back to town to recapture Rex Fury, an escaped criminal you’d put away years before. The plot is as old and hackneyed as every cop show or ‘80s action movie you’ve ever seen—and that’s the point. Undercover is basically a big love-letter to the cop-drama genre, in the form of a kid-friendly parody that literally anyone who can hold a controller will thoroughly enjoy.
In the run-up to its release, LEGO City Undercover has been jokingly called Grand Theft LEGO, a reference to the city-based, open-world gameplay styles it shares with the GTA series. And while I’m sure the game’s creators aren’t eager to play up the comparison for fear of scaring off parents, it’s too apt a nickname to deny. As Chase, you stop criminals (or sometimes join them), and act with impunity as you run, drive, and fly all across the metro. Any car you see is available to you with just the touch of a button. As the game progresses, you get access to flying vehicles, boats, and more—so much more that I’d hate to ruin the surprise by describing them here.
Like all games in the LEGO series, you run and jump through action-adventure levels, collecting LEGO bricks (used for building new features of the city or call-in points for more vehicles) and studs (used to buy costumes or vehicles) as you beat up bad guys and bash objects. There’s some light puzzle solving, low-stakes combat and platforming.
Since you have unlimited lives, you can fall or get knocked out as many times as necessary. But while some games emphasize the challenge and difficulty as main selling points, for Undercover, it’s all about exploration and play. You’re frequently rewarded for checking out every nook and cranny, either with studs, bricks, or just awesome crazy stuff happening.
At one point I was supposed to head up to the country for a mission, so I grabbed a car that looked fast and started to drive. But then I saw a ramp in the middle of downtown I hadn’t noticed before. So, naturally, I gunned it. The ramp sent the car sailing into the air (with Matrix-style slo-mo effects) and crashing onto the second floor of a mall. I kept accelerating, hitting the nitro boost as I exited out the other side. More cinematic bullet-time and camera spins. I landed, and noticed another ramp that I hadn’t seen before. I kept going, this time exploding through a gigantic globe situated in the middle of a fountain. And then I hit yet another ramp on the outside of a tunnel, which sent me into the middle of a park.
Moments like this keep happening as you play, making LEGO City Undercover feel like a gigantic toy box. The story mode is great, because it keeps you moving from one part of the city to another but very rarely with any time-constraints. Usually, if you’re distracted by something interesting, you can just check it out and see what happens. The game will gently remind you about your next objective, but otherwise, you can go wild.
On the subject of story mode, the writers who crafted Undercover’s script deserve an award, as it’s by far one of the best I’ve experienced since Portal 2. As Chase’s adventure unfurls, players are treated to hilarious, sharp dialogue. The jokes rarely fall flat, and the plot itself is surprisingly compelling—in much the same way that Beverly Hills Cop’s story keeps you interested, that is.
As Chase’s investigation into Rex Fury’s whereabouts continues, he works his way into the city’s crime organizations, pulling jobs and heists with increasing insanity and ridiculous resolutions.
Okay, small spoiler: at one point I actually led the police on a chase through the city while driving a gigantic, rocket-powered plow…and that’s only one of several great pay-offs.
Meanwhile the characters talk about what’s going on with just the right mix of earnestness and self-awareness. It’s refreshing to play a game with so little cynicism, and isn’t afraid to just be goofy and fun. The bright animation and rubbery characters do wonders to convey that feeling, and the excellent music is infectious. Sometimes you’re treated to a funk-inspired action tune in the vein of Starksy & Hutch, and other times you can’t help but get excited as an epic James Bond-style score plays while you stop the villain’s dastardly plans.
Of course, a script is nothing without actors to bring it to life, and the voice cast for Undercover is incredible. I can’t think of a single weak performance—all of these actors brought their best efforts to the table. I was sad when I finished the story campaign, and I would gladly watch a TV series set in Lego City, as long as the cast members get to reprise their roles. It’s a rare feat for a video game to consistently make a player laugh, and Undercover managed this with me throughout my entire experience.
It doesn’t hurt that the controls are great as well. Chase runs, jumps, and fights really easily, and it’s usually a snap to do whatever it is that you’re trying to do with few frustrations (though there were just a few—more on that in a bit). What’s really impressive are the vehicles. Each car has its own character, with lumbering fire trucks and construction vehicles handling much differently from snappy little coupes, or motorcycles, or your squad car. The amount of depth that went into each car’s characteristics is truly impressive, and trying new cars never gets stale.
Chase gains new abilities as he finds different disguises, and each one is as supremely easy to use as the last one. Part of this is clearly a result of LEGO City Undercover geared as much for kids as it is for adults. And as I mentioned earlier, the game itself is pretty easy. Most bad guys can be dispatched with the touch of two buttons, with combat resembling a simplified Arkham City.
But its ease-of-use isn’t a drawback at all. If anything, the game’s easiness made it that much more fun to just go wild exploring. And you won’t be done quickly, either: the story mode’s fifteen chapters took me over twenty hours to complete—though, I do admit I got sidetracked exploring. Even after I’d finished the story campaign, I’d only managed to complete about thirty percent of the game. Not only are there super-bricks to discover, and log cabins and stunt ramps to build, there are tons of side-missions utilizing the GamePad’s clue-tracker and audio-scanner to help me find bad guys and stop them before they cause trouble. I can’t wait to dive back in.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t perfect. I actually noticed the first problem before I even got a chance to play: LEGO City Undercover has some ridiculously long load-times. When switching from the city to police headquarters, you stare at the load screen for over a full minute, while changing in and out of missions can take around 25 or 30 seconds. The long load times are a serious drag on an otherwise fun romp.
There are some camera issues too. When running around the city, moving the camera feels sluggish. It’s worse in missions, as the camera stays at a fixed point. That can lead to bits of the foreground obstructing your view, or simply not a close-enough shot to see gaps or obstacles that need to be avoided.
Even still, these are minor complaints when held up against the huge amount of freedom and fun to be found in Lego City. As I’m writing this, I really want to play more, even though about forty percent of my waking hours from the last few days have been spent there. Nintendo probably won’t sell many Wii U consoles on the strength of LEGO City Undercover alone, but it’s a wonderful addition to the woefully small library of must-haves for the still-new system.
This is one of my favorite games of the last few months…and, in fact, I’m having a hard time remembering the last time I had this much pure, unmitigated fun just playing, period. If you’ve got a Wii U that’s been gathering dust since you finished ZombiU and New Super Mario Bros. U, buy LEGO City Undercover. That’s all there is to it.
+Amazing freedom in a dizzying, fully-realized open-world
+Great script, voice acting, and music
- Egregiously long load times
9 / 10