If you’ve been playing with LEGO kits since you were a kid (or if you still are), chances are you have high expectations for LEGO City Undercover, the latest videogame to feature the popular toy brand (and one that doesn’t rely on an existing franchise like Harry Potter or Star Wars for its setting). After you’ve put in several hours of playing, building and exploring, though, you’ll find it safe to say that LEGO City Undercover delivers an excellent open-world experience with entertaining gameplay – on top of being hilarious to boot.
You play as Chase McCain, a veteran cop with a chiseled jaw (well, as chiseled as a LEGO Minifig can have) and an unorthodox manner of capturing lawbreakers. Chase is returning to LEGO City after a two year hiatus to re-capture Rex Fury, a notorious criminal who, having recently escaped from Albatross Prison under mysterious circumstances, is looking to get into some mischief. In his quest to stop Fury, Chase will infiltrate several organized crime rings, parkour across rooftops, race through LEGO city in high-speed police chases, disguise himself as a robber, a fireman, or an astronaut, and steal a giant robotic T-Rex from a museum. Suffice to say, Chase is a busy man with many talents.
“Busy” is actually an accurate word I’d use to describe LEGO City and its very robust story campaign, but in a good way. While most of the missions have a straightforward objective, and can implement a few repetitive mechanics at times (you’ll find yourself having to drive from Point A to Point B very often), there’re all very distinct from each other and a blast to play. Throughout the game you’ll unlock various “disguises” that’ll give you special abilities, such as Chase’s police outfit letting you use a grappling hook, or his miner’s outfit, which affords you the use of dynamite. You’ll cycle through your wardrobe often (and thankfully easily) through each story mission, using your abilities to complete a wide variety of puzzles, item hunts, and platforming sequences. You’ll be surprised to see how complex the story objectives can get, and you’ll often have to swap from one disguise to another in quick succession order to solve an impressively tricky puzzle or push through an obstacle blocking your way. But, even if at times it feels a little like the game is trying to pad itself out, you’ll hardly mind any of it when the end result lets you build a cool looking LEGO dragon that breathes fire, or gives you a chance to zip across waterborne ramps in a high-speed motorboat.
When you’re not infiltrating an aeronautics facility or beating up mafia thugs in a scrap yard, you’ll have free rein to explore LEGO City and its highly-detailed open world environment. Throughout your travels, you’ll pick up LEGO studs which you can use to purchase cosmetic items for your disguises, and LEGO bricks for summoning up constructions at various build points, like vehicle drop-off points, bridges or mission critical items like the aforementioned robotic T-Rex.
This is actually one of the most impressive aspects about LEGO City Undercover that you’ll come to love the most – you’ll rarely find yourself bored, thanks to the sheer number of side missions, collectibles, unlockable costume sets, vehicles, secret objectives and Easter eggs scattered across the game world, just waiting for you to find them. And as you gain access to new abilities and disguises, more and more side areas will open up in the city, offering even more bonus items and unlockables. There’s a ton of incentive to go back and replay story missions that might’ve had a side area that was blocked off because you didn’t have access to a particular ability, just to see what rewards you can find. With so much side content stashed away in nearly every nook and cranny of the game, any time you feel the need to take just a quick break from capturing criminals or racing your way across town, you’ll easily find something to do, and you’ll enjoy some of the unique surprises that’ll pop up along the way.
The Wii U gamepad primarily serves as your minimap for the game, letting you take a quick look down at its screen to get an idea of where you are without having to pause the game, but also acts as a communicator so various characters can feed you info on missions and objectives. At various points in the story missions you’ll come across areas where Chase can scan his surroundings for objectives or listen in on a criminal’s conversation (giving you a kind of x-ray vision on the gamepad’s screen), while out of the main campaign it can help you mark the location of bonus items like the valuable super bricks that let you build the larger constructions much faster than gathering up regular pieces. You won’t have to use the scanner all the time, so it won’t break the game’s flow, but it can feel really frustrating having to swivel around in your seat when using the game pad – especially if what you’re looking for is directly behind you. And you’ll unfortunately be limited to marking one target at at time, so if you are hoping to, say, climb up a tall tower to plot out the locations of all the bonus items you can find in an area, you’re out of luck – a minor inconvenience, but it can be tedious to have to constantly re-mark points of interest.
While there are times Chase will get hung up on the debris left over from a LEGO construction you destroyed, or you’ll have to wrestle with the camera to get a good view point, it’s actually hard to nitpick LEGO City Undercover because it does such a good job of being a lighthearted game. There are many, many tongue-in-cheek references to several classic cop dramas like Starsky and Hutch in addition to movies like The Matrix, The Titanic and even The Shawshank Redemption. Sure, some of the jokes get a little corny at times, but rarely a moment will go by in which you won’t find something to make you chuckle.
Bottom Line: Simply put, LEGO City Undercover is a blast to play. It’s funny, challenging, and features tons of extra content that’ll keep you busy for hours. Sure, it’s got a few minor quibbles here and there but it’s hard to dwell on them when everything else is so enjoyable.
Recommendation: Regardless of how old you are, if you’re a fan of LEGO or are looking for something light-hearted to play, grab LEGO City Undercover and you’ll be sure to smile.[rating=4.5]