When I first saw LEGO City Undercover, the first thing that came to mind was the music video for the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage: fictional cops with over-the-top car chases, disguises, and ridiculous hair. While this $49.99 Nintendo Wii U game doesn’t have Mike D, MCA, or Ad-Rock screaming into a microphone and there’s no unlockable Cochise skin (the latter of which would have made this my game of the year), LEGO City Undercover is packed full of ridiculous, funky, family-friendly police action and stands as one of the best games on the Wii U so far.
You play Chase McCain, returning to LEGO City after a few years away. The man you put behind bars, Rex Fury, has broken out, and a crime wave is sweeping the streets of this brick-based San Francisco analog. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto or Sleeping Dogs, though; criminals are all bank robbers or similarly simple criminals, and firefights are nonexistent. Instead, you’ve got to overcome your enemies using judo flips, fist-fights, and handcuffs.
Chase has a wide variety of tools that get unlocked through the game, integrated into the “police communicator” (the menu and map system on the Wii U gamepad’s screen) and the disguises Chase can wear. The Wii U gamepad screen serves as a map, but it also lets you scan for criminals and hidden objects by holding it up to the TV and treating it like an augmented reality scanner. It serves as a video communicator for in-games call you receive, and you’ll hear the voices of your erstwhile partner Frank and dispatcher Ellie through the gamepad’s speakers, too.
Chase isn’t exactly a gunslinger, and he doesn’t get the job done by shooting or even punching enemies (much). Instead, most puzzles are solved by putting on different disguises, giving the game a sense of variety similar to the Super Nintendo classic The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. As a police officer, Chase can use a grappling hook gun and free run through certain obstacles. Disguised a criminal, Chase can use a crowbar to open doors and crack safes. The miner disguise lets Chase blow up boulders, the farmer disguise lets Chase water planets and make platforms appear, and the fireman disguise lets Chase break through boarded up doors and put out fires.
Since this is an open-world, Grand Theft Auto-styled game, driving plays a major part. Thankfully, you can wave down any driver with your police whistle and commandeer your car, and you can unlock a fleet of over 100 vehicles you can access at buildable call-in points scattered through the city. Driving is simple, with the right trigger accelerating and the left trigger breaking and going in reverse. Vehicles have their own health meters, and once they take enough damage they collapse into a pile of bricks. Fortunately, even small cars are resilient, and there are plenty of roads, alleys, and jump ramps to take through the city. The driving control isn’t extremely tight, but it’s responsive enough to feel fun and simple without worrying about things like drifting.
LEGO City isn’t huge compared to Grand Theft Auto’s Liberty City, and the areas can seem cramped in the beginning until you unlock more places to explore, but it’s satisfyingly diverse, with lots of different environments to play in. The game gives an impression of San Francisco at first, complete with a Lombard Street analog and an Alcatraz-like island prison, but it opens up into areas that look like other parts of other cities and settings, like New York, Miami, and even national park neighborhoods.
While you explore LEGO City in a Grand Theft Auto open-world way, the main missions of the game are punctuated by traditional LEGO game levels, where you’re placed in linear stages with a nearly fixed camera and have to build your way to the end. These levels allow for more intricate set pieces and involved puzzles than the open world exploration, so the different pace during them is welcome.
This is strictly a single-player game, with no online mode or local co-op. You won’t miss them any more than you did in the pre-San Andreas Grand Theft Auto games; there’s so much to do in the city on your own and the action is so focused with taking you through areas that there isn’t much of a place for multiplayer.
Lots to Find
Since this is also a LEGO game, there are a ton of unlockables to find, build, and buy. Tokens are scattered all through the city that unlock additional disguises (including analogs of Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, and Horatio Cane… but no Cochise) and vehicles (but the main game mechanic-based disguises are all found in the story missions), and once they’re unlocked you can purchase them with “studs” (the in-game currency) in the police headquarters. There are also several Super Builds scattered through the city like vehicle drop-off points, houses, and landmarks you can build by collecting bricks (and searching for hidden gold bricks, which are worth thousands of bricks).
The humor really shines through, with full voice acting and excellent animation turning the entire world into a strange cartoon. While some aspects can be as grating as they are funny (like partner Frank Honey’s loud screams and Fry-like stupidity), LEGO City Undercover surprised me by bringing out more laughs than I’ve gotten from a game since Borderlands 2. The amount of computer-generated visual gags reminded me more than a little of the show Reboot, with unoffensive humor packed full of charm.
LEGO City looks great, but in 1080p the differences between the buildings, vehicles, and plants made of Lego and the more realistically modeled dirt and rocks can be jarring. The seams between the LEGO aspects and the realistic backgrounds look strange, but not too much more so than any other LEGO game in the past that combined those elements (and every LEGO game from LEGO Star Wars to LEGO Indiana Jones featured realistic set-pieces and weren’t completely made of bricks). The action can generally be very smooth, but the framerate dipped occasionally when I was driving.
The biggest problem in the game is the load times. They’re excruciating. It takes upwards of a minute to get into the police headquarters or load a story mission, and the funky detective show music that plays will wear on you fast when you’re watching the badge spin on the screen.
LEGO City Undercover isn’t a game-changer for the Nintendo Wii U, but it’s a compelling argument to dust off the four-month-old system and play something that isn’t a Nintendo franchise or a port of a game released a year ago. It’s fun, friendly, and funny, even if it’s not especially deep or remotely challenging.
|Platform||Nintendo Wii U|
|ESRB Rating||E for Everybody|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc