‘LEGO City Undercover’ Review – Grand Theft LEGO

“LEGO Star Wars” changed the game for plastic brick-based video games. Everyone has always loved the small, injection-molded blocks that have served as a bastion of childhood creativity, but something was always lost when those playthings made their way to video games. “LEGO Star Wars” cracked up the formula, and actually created a LEGO game with mass appeal. In 2005, Traveler’s Tales took a major motion picture franchise, blockified it, and turned it into one of the most endearing games of all time. By bridging the gap between kids’ love of LEGOs, and (geeky) adults’ passion for “Star Wars,” Traveler’s Tales struck video game gold. And then they did again, and again, and again – with franchises ranging from “Pirates of the Caribbean” to Batman – creating wonderful experiences for all ages along the way. However, each of their LEGO games inherited an installed audience, since they were all licensed in one way or another. So, what happens when TT Games sets out to make an original LEGO title? They make the best game in the entire franchise.

“LEGO City Undercover” follows the story of Chase McCain, a former cop in LEGO City who has returned to take down the notorious escape convict, Rex Fury. Chase and Rex have squared off in the past, setting the stage for an all out police investigation where our hero must do whatever it takes to track down his longtime foe. As a cop, Chase has a variety of tools at his disposal, the most important of which are his (as the name implies) undercover skills, which allow him to swap into a range of different character types. In addition to Chase chasing down Rex, he must also balance a couple other unsteady relationships as well – one with a former love interest, Natalia, and another with a less than friendly police chief.

“Undercover” adapts virtually all of the gameplay mechanics that have been presented over the last eight years in the other LEGO games, and combines them into one, cohesive, open world experience. Chase, and his various personas, are armed with everything from a grappling hook to a pick axe, each of which cover a necessary role at various points through out the game. With the hundreds (thousands?) of characters that have been adapted over the course of the last thirteen LEGO games, there aren’t really a lot of new things TT could give Chase to play with, but they do make make everything accessible at the click of a button (once it’s unlocked through the story). Chase can hot-swap between his different skills (similar to classic Mega Man), allowing instant access to the solution to whatever problems face him throughout the city. One additional new feature that “Undercover” incorporates is the Wii U controller, making it your personal GPS/map and communication device. As the game progresses it also grows into a bunch of different roles (listening device, camera, etc.) that Chase will need to combat crime.

While the story mode layers on each of these new skills one at a time, they each slowly open up all of the potential of the city, making it an amazing place to explore, over and over again. LEGO City is built out with a wide range of environments, offering almost every different kind of locale for Chase to explore. Monuments, forests, prison, the beach, numerous iconic bridges, Times Square-ish, a Zen temple – LEGO City actually has it all. It’s is so big and vast, that it’s very easy to stray off course, especially if you’re the type of player that can be easily distracted. Perhaps you want to seek out some Super Builds, search for more unlockable characters, or you just want to steal a car and drive over some minifigures – like so many other open world games, it’s hard to stay focused on the story mode when you can pretty much do whatever you want from the outset of the game. Best of luck to whomever dedicates the next few months of their lives to 100% this game, it’s going to take you a while.

Somehow, adding humor into games is something that has escaped countless developers, but TT Games seem to have mastered the art. “Undercover” is packed with lovable characters, humorous writing, and a host of pop culture parodies that create different layers of humor for the different audiences of the game. Adults will appreciate the “Goodfellas” plot line, kids will appreciate the fact that they can make their Wii U communicator burp when there is an incoming call, and everyone should love Frank Honey (seen above) – the bumbling officer who is too rich to fire. “Undercover” actually posses the ability to make you laugh out loud while playing a game, making it a diamond in the rough.

All is not perfect in LEGO City, and “Undercover” does have a couple of inherent issues. First, and most noticeably, are the load times. While these could simply be products of the hardware, they are long – really long – so much so that it’s worth having something else to do while they’re happening. Fortunately, when you’re traveling around the city, everything seems copacetic, and they really only break up the flow of the game during transitional moments (like going inside or outside of a building). They don’t ruin the overall experience, but they certainly hamper it.

Hardware limitations aside, the only other thing that could really mar the enjoyment of the game is its difficulty level since it’s pretty easy. In order to scale for the wide age range of the audience, TT Games clearly opted to accommodate the younger players with the gameplay, while keeping the adults entertained with its witty writing and almost constant parodies. For seasoned gamers, “Undercover” is a game that ends up being more enjoyable than challenging.

“LEGO City Undercover” is good – surprisingly good. It has the same infectious gameplay as a “Grand Theft Auto,” or, more accurately, “Sleeping Dogs.” It is exceptionally easy to fall in to the “one more mission” cycle, and not come up for breath until hours later. “Undercover” manages to take all of the serious, deep, and occasionally disturbing aspects out of these typically Mature rated games, stripping them down to their supremely enjoyable core elements. Sure, there are unfortunately long load times, and a lot of the puzzles and gameplay have been scaled down to make them accessible for all ages, but there are also tons of missions to complete and hundreds of bricks to collect. Even beyond the gameplay, past LEGO games had to rely a lot on their source material to carry their story, however, “Undercover” manages to craft both a compelling, and truly entertaining tale essentially from scratch, making it well worth the price of entry. “LEGO City Undercover” have managed to crack the code to creating an enjoyable and accessible open world crime game for all ages, easily making it a must buy for any Wii U owner that has a sense of humor.

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