The Lego games have always had a suspicious presence within gaming. For a construction toy range dropped by most of us after the age of ten, the 46 Lego games released to date must be doing something right to hold our attention in such a way.
Since 2005 the series has utilised outside licenses, but it is in returning to the Lego license alone that the series creates its most involving and original title to date. Lego City Undercover plays off a variety of film and TV clichés to create an original theme that eclipses previous Lego titles.
The plot is all cop stereotype, but it plays up all expectations of the genre so vibrantly that it’s impossible not to smile. You play Chase McClain, a cop returning after a lengthy suspension to put away the villainous criminal Rex Fury. A romance plot with a femme fatale complicates the matter and, between a bumbling side kick and an angry chief of police, it’s a recipe that merges the slapstick humour the Lego games are famous for with a more adult post-modern pastiche of cop drama.
Aside from relying on its own license, the big change from previous Lego games comes in the form of a large open world. Open world elements were first introduced in last year’s Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes to great acclaim, and they stand up well here. The standard platform levels are interspersed among missions on the larger maps and, regardless of the size, the levels are all designed immaculately. The open map is particularly impressive, hiding a myriad of secrets and skill jumps that prove hugely addictive and involving.
It’s a good thing the polished levels provide such addictive challenges, as the mechanics themselves are fairly shallow. Combat has been slightly improved over earlier Lego games by the inclusion of counter and throw mechanics, but platforming is still very basic. Variety is injected through a selection of costumes that give Chase new powers and, whilst these are welcome, it doesn’t totally correct the simplistic nature of City’s gameplay. This isn’t always a bad thing, as the accessible nature of the game will allow it to appeal to a much wider audience, but things can get a bit repetitive because of this.
Whilst great strides have been made with the open world and general mechanics, a step back has been taken with regard to the co-op play usually found in Lego titles. Drop in co-op has been a staple of the series for years, so it’s a shame City has done away it completely. I can understand it would have caused havoc to design co-op around the game’s open world elements but, for those levels that are more linear as in previous Lego games, the return of co-op would have been much appreciated.
The game’s place on Wii U doesn’t make a huge amount of sense for the gameplay though. The few Wii U Gamepad elements are cool but unnecessary and, though the lack of forced Gamepad gimmicks is welcome, there is nothing about the console to demand Lego City Undercover’s exclusivity. That said, the extra bit of graphical clout on offer is well used. Though the Lego theme doesn’t exactly lend itself to photo-realism, the visuals remain vibrant and crisp throughout. Even when the open world throws a tonne of rendering at the Wii U, it handles it well with little to no slow down. Granted, the draw distance isn’t exactly mind-blowing, but the visual package suits the game incredibly well and is complemented by an appropriate score.
Between the linear levels (all of which can be replayed when you have more costumes to access new areas) and the secrets harboured by the open world, Lego City Undercover is a massive game. Though the shallow gameplay may be a turn off for some, there’s a huge amount to sink your teeth into if the accessibility reels you in. The main story itself offers hours of content, but you can expect the title to seriously eat into your time if you’re searching for the elusive 100%.
It’s ironic that, in returning to an original Lego license, Lego City Undercover becomes one of the most relevant Lego titles in years. Its myriad film and TV references will endear it to all but the most stone-hearted and, though it may not have the depth and complexity of other titles, its charm and convincing open world make it one of the stand out Wii U exclusives currently available.
This game was reviewed on Wii U.