Review: Lego City: Undercover (Nintendo Wii U)

Lego City: Undercover
Developer: Traveller Tales
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Sandbox
Release Date: 03/18/2013

I know, right? This is a bit late. Lego City: Undercover came out in mid-March, right when my pet started having some severe medical issues and so I wasn’t able to touch it until now. I asked other Diehard GameFAN staffers if they wanted to review it instead of me and no one bit, which surprised me as the Lego games tend to be pretty popular. Better late than never though, right?

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the Lego games. I didn’t care for the Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones ones. They were too buggy and I hated the camera in them. However, I absolutely loved the Lego Pirates of the Carribean game so I thought perhaps Traveler Tales had turned a corner. Combine that with the fact I was getting desperate for a quality Wii U title (I currently only own three games for it: Tekken Tag Tournament 2: Wii U Edition, Batman: Arkham City Armored Editionand Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2, and I was hoping Lego City: Undercover would be enjoyable enough that I’d want to keep in my collection. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. While Lego City: Undercover sported a decent story and was Traveler Tales’ most ambition game to date, I just couldn’t get into it. It was a combination of too many control schemes and a very large world that was mostly padding and filler rather than a tight cohesive product. It’s one thing when a large open world has a ton of optional subquests like Fallout 3, Skyrim, or even Deadly Premonition, but when a game this expansive is pretty much just a linear story and the only reason to explore is to find unlockable characters and vehicles, it doesn’t have the draw or pull for me that I need to WANT to explore all that is offered in the game. Basically Lego City: Undercover is too big for its own good and the structure of the game, while impressive in size and scope, led me to being bored more often than not as the game’s story just rambled on most of the time and went off in weird and linear directions. It’s a shame too, as I liked the core characters and plot idea; it’s a shame they just didn’t stick to it.

Lego City: Undercover takes place some time after Lego City: The Chase Begins for the Nintendo 3DS, which is odd as TCB came out AFTER Undercover. Officer Chase McCain has returned to Lego City after being run out several years ago because master criminal Rex Fury has escaped and Chase is the only man that can bring him down. Unfortunately returning to Lego City hits Chase with all sorts of complications, from a bumbling but well-meaning sidekick to his love interest wanting nothing to do with him. Also, the chief of police is his old partner and he’s an even bigger jerk now that he has the reins of power. So Chase is not in the best of places, but he has a job to do and keeps his spirits up with a nonstop stream of one-liners and zingers. The game keeps the usual light hearted storytelling that we’ve come to know from the Lego branded games, with a lot of references, parodies, and homages to cop shows and movies from yesteryear.

Unfortunately, the further you get into the game, the more things fall apart. The first chapter or two are crammed with comedy bits, while the further you go into the game, the more the story is diluted into, “Go to location A, connect enough blocks for a Super Build, Go to Location B. Repeat.” This happens as early as chapters three and four where you run around a mine for no reason and just feels like padding and then after a cutscene where Rex Fury punches you, Chase runs off to learn Kung Fu instead of sticking with his missions. Don’t get me wrong, the levels can be fun and are well made, but unlike previous Lego games which were specifically tied to scenes from already told stories, Lego City: Undercover feels lost and confused with what to do with itself story wise, so it goes off on unneeded tangents and rambles along instead of being a tight and entertaining tale. At some point the game stopped being funny and just started being a generic experience and I’m disappointed by that.

Visually, Lego City: Undercover is easily the best looking Lego game ever made. The colors are sharp and brilliant and the models, be they background, vehicle, or figure are great to look at. I know it sounds funny fawning over the visuals in this game. After all, how good can a game made up of Legos look, right? Well, trust me, once you see how vast the world is along with some of the vehicles, you will be impressed by all the different things Traveler Tales made out of Legos AND how great they look. I still can’t get the vision of the dragon that shows up in Chapter Four out of my head. That thing was gorgeous and perhaps the single most impressive thing I’ve seen in a Lego video game.

Aurally the game is also pretty fun. I love all the voice acting in the game. It’s such a huge change from the previous Lego games that I have played that it took a few minutes to adjust to a fully voice acted game. I quickly grew to love it as all of the characters are well done and bring a lot of life to the game. I don’t think the game would be half as funny as it was (or a fourth as funny as it thinks it is) without the excellent voice working breathing life into the characters. The soundtrack for the game is equally fun which each track fitting the location and feel of the game nicely. The audio aspects are so well done, I can’t help but feel I would have liked the game better if it had been an animated feature or miniseries instead.

Then there is the gameplay. I appreciate what Traveler Tales tried to do with the GamePad, but I just didn’t enjoy playing the game with it. The panoramic scanning where you look for criminals and special building blocks just felt forced to me. I also couldn’t stand the driving portions. Not only were the vehicles wonky and somewhat difficult to maneuver, I didn’t like having to look down at my GamePad while driving for any potential hot spots I might want to check out. If I had done that behind a real car, it could have killed someone and it definitely caused me to crash the car in the game several times. No, all of the new things added into the game specifically for Lego City just didn’t feel right to me and I didn’t enjoy using any of them. Even things brought in from other Lego games, like Chase using the GamePad for assorted treasure hunts felt tacked on, unlike Lego Pirates of the Carrbiean where it felt thematically correct for Jack Sparrow to be doing it with his mystic compass. I appreciate the attempt and can totally see why other have enjoyed it; it simply wasn’t for me. Sometimes less is more, and Lego City: Undercover really proved that adage true.

Aside from the new gameplay additions, Lego City: Undercover plays like any other Lego game. You run around levels in a pretty linear fashion (although you have free reign in the overworld where honestly, there isn’t much to do save for finding unlockables and smashing stuff). You can’t really die and everything is pretty easy and straight-forward to get through. Camera angles are still pretty terrible and not very responsive to controls, but that’s par for the course with the series. You collect coins to spend on unlockables and now you also collect Build bricks to, well, build things in your world. Some of these are optional, like call points where you can summon new cars and Super Jumps which will let you traverse ravines if you have a turbo boosted car, but a lot of these are level specific things that you need to build in order to complete the level. The catch is that the level specific ones force you to have a lot of Build bricks in your possession. Sure the level gives you some, but often times not enough and to test things, out, I purposely spend all my Build bricks on optional things before doing a few levels and found that most of the time, you couldn’t get enough Build bricks in the level to actually build the item you NEEDED to in order to progress through the level. That means you have to leave the area and run around the open world simply trying to find enough Build bricks. This is fine in later stages where you have enough unlocked costumes and their associated skills to actually get the blocks when you find them, but in early stages this can be extremely dull and time consuming as you search for Build bricks you can actually obtain. This aspect of the game was terribly thought out and I think splitting purchases into two kinds of “currency” was a really bad idea, especially as you’ll have millions of coins just sitting there unused while you struggle at times to find Build bricks. Not good planning, especially when these games are geared for a younger audience.

There isn’t a lot of replay value to Lego City: Undercover either. Unlike every other Lego title, Undercover lacks a multiplayer option, which is a huge draw of the previous titles. No, this is a single player only game and as the story is quite linear compared to previous Lego games, the only thing you can do in Free Play is find items you missed the first time around or search the pretty huge world that is Lego City for some unlockables. There are a few bonus quests you can unlock but most of the game is just wandering looking for coins, Build brick or hidden unlockables. I’d have rather the game had more subquests and optional content you can run across instead of “100 unlockable vehicles” and the like. Some gamers are going to love searching out every nook and cranny for that last playable character or gold brick but it wasn’t for me. I wanted more story and aside from the very linear Story Mode (most of which is padding), there isn’t a drop to be had.

Balance-wise the game is pretty easy and so gamers of all skill level and ages should progress through the story chapters without any trouble at all. It’s only when you have to go looking for every last little thing to 100% the game where challenge begins to rear its head, and even then it’s more just having to look over every tiny piece in the mammoth world than any test of your skill or wits. Most gamers won’t even bother searching everything out and once the story is done, so too will be their time with this game. People who enjoy the scavenger hunt aspect of games will love how gigantic Lego City is and will have a blast hunting down every last little collectable and unlockable, but that’s going to be a fraction of the people that purchase Lego City: Undercover. Still for those gamers, this will undoubtedly be the best title released for the Wii U so far.

I can’t say I necessarily enjoyed my time with Lego City: Undercover. There was too much padding and I found myself being bored far more than I was amused, which isn’t the case with some previous Lego game releases. Had the story been tighter and there been more of an impetus to explore the world other than to find yet another character who already has the same skill as a half dozen others I’ve found already, I would have gotten into the game more. The game isn’t a bad one and I can definitely see the appeal of it for other gamers; it simply didn’t resonate with me. I personally felt that Lego City: Undercover was more style than substance and shows what happens when you plan a large expansive sandbox style world, but then don’t put enough meat or story into it. You end up having a place where you just run around for hours on end without encountering anything to do and that’s just boring. If you stick to the story, the game is a lot for fun (and funny), but at least half the chapters are simply padding that feel tacked on to increase the length of the game rather than adding anything of value to it. Call the game a thumbs in the middle as it could have been so much better, but it’s also the first time Traveler Tales has tried such a high concept project with this large of a world, so I can definitely see bigger and better things coming for Lego themed games after this one. I guess in the end Lego Pirates of the Carribean simply ended up being the one Lego game that resonated with me instead of the series turning a corner to where I can appreciate it better. I’m sure this is simply a case where the game and the reviewer clashed. Throughout it I was very appreciative of what TT was going for and the scope of their vision, but in the end the game was a little too dull, slow moving and empty for me and it is what it is.

Short Attention Span Summary
Lego City: Undercover is a decent game, but by no means the system exclusive that Nintendo needs to really get momentum building for the Wii U. It’s the largest and more impressive world Traveler Tales has ever created for a Lego game, but it’s also pretty devoid of content unless you want to spend sixty+ hours looking for hidden items and unlockables instead of sub-quests and optional storylines which is usually the appeal for sandbox style games. As such, veering off from the core storyline (which while padded, can be quite funny at times) generally leave one a bit bored unless you have OCD to the point where you need to find every unlockable in a game. In that case, Lego City: Undercover will be up your alley as there are hundreds to find. It’s also the best looking Lego game ever and sports a wonderful cast of actors that fully voice the game, but there’s not enough substance to the title once you get over the sheer style it oozes with.




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