Everyone who’s a self-proclaimed fan of Traveller’s Tales Lego games can profess to wonder about a real open-world Lego game. Imagine this: a Lego title where players could wander around a big, open-world environment freely, explore a bunch of hidden nooks and crannies, and break things apart till their heart’s content, only to put them back together again.
It’s a territory that TT Games has been exploring with their latest titles, and one I believe they’ve perfected with TT Fusion’s Lego City Undercover. Placing players in the role of cop Chase McCain, and featuring gameplay similar to Grand Theft Auto, it’s a bold new direction for the franchise. Is this decision to step out of the comfort zone, however, a wise one for the developers?
Lego City Undercover
Developed by TT Fusion / Published by Nintendo
Available on the Nintendo Wii U
*Review copy provided by Nintendo
In LCU, we get to play through the story of Chase McCain, super-cop. Before the events of the game, McCain managed to capture powerhouse and all-around bad guy Rex Fury and place him in jail. Now that the famed criminal has escaped custody, McCain is called back into action to capture Fury once again before all hell breaks loose in the city.
The story, which is completely original this time around and not based on an existing franchise, is a fantastic adventure tale with plenty of TT’s signature humor. Thanks to the world of Lego City being a fabrication of the development team, the setting allows for a plot that’s full of charm and surprises, and isn’t handicapped by licenses like some of the previous titles.
The biggest difference here though, is the gameplay. Gone are the hub worlds and players picking stages. Instead, players get missions on the spot via the Wii U gamepad, and must then make their ways across the city to pick up missions.
That’s right. Chase McCain can make his way across the game’s sprawling city as he’d like, be it on foot or vehicle (cars, boats and aircraft!). Players are not limited in their exploration by invisible walls or barricades, and can explore and collect objects as they see fit, which is pretty fantastic. Thanks to the spot-on controls on the Wii U controller, doing everything is easy, from moving on foot and climbing walls, to driving around the city in a variety of vehicles.
To help in the exploration, the map of the sprawling city is always available to the player via the Wii U controller touch screen. Using touch, players can place and erase waypoints, play messages, activate scanners that reveal hidden objects, and more. The Wii U touch screen is expertly handled here, a plays a vital role in keeping things streamlined.
That’s not to say this game is all about exploring, as Chase still has plenty of crime fighting to do. Missions are delivered Grand Theft Auto style, as players have to make their way to locations to initiate the mission. These missions are very enjoyable and full of humor, can take place in the city exterior or inside stages designed like previous Lego games. They also play out similarly too, as players must complete objectives while picking studs, hidden collectables and bricks.
Chase, being the awesome guy that he is, has access to a wide variety of gadgets and tools at his disposal to fight crime. The first ability he has is that he can change costumes that serve a number of functions. While he starts the game with a police uniform and civilian clothing, eventually McCain will get access to burglar clothing that will allow him to break doors and safes, a miner suit that will grant him use of a pickaxe and dynamite, among other costumes. These not only help players get through the game’s story stages, but also allow Chase to reach previously inaccessable areas in the city. McCain allows gets a number of tools along the way, like being able to use the Wii U controller to follow footprints, gain access to a grappling hook, and more, so these really help Chase get to the bottom of things.
Chase is also a pretty capable one-man army. New in LCU is the ability use parkour moves to traverse the game environment. Locations are littered with blue and white blocks, and Chase can use these to wall run, wall jump, climb, scale, and slide under, all the while looking cool doing it. He can also use nifty martial arts and judo throws to take down his foes, and once they are grounded, he can slap on some handcuffs to finally dispatch them. Combat is always a treat in this game, despite how simple it is.
When it comes to presentation, the game does a great job. Visually, TT has refined the Lego formula once more, with detailed buildings, improved draw distance, nice looking character models, and more. While there’s only so much you can do with Legos, given how cartoony they are, the developers manage to juice it as much as they can, giving us a gorgeous-looking game.
The audio in the game is spectacular. Every character is fully-voiced, and the voice actors do a great job at bringing the cast to life. Sound effects are also top-notch, creating the illusion of a living, breathing city.
While LCU could almost be considered perfect, it does has a couple of flaws. The most glaring issue is that it’s only single-player. Nearly all Lego games before it have carried a multi-player element, so it’s disheartening that the game can’t be shared with friends or family.
Another issue I had was with the super blocks. In addition to studs, players can also collect these to build important objects, like a car dispenser, bridges to stages, among other things. The problem with these is that it often gets in the way of player’s progressing through the story. Many times I wanted to keep playing through the storyline, only to find out I had to collect a large quantity of super blocks to build something in order to access the next mission, which delayed my questing quite a bit. It’s a hindrance that’s pretty frustrating.
Finally, the game has loading issues. Loading from the main screen to the game takes a couple of minutes, and then before every mission more loading takes place. While I understand the game is massive, the long loading times is quite unacceptable.
For a game that’s TT’s first real open-world sandbox game, I’ve got to say that I’m very impressed. The gameplay is fun and addictive, the story is solid, and the open-world traversal is as easy as it can be. The game’s definitively missing some multiplayer options, but as it stands so far, I wouldn’t mind playing as McCain again and again and again.