The LEGO video game universe is massive, and it appears to be growing larger by the day. While it was released some time ago, we never got a chance to review this Wii U exclusive; that is until now. LEGO City Undercover has been granted the distinction of not only being the first exclusive LEGO title for Nintendo’s new machine, but also the first in the series not based off of another property. This is an original game, and on a grand scale. TT Games has taken a huge gamble on the franchise, now to find out if it paid off.
LEGO City Undercover is for all intents and purposes Grand Theft Auto with blocks. This is an open world game that allows players to venture around, performing various missions as an undercover cop named Chase McCain. The story involves Chase’s return to LEGO City, and is delivered with some clever dialogue that rounds out all the characters nicely. Now, don’t expect it to redesign the way storytelling is done, though the charming approach definitely suits the style. I laughed out loud at some of the jokes, and rolled my eyes at others.
The interaction between characters and their involvement make the story as entertaining as it is. The slapstick humor guides the journey; while the pacing could be improved, I still had a blast tearing through the main missions just to meet up with new and interesting characters. The main game still feels like a LEGO game for better or worse. Combat is essentially pressing one button over and over, while the puzzles feel archaic at times, and incoherent at others. I have never understood the innate complexity in design with the LEGO titles. The simplest things become the most annoying chores more often than not, and with an open world like LEGO City, that is only amplified.
I am still not a fan of the LEGO game play. Controlling Chase is more cumbersome than it should be. Simple contextual events such as using the grappling hook, or lining up a jump become difficult thanks to the stiff feel of the series. I have always had this problem with it, and am still not sure why TT Games has yet to address it. Everything else about the series has been refined and progressed, except the game play. This creates an even bigger issue with such a large scale game as a lot of the collecting and post game material can become tedious, and when it isn’t player skill so much as it is the game mechanics, it simply exacerbates it.
The post game is by far the most enjoyable aspect of LEGO City though. The core missions are linear and require repetition of the finest degree. However, once players complete the main quest and gain access to all of the areas of the island, the playground is a blast to get lost in. There are still too many studs to collect, and while finding every single hidden item throughout the world is a task best left for those that enjoy tedium, one cannot argue the sheer scope of stuff to do.
Technically, the game runs into issues on multiple levels. As I mentioned, the controls are certainly not ideal, especially the driving. Sliding around corners and constantly running into objects only complicates chase sequences. Load times are equally horrendous. I was constantly greeted with a “waiting” screen as I attempted to progress further into the story. Dying results in another extended wait period. So much of my time was spent staring at the loading screen I started to wonder how larger, more expansive games would perform on the system.
Gamepad features are robust, with the controller serving as a map as well as an audio listening device to incoming transmissions. The waypoint system and navigational tools are all imperative to the experience, which comes at a cost. LEGO City cannot be played off TV like most other Wii U games. This is a bummer, as I love that feature. Being able to carry my experience to another part of the house is fantastic, and when omitted I really do miss it.
Visually, the game looks good in most cases. The scope of the city is impressive, but the frame rate and broken camera system really hinder the experience. I love the voice acting, even if some of the jokes fall flat, and the music is quite catchy in most cases. The abysmal loading times are the true criminal here though, and I cannot stress enough how optimization would have gone a long way in improving the overall experience.
LEGO City Undercover is a solid exclusive title for Nintendo’s machine; especially with the severe lack of software currently on the market. If you own a Wii U and can tolerate the shortcomings of the LEGO series it is easy to recommend. Those who have grown tired of the massive collect-a-thons though might find themselves rolling their eyes again at the tedium that ensues.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.