LEGO City Undercover might be the most ambitious LEGO game yet. Not only does it promise an open world adventure, but it also wants to win over your heart and mind with its eccentric action movie references that appeal to an older crowd, and full Wii U GamePad support.
While it doesn’t totally deliver on any of these fronts, it builds a great compromise.
Like most cheesy cop movies, Undercover puts you in the shoes of Chase McCain — a legendary ex-cop who has to once again track down arch nemesis and uber-criminal, Rex Fury. Just say those two names out loud with a ridiculous 90s-speak elongation and you’ll have an idea of what to expect here, humor wise. The game’s tone ranges from obscure references, to the odd Shrek style euphemism fueled jokes, to general chicanery. What really makes it work here is the delivery — the voice actors all provide stellar performances that help enhance the experience.
Whether you enjoy this humor is basically up to how much you like light-hearted fun. Nothing is to obscene, and if you’re into campy flicks like the original Batman movie/TV series, you’ll feel right at home. Otherwise, you won’t be able to hear the game’s dialog over your groans.
Through its unique use of humor and visual style, Undercover manages to forge its own identity outside of the auspices of Star Wars, DC Comics and Lord of the Rings, even if it doesn’t suck you in nearly as much as those aforementioned games. While the open world isn’t all that big, I enjoyed riding around and taking it all in for quite a while. Unfortunately, the game’s visuals don’t really look nearly as good as they could on a “next generation” console (with some jaggies to boot), but for a LEGO game, they get the job done well enough.
Gameplay wise, I didn’t really have any problems outside of the obscenely large load times in-between scenes– some of which pushed into the one to two minute mark — and occasional framerate issues. For the most part, the game controls like a LEGO game should.
“Super Builds” give you the sense that you’re building the game’s world as you progress, which helps as a fun little way to facilitate progress through the campaign. Chase can utilize costumes (hence the Undercover moniker) that grant him different abilities, and they all pretty much work as advertised, even if they could have been a bit more imaginative on the whole.
Actual missions in the open world however, aren’t all that exciting. They’re pretty much all closed off areas that are a stark contrast to the open world selling point of the game. Nearly all of them feel dull, and outside of the charming cutscenes and side missions, it’s a very paint-by-numbers affair that won’t really win over people who aren’t already fans of LEGO games. Thankfully, there’s tons of extras to collect after the main campaign is said and done, to push the game into the 20 hour mark. Miiverse functionality is also built-in, which is a nice touch and should be almost mandatory on marquee games like this.
The GamePad works as advertised, and it controls just like a normal action game would, with the added benefit of an on-screen touch capable map (which was my favorite aspect of the controller). You can also use it to scan for hidden LEGO bricks like ZombiU, but it’s a lot less annoying as its more of an optional feature (and it’s pretty cute to see Chase use his own GamePad in Undercover). All in all, it’s used in a way that doesn’t become too overbearing and encroach on negative forced gimmick territory, which is a welcome design.
The major missed opportunity here was the lack of a co-op mode of any type, which could have made for some really fun antics with a sidekick/partner, with one player on the GamePad and the other on the TV. That mode would sell a lot of people, and take advantage of the Wii U in a way most gaming machines can’t replicate.
Ultimately, Undercover is basically another LEGO game. Although it could have done a lot to sway non-fans like LEGO Batman 2 did, it sticks to preset conventions far too often, and doesn’t take nearly enough risks.
A truly open world LEGO adventure would have been one for the books, but that doesn’t make Undercover a lost cause.
This review is based on a physical copy of LEGO City Undercover for the Wii U