Lego City Undercover Review

LegoCityUndercover

Welcome to Lego City!

Let me preface this review by saying that Lego games are very hit and miss for me. I have truly enjoyed some of them; like Lego Batman 2 on Wii and Lego Pirates of the Carribean on the 3DS. Others, like the Lego Star Wars series or the Lego Indiana Jones series simply haven’t done it for me. It isn’t that I dislike the IP (what’s not to like?)

After my wonderful experiences with Lego Batman 2’s open world environment, I got really interested in Lego City Undercover (LCU). My son and I (he’s 6) also truly enjoyed playing TOGETHER; which made Lego Batman 2 a perfect game for us and we were hoping that we could recreate some of that magic with LCU – even though my son wasn’t particularly interested in the IP (he loves superheroes) of Chase McCain.

I would be lying if I told you we weren’t disappointed when we heard that the game was a single player experience. But, Wii U gaming has been a bit thin – so we grabbed it on release day anyway.

The Basics

As mentioned, the game is single player only. There is no asymmetric game play option – and use of the Gamepad is required; you cannot use the Pro pad or original Wii controllers.

A big hit for me – the game cannot be played off-screen; that is, you must use the TV to play. The Gamepad gets a lot of use as a secondary device, however.

The game has several save slots available for multiple single players and the game respects the multiple account system of the Wii U.

This title is available as a digital download from eShop as well as retail.

The Story

There IS a story ...

There IS a story …

LCU is a bit more story driven than my previous experiences with Lego games. Most Lego titles follow an existing IP; like Harry Potter or Star Wars – so the story is something you already sort of know. This makes skipping long cut scenes (without missing anything) just that much easier. Personally? I want to PLAY the game, not watch cutscenes; but my son loves them.

It isn’t Shakespeare, of course. The protagonist (and your on-screen alter ego) is Chase McCain – a former cop with a back story – called upon to redon the badge and take down rising crime boss Rex Fury.

Naturally, the road to the Boss is paved with plenty of criminals and puzzles so you’ll have plenty to do.

The Tutorial

You're going to learn how to use this!

You’re going to learn how to use this!

This game spends the first good 30-45 minutes teaching you how to play the game and introducing the characters, story and game play elements. For more hardcore players, this will feel a lot like a speed bump than a tutorial. I found myself skipping cutscenes trying to get more into the meat of the game.

For my son? The tutorial was perfect. He enjoyed the cutscenes (some pretty clever writing in there) and the tutorial didn’t seem to overly bother him. He enjoyed it.

The tutorial will get you behind the wheel of one of the many vehicles, destroy and (re)build Lego items, teach you how to get to locations, use your Gamepad as a Communicator device (more on this later) as well as take you through your first couple of busts and some light puzzle solving.

The tutorial will also introduce you to another “feature” of the game; load time. I don’t believe in buying anything digital that I can actually “own” on a disc – but since we cannot install disc-based games on the Wii U yet, there might actually be a viable reason to purchase this digitally – the world-map access load time. My son is pretty patient, and even he commented on it. We’ll talk more about that later.

The Communicator

The Communicator

The Communicator

During the tutorial, you are “issued” a police Communicator which comes in the form of your Wii U Gamepad.

The Communicator serves a variety of purposes.

First, of course, it is your world map view. You can use it to set way points for travel, find objectives, etc. Your dispatcher will often highlight points on it for you to travel to. If you’re chasing the bad guys, the map may also show your perp on the screen as well.

Second, it acts as a video chat with your dispatcher. When a call comes in, you’ll touch a button and she’ll pop up and give you information.

As you get further in the game, the dispatcher will download new “software” to your Communicator – giving it additional functions (she’s like Bonnie from Knight Rider).

One such function is a scanner. At certain areas of the map, during certain missions, etc. you will use this scanner to find bad guys, items, etc. This is a lot like you see on the commercials when they plug the Wii U Gamepad. You hold it up in front of you and you get a kinda wireframe/thermal view of your surroundings. You can then pan around and located the person or item. You can use this to “lock on” to it and the map will help you get to it. It is pretty neat.

The Open World

As always with these sandbox games, you have two things going on. One, you’re playing a story. You have objectives to do to make the story continue. Second, you have a whole world of sand to play in – and you will find mini-missions and objectives abound. Much like Lego Batman 2, some of the fun of the open world is trying to figure out, “how the HECK to I get to THOSE coins/bricks/etc?”

True Open World

True Open World

The world is huge … even travelling by vehicle it can easily take 10 or 15 minutes to drive all the way around. As you coast around, you’ll find tons of interesting buildings, items and caches of coins. We’ve been playing on and off for several hours and still have very little idea what all there is in the world map.

While you’re issued a police car officially, you can use your police whistle to stop civilian drivers and “appropriate” their vehicles (like GTA – only nicer). You’ll find it useful to trade out from time to time. We’ve seen at least a half a dozen different vehicles so far; and each one drives and feels different.

The world itself can be interesting and challenging to navigate – featuring its own puzzles. You can of course climb, jump, shimmy, scale, grapple, crawl, hand-over-hand and more to get where you need to go. Ladders and other climbing methods may be hidden from obvious view. In some cases, you make need to break an object – only to rebuilt it into something else – to get you to a position where you can reach a bar or building ledge.

These sort of environmental puzzles seem to frustrate my son more than anything.

All the secrets and hidden stuff you expect from the Lego series are still here. It is still a completionist’s dream.

Costumes play a role in the game; much like in Lego Batman 2. Accessing these is similar, too. Your available costumes are in a circle popup control you can easily change without a trip to the touch screen. You may need a police costume to get into one building, but a different costume to go “under cover”.

As with most Lego games, the game has “coin currency” but it also has something called Super Legos. They are all over the place – usually appearing as a result from breaking apart Lego formations. These are usable in some side-quests, like helping this old sea captain rebuild his boat. Most of the time, you pick these up as “singles” (adding +1 to your count) but you can use the Communicator scanner to find “super” versions that are worth hundreds or even THOUSANDS of these single bricks. Pretty fun.

One of the advertisements for this game states you may never finish the actual game because you’ll be spending too much time playing in the sandbox. Like Lego Batman 2, this is a true statement.

The Technical Side

Sweeeet!

Sweeeet!

From a technical standpoint, the game delivers. The graphics are gorgeous and feel right off a modern day console (I know, I know but for some reason I keep expecting sub-par graphics from any system with “Wii” in the title). You’ll never feel they had to compromise anything. It looks, feels and plays like a current gen game – and with the Gamepad stuff, it feels even a little next gen.

The Gamepad is well utilized; I actually look forward to getting messages from the dispatcher. On the Wii controller, any sound that came out of the controller was grainy and scratchy – of course, on the Gamepad it is clean and clear. There is banter between your character and the dispatcher; her voice comes over the Communicator – your character’s voice from the TV. It is a really neat synergy of sound that you start to take for granted after awhile (it reminds me of how they marry the sound on the Wii U menus – almost invisibly complementary.

The controls offer no issue; there is never a time where you go “man, they should have put THAT control HERE instead of THERE”. The right analog is your obligatory camera control which you won’t need much of as the auto camera positioning works very well. You will never feel like you’re fighting the camera for control (at least not so far as I’ve played).

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room; the load time. During the tutorial, you’re changing locations frequently – and hence, you will experience a lot more load time than during “typical play”.

The bottom line is; anytime you’re going to the WORLD MAP, you’ve got significant load time. How significant? Maybe 20-30 seconds; which doesn’t sound long until you’re waiting. Helpfully a progress bar appears on the Gamepad during the load.

Is it ideal? No. Nor is it unique with current gen consoles. However, it is important to remember that you will be spending most of your time in a “never loading world map” – and you tend to forget to question how the game manages to run you all over this giant world without any load time. Before you freak out about the load time, get past the tutorials and get out into the real game. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Who Is The Audience?

I’ve been asked this a lot; “Is this a kid’s game or an adult’s game?”

I’m not sure there is a definitive answer here. I don’t get the feeling it is a kid’s game; there is plenty of minor innuendo and such going on – so they aren’t just targeting kids. Lego games by nature aren’t “hard” and tend to be more “forgiving”; more about collecting, completionism and exploration. They throw in kid appeal sometimes but then two seconds later, throw in adult appeal.

For example … minor spoiler here … if you go into the water, a Jaws shark will jump up from beneath you and eat you. My son laughed; but then so did I because they played a could of bars of an obvious hat tip score to Jaws when he got eaten.

It’s like Looney Tunes cartoons; something for everyone.

The Dark Side

Those that follow my reviews at Green Robot Gamer – you know that this section is to discuss the negative aspects of the game.

My number one complaint is no off-screen play. Wii U has spoiled me by taking a console game system and making it a couch game system. When I can’t do that, it rubs me wrong now. Most people are fine with this; but it bothers me. Having to use the TV drastically reduces the available hours I have to play the game.

Second complaint? No multiplayer; local or otherwise. My son and I cannot play together and that means we’re in competition for the TV/Wii U to play.

Of course the load time issue should belong here; but again, I think most people will find it a non-issue after the tutorial.

I’m several hours into the game, and this is all I have to complain about.

Summary

Scooby found a clue!

Scooby found a clue!

LCU is a flagship product for the Wii U; it always has been. It is a shame it launched so late in the release window – I think it would have sold a lot more coming out at that point. The new Gamepad features really can be used as a template to help developers learn how to utilize this unique controller.

It’s a solid title that takes the Lego sandbox engine and improves quite a bit upon it. The story and characters are interesting enough despite being a new IP and while it is only a single player experience, not everyone has kids or a game-friendly spouse – so there is definitely a market for solo gaming.

If you enjoyed Lego Batman 2, I don’t have any hesitancy recommending this new open world game; even if you’re not an overall fan of Lego games, I think most people would enjoy it.

For those concerned about the game being kid-friendly? You don’t need to worry about this title; you can’t even run anyone over in this game (try as you might). Even the shark that eats you doesn’t leave a blood trail. Good ol’ safe family fun.

There is plenty of game here to recommend a full price purchase – you’ll get plenty of play out of this. If you don’t mind digital ownership, consider getting the digital copy (you MUST have a hard drive attached to download this game, BTW) and you might get a break from some of the load time.

This is a consummate Wii U game that should be in every owner’s collection at one point or another.


About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+