Never had a Lego game been bigger; never has a Lego game been better
Any child who has ever toyed around with a Lego set has eventually dreamed of building something huge with those glorious tiny pieces. In our youthful lack of skill we tried – and most likely failed – to construct ships, buildings, trains, rockets and entire cities made of colorful bricks. In our minds, those projects were entirely possible to materialize, and even if they never came to fruition in any shape that vaguely resembled what we had originally planned, we kept imagining and dreaming.
The Lego games are, in a way, the fulfillment of those wild childhood thoughts; not only projecting those objects on the screen, but also making them move and take part in over-the-top scenarios. Without an inch of doubt, Lego City Undercover is the biggest game of the series yet, and although size does not always translate into quality, in this particular case, the game takes advantage of a considerable expansion to climb far above all of its predecessors.
To explore the marvelous city, players will assume the role of the seemingly unshakable Chase McCain. After accidentally revealing the identity of a key witness during an important investigation a few years earlier, Chase was removed from the city’s police force and sent to develop his skills elsewhere. However, when a huge wave of crime, led by the evil Rex Fury, strikes the city, Chase is promptly asked to return in order to aid the police in capturing the criminal.
To do so, Chase will have to utilize his fantastic disguise-related abilities to infiltrate the town’s many gangs, discover Rex Fury’s plan, and track him down before it is too late. As a consequence, Lego City Undercover offers both the traditional GTA outlaw moments – after all, one must pull off some really outrageous thefts in order to be accepted in a gang; and segments where McCain attempts to clumsily save the day.
Comparisons to GTA should not be reserved to the occasional law-breaking activities the game demands of players; it ought to also be applied to its fantastic world. Lego City is just huge. The place is divided into about twenty different districts, each with very distinct characteristics, which makes each one of them full of personality and easy to identify.
The extravagant spirit of the series allowed designers to throw a little bit of everything in one fully-connected map without making the place look overly uncanny. Lego City has portions clearly inspired by the rolling hills of San Francisco and the skyscrapers of New York. Additionally, it offers one national park, one space center on an island, a rural area, a Chinatown, a Venice-inspired Italian neighborhood, a fancy touristic beach, and much more.
The fact that the missions usually send McCain all across town serves as a natural invitation for players to go and explore at will, and a lot of time will certainly be spent looking around for secrets and things to do, because it is simply impossible to resist the charm of Lego City.
The game features two basic types of quests during the course of its main story. The first type usually involves having Chase drive around the city while performing some sort of task – like avoiding the police, for example – or finding a way to navigate through the buildings and rooftops in order to get to a certain spot; meanwhile, the second sort of mission works as the normal levels found in every Lego game – they are self-contained and feature their own collectibles and locations.
While the former kind tackles a more environmental style of gameplay, where Chase must explore his surroundings, act like a silly version of Spider-Man in his attempt to climb buildings, and go through obstacle courses; the latter is a much more settled-down and puzzle-focused gameplay that is familiar to the fans of the series. On these, Chase will use his abilities to unlock doors, find objects, and beat down enemies.
TT Fusion was incredibly sensible in the setting-up of the game’s main story, because the two kinds of missions are nicely alternated, always offering a change of pace that makes the game very playable for long stretches of time without making players feel worn out. The fact that there are a whole bunch of collectibles scattered across the city is just an added layer of gameplay that further enhances the game’s pacing, because like most open-world games, Lego City Undercover gives players the choice to do things their way.
If a player wants to quickly go through the story because they simply cannot wait to see what is coming next, then that’s absolutely viable; on the other hand, if a player wants to do some side-missions because he is imply not in the mood for another dash of puzzle solving, then the city will be right there for the taking.
Each of the game’s many areas offers around fifteen extra missions. Some are more on the complex side, like stealing a car and taking it to a warehouse, chasing a criminal before he manages to escape with his recently stolen vehicle, stopping the havoc caused by gangs, and doing some time trials either by driving through some very nicely designed courses on the city’s streets or bodies of water, or by running around series of obstacles on the rooftops.
On the other hand, others are just a matter of finding something, like an ATM to smash, a cat to rescue, a vase of plants to water, or conquering the neighborhood by finding a high spot where a flag can be unfolded. And if those tiny missions sound like they are not enough, which would be odd as they total more than 200, there are characters and vehicles to unlock – which are found as tokens hidden in the city’s areas, and Lego structures to build – which will either aid McCain or simply beautify the city.
Like many games nowadays, Lego City holds a whole lot of content. But unlike many of them, the game is absolutely effective in drawing players towards the collection of that content; it is the game’s greatest quality, and one that is directly derived from the amazing design of the city, which hides many delightful and rewarding locations.
The game, however, stumbles in one particular area that ends up working against its prowess. Though exploring Lego City is undeniably alluring, the city only becomes fully explorable in the later stages of the game. Opening certain doors and getting to some locations can only be done after Chase acquires a few abilities. It is a natural quirk of the Lego games, but it is something that does not work well with the open-world nature of Lego City Undercover.
While inside the isolated missions (which are usually the bones of traditional Lego games), it forces those who want full completion to backtrack, something that is the norm in the saga; outside on Lego City it creates a situation on which after going exploring and finding a neat nice location, players will be unable to open a door or press a switch due to the lack of an ability. Not only is it slightly frustrating, but it also creates limitations in a game that thrives in its lack of strict boundaries.
Another issue that harms the game is how uninspired combat is. Whether Chase is inside an individual mission or out in the city, he will eventually come across groups of baddies looking to beat him down. However, those few minutes of fighting will become a boring chore within a few seconds, because Chase cannot be die or be defeated (another characteristic that has been inherited from past Lego games) and the mechanics for fighting are just way too simple to cause any sort of excitement, as bashing the punch button is pretty much everything players will have to do.
While Chase’s invincibility works perfectly fine for the platforming sessions, because it avoids the hassle of having to replay certain portions of the stages; it removes any of the thrill that could be gained from combat. Add Chase’s lack of variety in his moves, and players will naturally sigh whenever fighting comes up.
Yet, those shortcomings do not stop the game from being fantastic. Pretty much everything else about Lego City Undercover is very well-done, including its graphics. Though the characters are very simple in their design, after all they are Lego toys, the city is not. The buildings and locations are completely packed with little details that give the place a lot of life, and the vivid colors of Lego City suspend the place above reality, adding a lot of charm to it. Loading up the city takes a while, but once the game is set to go, it takes off in the visual department without any hitches. Some problems do arise due to the game’s scope: vehicles, which are loaded on-demand, sometimes pop out of nowhere; and frame rate dips occur in very busy locations. Those drops, however, with the exception of one specific area, are not annoying.
All in all, Lego City Undercover is a stellar third-party exclusive, and TT Fusion has done well in utilizing the system’s unique controller either as a map, or as a scanner that when aimed towards the screen allows Chase to investigate his surroundings. It is a game that has over twenty hours of extra content to go along with its fifteen-hour main quest. Its few core issues are directly related to the line of games it belongs to, and how some of its quirks did not adjust so well to the vast ambitious project that is Lego City. Other than that, the game is blessed with the same charm, silly humor and great cutscenes – this time with full voice acting – that have always been such an important component of the Lego games.