After releasing as a console exclusive four years ago on the Nintendo Wii U, LEGO CITY Undercover made its way onto the Xbox One earlier this month, offering a family-friendly, LEGO alternative to open-world games such as Grand Theft Auto. Unlike most of the previous LEGO games, Traveller’s Tales has this time opted to tell their own story based on the LEGO CITY playsets, rather than propping the gameplay up with a major license. With no Batman, Star Wars or Marvel characters to collect and control, does the gameplay hold up or will it fall to pieces?
After an amusing intro that sets the tone for most of what is to come, you find yourself in the plastic shoes of Chase McCain, a cop whose name you won’t know but you’ll certainly know his type. He’s the stereotypical super cop that puts work first and will do anything to get the job done – a family friendly version of John McClane where knock-knock jokes replace the yippee ki-yays. Banished two years earlier when he accidentally revealed the identity of a witness — who happened to be his girlfriend at the time — in an important case, Chase is back on the beat to hunt down his nemesis, Rex Fury, a mastermind villain who has escaped from prison, and to win back the girl of his dreams.
As the title of the game suggests, Chase spends much of the game undercover as he works his way up the criminal ladder to get to Rex, who unfortunately gets very little screen time given the way he is built up at the beginning. Yes, it’s a predictable story of which you will no doubt know the outcome ten minutes into the game before you’ve even left the police station, but what you won’t know is just how amusing and enjoyable it is. Where the game really stands out is the script and the wacky cast of characters whom you will encounter during the game’s 15 missions. TT Fusion has done a brilliant job of striking a balance where children can’t help but laugh at the silly voices and the slapstick humour, while adults will find amusement in the many in-jokes and pop-culture references to adult-themed movies and TV shows.
LEGO City acts as a large hub world that links together the game’s various story missions. Like most open-world sandboxes, you can freely travel around the city by air, land and sea. There are lots of side objectives for you to find, but the city isn’t especially interesting to look at or explore. There’s no day and night cycle or weather to change the surroundings. Buildings look bland rather than being made of LEGO and the people that inhabit the city are robotic as they stroll and drive around without any interaction. Where the environment in the best open-world games feels alive and makes you want to explore them deeper, LEGO City often feels like a large obstruction standing in the way of story progression, requiring you to travel from point to point.
The gameplay is, for the most part, the standard LEGO formula from other games. Combat in the game is extremely simple, even by LEGO’s standards. Every fight is hand to hand combat with the only options being to counter, grapple or attack enemies, then press the B button once they are on the floor to place them in handcuffs. Even if you die, you’ll respawn almost instantly and carry on.
Instead of requiring different characters to interact with objects like you would have done previously, Chase uses different disguises that unlock at a steady rate through the story. His police uniform has a grapple gun, his fireman disguise has a hose to extinguish fires and an axe to break down doors, and his farmer disguise has a watering can and a chicken that allows you to fly between large gaps. Since these new disguises unlock throughout the game, you get the familiar replayability found in other LEGO games by going back to earlier missions so that you can grab collectables that were previously out of reach. As with every other LEGO game, there are many collectables for you to hunt down — even more so than previously. There are different costumes and personas for each of the disguises, red bricks that can be used as cheats, new vehicles and 450 gold bricks to find that will give you many hours of gameplay outside of the main story.
Studs are once again your currency to purchase different vehicles and other versions of Chase’s disguises that you can unlock and they're obtained by smashing all the LEGO items in view, but there’s also another currency that you will need to collect to complete the many super builds in both missions and in the open-world. Super builds will require a varying number of blocks to make them. At times, you’ll need to build them to progress in a mission, while you can pick and choose to build some that are found in the open-world depending on how much of a completionist you are. You obtain a small number of these blocks whenever you smash LEGO items in the world, or you can find large glowing bricks for a greater number.
The main new addition in the Xbox One and PS4 version of LEGO CITY Undercover is co-op that was previously absent from the Wii U version. It’s a welcome addition for players who have enjoyed previous LEGO games with a second player, but it does feel a bit tacked on. Where other LEGO games have been built with co-op in mind, sometimes giving you special attacks like in LEGO The Hobbit, or at the very least giving both players a different character, LEGO CITY Undercover only allows you to play as different coloured versions of Chase. The co-op is once again local only — we should be able to play over Xbox LIVE with friends by now, surely?
While most of the game is enjoyable, there are few hiccups along the way. One mission couldn't be completed because Chase couldn’t select a helicopter when prompted. On two occasions, Chase was stuck in piles of bricks that could only be broken by signing in a second controller. Cars handle terribly and there are some annoying camera issues that make it hard to judge some of the climbing sections, resulting in you having to start again from the bottom. Finally, there are some overly long loading times that made me think the game had locked a couple of times.
The achievements in LEGO CITY Undercover aren’t difficult, but they will take some time. Like other LEGO games, you’ll have to replay missions to use different characters to hunt for collectables, find all the red and gold bricks, and collect billions of studs. At the time of writing, the average community completion estimate stands at 50-60 hours.
SummaryLEGO City Undercover offers an enjoyable experience for both adults and children thanks to its well-balanced script and the goofy cast of characters. There are some bugs along the way and the open-world setting feels shallow and bland when compared to other games, but there’s more than enough fun to be found around the city to keep you playing long after the main story is over. If you’ve enjoyed other LEGO games, LEGO CITY Undercover should definitely be on your radar, but for those who don’t, there is nothing revolutionary from the previous formula that will make you change your mind.
- Amusing script and goofy cast of characters
- Fun for both children and adults
- Open-world setting provides lots of additional gameplay
- A few bugs need addressing
- Open-world feels shallow and bland
- Driving is horrible
EthicsThe reviewer spent approximately 18 hours playing the game's campaign and exploring LEGO City's open-world, unlocking 27 of the available 48 achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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