Lego City Undercover | Review

Factfile
Developed by:TT Fusion
Published by:Nintendo / Warner Bros
Released:2013
Format played:Wii U / PS4 / Steam

Ruminations

Now then, there’s an interesting story behind this one (“We’ll be the judge of that” and other such japery).

Having picked up the criminally underrated Wii U a couple of years ago, I have been on the lookout for games that the kids could play. Super Mario 3D World had provided hours of fun but with the game all but completed, and Mario Kart, Nintendo Land, Mario Party and Super Mario failing to hold lasting appeal, I ventured out to the shops (remember when that was a thing?) to see what I could find.

Whilst I am of course a doting parent, for whom no price can be placed on the happiness of my children, I also like a bargain. So I flicked through the used games in our local branch of Well Known Used Game Emporium, trying to find something suitable. Whilst not a Wii U game, my hand hovered over Luigi’s Mansion and Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube but I baulked at paying £25+ for such old games. And then there it was. At a bargain £5, to boot. Lego City Undercover.

This looked great! What 5 year old boy doesn’t like Lego? Or smashing stuff? Or smashing stuff made of Lego? And so I rushed it home and presented my purchase, his beaming face filling my heart with glee, reassuring me that I had made the right decision. With a building sense of anticipation I removed the disc from the case and pushed it into the Wii U drive, then remembered the disc already in there and so took that one out first. Then I tried again, slotting the disc in, proudly handing over the controller to my boy as he settled back onto the sofa to enjoy this new game. And then…

“Error code 150-1031.”

Er, okay. Apparently my disc is dirty. Well it is used so perhaps a little scratch here or there is to be expected. I’ll just give it a little wipe and…hey presto, good as new. Right, pop it back in the drive and…

“Error code 150-1031.”

Okay, let’s try that again. Nope, still not working. Okay, let’s try switching off and on again, that always works! Nope. Hmm. Alright, we’ll take the disc out and put it back in about 20-30 times and…yes! It’s working! Alright, time to hit the mean streets.

And this became the pattern. Every time we tried to play, we had the disc read error. All other games worked fine, barring the odd in-game read error, usually resolved by a quick wipe of the disc. So I assumed that it was an issue with the disc itself. But then I tried another Lego game, bought on the same day for the same machine. This one would boot up but crashed in the same place repeatedly. I took it back, swapped it for another disc but the same error resurfaced. Two games, across three discs, all with problems? Seems like we had a bigger issue. And so what do all sane minded individuals do when they encounter a problem? They ask Google, of course. And here we discover that there seems to be an issue with either the batch of discs or the Wii U drive itself. Either way, shelling out full price for a new copy of the game is unlikely to solve the problem and the download is both too expensive and too large an install to justify getting on top of what I have already paid out for.

No great problem though. We need to be patient but at least it loads eventually and then seems to run fine. Yeah, right up until the level in the bank when the game decides to freeze, crash and finally give up. Dang.

What to do now? I have a fantastic game that my boy loves that has been rendered unplayable. But wait, I’m a resourceful dad. Let’s see what else we can do. Look, Steam have it on sale! It means paying out again but it’s only £6 and the PC version even has multiplayer! The little tykes aren’t playing it on my PC though, no siree. I’ll set them up on our old laptop, that should be fine. Yes, this is better. At least it loads now. We don’t have any sound, but…Ha! Fixed it. Here we go, we’ll just add another player and…yikes, it runs like a dog. It might by multiplayer in theory but on this machine, it ain’t recommended.

Ok, think. Think, think, think. Aha! The PS4! WTH? I’m not paying that! No hang on, there’s another option. It’s available in PS Now so if I subscribe to that, in addition to the PS Plus subscription that I pay for every month and never use, we’ll be able to play it in pristine, HD multiplayer. I’m not paying that subscription price though so let’s find a discount, and…we’re in. Alright. Lego City, here we come! Again!

And that’s the story of Lego City Undercover.

Oh wait, I’ve forgotten to actually review the game. Whoops.

Gameplay

Police Officer Chase McCain returns to Lego City after two years away to find his home in the grip of a crime wave, suspected to be the handiwork of serial rogue, Rex Fury – the very same Rex Fury that Chase had put behind bars two years prior. The Chase is on as you go deep into the belly of the criminal underworld in your mission to put Rex back in the slammer and save the girl you love.

Undercover is the first major Lego game to step away from an established franchise and forge its own Lego path. Travellers Tales have very much set the template with their series of games, from Star Wars to Harry Potter and everything in between. And whilst Undercover retains much of what makes those games so engaging, it isn’t afraid to experiment.

Some things are just inherently Lego, of course. You build stuff. You smash stuff. You build stuff and then smash it. You collect Lego studs and bricks, both as pick ups and as rewards for completing missions and objectives, each of which in turn opens up new perks and characters. More on those in a moment.

The core of the game is built around the story mode and it is here where Undercover both strikes out and also seeks inspiration. Built across a series of missions, the story mode is a kid-friendly version of GTA but instead of playing as the villain you take the role of good guy cop. It’s no less fun or action packed through, the tale taking you to every corner of this packed city and even well beyond its limits. Each mission introduces new gameplay elements whilst Chase lives up to the game’s moniker, his ‘Undercover’ exploits opening up new characters, each of which comes with its own skillset. Undercover criminals can break into previously locked doors, underground workers can deploy dynamite, construction crew can dig up wonky paving slabs whilst farmers can grow crops and fly chickens (yes, really). The missions themselves, similar to the best of GTA, offer a wealth of variety, from simple cops and robber chases to escort missions, bank jobs, reconnaissance and…well, I don’t want to spoil everything. Needless to say, its 15-or so hour runtime offers plenty of variety.

Beyond the main story though there is plenty more to keep you occupied. You are free of course to wander about Lego City in between missions as much as you like, although you might get nagged at via your communicator for not getting to the next mission point. But, as with other Lego games, you will get the most out of the environment once you have completed the story and unlocked free mode. For it is only then that you give yourself the fullest access to the city, exploring every nook and cranny with your full repertoire of disguises and abilities. Replayability and longevity are not issues to concern you here, the various side missions, objectives, speed runs, unlockables and secrets providing plenty of post-credits entertainment.

Of course Lego City is a big place and it would take far too long to walk everywhere. Luckily then you have access to a cornucopia of vehicles. Unlocking vehicle call in points by collecting Lego bricks gives you various points throughout the city at which to generate a police vehicle, customised to your preference of design and colour, whilst your guise as officer of the law allows you to halt other drivers with a shrill of your whistle, commandeering their ride with a sturdy call of ‘Police business!’ Handling is excellent, the different vehicle types offering a tangible difference in handling and weight and with much of the scenery destructive, you will be barrelling round town with reckless abandon, gleefully vacuuming up Lego studs as you go. Of course being a family game, there isn’t any of the violence that you would see in a GTA game, so whilst you might careen in a similar way down busy roads, pedestrians will merrily leap out of the way at the last second or, if they are flattened, either pick themselves back up or shatter harmlessly back into Lego pieces.

The city is also brought to life by the colourful cast of characters. Leading-man Chase McCain carries off that bold combination of confident swagger and ineptitude, ably supported by bumbling sidekicks, overwrought superiors and over the top villains. Many of the characters are gloriously over the top pastiches of well worn cliches or celebrities. Most will go over the heads of younger players but parents will get a chuckle out of parodies from The Shawshank Redemption, Arnie and many others besides. The script is a doozy too, whizzing along at a cracking pace and full of throwaway comedy and one liners. Indeed my boy wanders round the house, randomly shouting out bits of dialogue and keen to remind me of his favourite bits.

Speaking of the kids, Lego City Undercover has emerged as a firm favourite in our house. At 5 years old, my boy has finished the story mode three times and is now hunting down 100% completion so that he can unlock some of the content that he has seen on YouTube, seeming to take as much pleasure from watching others play as playing himself. Although rather worryingly he has developed something of a grim habit of dispatching bad guys by picking them up and lobbing them off the side of buildings and his favourite character is lead baddie, Rex Fury. Whilst not quite as obsessed, the girls at 8 have also launched into both their own and a combined save as their younger brother, in his role as house veteran, watches on and gives them pointers, whether they want him to or not.

Don’t be fooled though. This may be family friendly and appeal to younger gamers but this is great fun for adults. The story mode may not present much of a challenge but then the Lego games have never been about putting barriers up. These are games that want you to complete them, the satisfaction coming not from the act of beating it but the fun you have along the way.

Niggles? Only a few. I mean obviously the disc failure of the Wii U version is a real bummer. I’m not sure where the fault lies but it’s frustrating, the game having clearly been designed around the Wii U, your in-game communicator even made to resemble the controller. If you do manage to get it working, the lack of a multiplayer mode bites. That said, it is lazily implemented on the other systems, the second player very much just a tag along, ignored by all other characters, not included within the story mode and doesn’t have any bespoke two-player challenges or events in free mode. On several occasions our PS4 save corrupted, causing us to lose all of our progress and forced us to start again, although of course my boy was thrilled rather than distraught as it meant he got to play it all over. Loading times on the Wii U version in particular are an absolute slog and for the love of god, can we please dispense with unskippable cutscenes?

Bottom Line

Freed from the shackles of established franchises, Lego City Undercover is an absolute blast. A fun, engaging story mode acts as the introduction to a city just waiting to be explored. Chuck in some superb voice work, funky soundtrack, more customisation options than you can ever hope to see and the quintessential thrill that can only be found in the smashing of Lego bricks.

Rating:

5 Stars

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