It’s been two months since I got this game and my adventure is finally coming to an end. Lego City Undercover is a ridiculously huge game that is often exciting but sometimes overwhelming. Writing this review gives me the same feeling, there’s SO MUCH to talk about, so much I can’t talk about, and starting it gave me a huge headache. Nevertheless once I started I couldn’t stop, and after some requests on Pie Radio to get it done here it is!
This game has hundreds of disguises but exploring Lego City is centered on 8 main ones with their own unique abilities. For example only Miner Chase can use dynamite, and only Fireman Chase can put out fires. Makes sense right? It almost makes too much sense because progression requires no thought at all, it’s pretty much a matter of wearing the right disguise in the right place (and the right place has a giant circular icon on the ground). Most missions involve switching costumes back-and-forth endlessly, but luckily it’s easy to switch costumes on the fly by tapping ZL and ZR to cycle through, or holding Y to bring up a rotating wheel to swing the analog stick around.
The actual gameplay is a mix of platforming, driving, puzzle solving and combat. However, most of these are pretty crappy and merely serve as ways to explore. Combat is quite bad and very basic, the most effective way is to stand there and wait around for the “X” prompt to pop up over an enemy so you can counter. Better be quick though, there’s only a 5 second window to make your move! While simple and easy, it does provide some funny moments and amusing animations. Puzzle solving, like I said requires no thought whatsoever. Put the costume on, press A, switch to other costume. Platforming is fun, while it’s not as fluid as a Mario game it’s a huge step above other open world games and the design is what makes it great. Making huge leaps across rooftops while climbing walls and swinging on poles often took me to awesome places I had no idea existed. It’s really exciting standing at the bottom of a building and staring up, trying to figure out what kind of acrobatics you’ll need to get up.
Vehicles handle like you’d imagine a stiff LEGO machine would handle, but I don’t think that was intentional. It’s quite boring actually with no sense of speed or traction. Some cars have added turbo with the Y button but the speed doesn’t even change, a blur effect covers the screen and the framerate starts chugging like the game can’t keep up. I feel they missed a big opportunity here to go completely over-the-top with the cars speed and handling, considering most open-world games are restricted by their realism. There’s also no first-person view, and the camera sucks so bad you can’t even look backwards. There’s no gyro turning either which would have been a fun option. The variety of vehicles is the big positive here, there’s so many cool looking things you can pilot (hundreds) but I won’t spoil any here.
The Wii U GamePad is used heavily, even though it’s completely useless at the start of the game. I thought it was broken at first when there was nothing but a “Lego City Undercover” logo on the GamePad, but sure enough the game opens up. There’s so much you CAN’T DO at the start of the game it takes a while to get some perspective (and some reviewers evidently struggled with this concept). It mainly functions as a map which is very helpful, showing different locations with their own icons, all your collectable stats, the route of a particular mission and it lets you scroll the map in real-time anywhere you want. It can also be used as a standard camera which is helpful for taking pictures for the Miiverse. My favourite use of all is the SPEAKER! When you hold up the GamePad and scan around, you can spot audio waves in the distance and listen in to conversations. Most of them are pointless but I found them hilarious and it’s a really cool way to add some freshness to the dialogue, with awkward personal conversations taking place in apartments or business offices for no reason other than your amusement.
The dialogue is very good, this is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. If I could compare the humour to anything it would be old Simpsons episodes. Very smart and effortless. The story itself is immense and somehow manages to weave an engaging plot into all its sillyness. It’s not a story that melted my brain and made me re-evaluate my life, but it’s entertaining and made me smile constantly, with really high quality animations capturing each expression beautifully. This is the huge surprise for me, because the big draw when I bought this game was exploration and that’s what I love about open world games. I thought the commercials and trailers were slightly amusing, but the game itself is so packed full of charm you really can’t capture it in a 30 second video. Lego City proves that the life of the city can flourish further with interesting characters and great writing.
Here’s my biggest issue with the game; there’s shit EVERYWHERE. You can’t walk 5 metres without collecting something, whether you want to or not. Coins litter every single area and it doesn’t take long to amass millions of them. There’s also a second currency of LEGO blocks obtained by smashing things, which can be quite satisfying and therapeutic in small doses. Half an hour can easily disappear by patrolling an area destroying every rubbish bin, park bench, crate, flower, you name it. During that rampage it’s not unlikely to stumble upon another distraction in the distance. Oh look, an unlockable disguise! Then you walk over to get that and see something ELSE. The amount of things to do can be seen as the games biggest strength but I got tired of how easy it was. Collecting is not very stimulating when you’re just going from Point A to Point B to Point Z. The redeeming thing here is that the “points” are usually really cool places due to how the game world is designed. The view from a cool place is just as rewarding as whatever collectable you find there.
Overall though, it’s just too much. Sometimes you can get three things at once if the game decides to award you a disguise or gold brick for a particular discovery. It got to the point where I completely lost interest in collecting everything, blocks disappeared off my radar and I started leaving them behind just so I could drive around and take in the sights.
I had a great time in Lego City but I’ve never seen so many collectables in a game before. If this is a sign of the times then I worry about our kids attention spans and recommend a healthy dose of Super Metroid on the Virtual Console to go along with this. The game world is interesting enough that it doesn’t NEED all this; pedestrians have funny lines and appearances, the graphics are detailed and colourful and there’s great locations and views everywhere you look. The variety of missions and locations is immense and ensures the game stays fresh and interesting through the entire lengthy campaign (which was about 30 hours for me – MILEAGE MAY VARY). Lego City is a spectacular place and I highly recommend a visit; not so you can play the numbers game with collectables, but so you can bask in its charm and beautiful design.