Lego City Undercover review

In skipping a franchise tie-in, TT Fusion flourishes with an open world LEGO game that tells a smart, funny story without the crutch of familiar faces.
In skipping a franchise tie-in, TT Fusion flourishes with an open world LEGO game that tells a smart, funny story without the crutch of familiar faces.
In skipping a franchise tie-in, TT Fusion flourishes with an open world LEGO game that tells a smart, funny story without the crutch of familiar faces.

Highs

  • Open world is huge and filled with things to do
  • Sharp script filled with jokes that hit more than they miss
  • Wii U GamePad-specific gimmicks are a neat addition

Lows

  • Inexcusably long load times
  • Visual hiccups, particularly relating to shadows

DT Editors' Rating

Who would have ever guessed that the best LEGO game yet would be the one with the most mundane setting imaginable? LEGO City Undercover‘s San Francisco-inspired city lacks the flash of a Middle-earth, Hogwarts, or a galaxy far, far away, but it makes up for that with one of the most involved – and evolved – gameplay experiences yet from this series. A lot of what’s here is status quo for LEGO games, but the new ideas that have been introduced coupled with some surprisingly sharp writing that toes the line between family-friendly and gamer-friendly, help to elevate LEGO City well beyond what longtime fans might expect.

A Surprisingly Colorful Vanilla World

WiiU Lego CityLEGO City Undercover is basically the LEGO-fied treatment of a Grand Theft Auto that will never be, at least in terms of the scope of the gameplay. The titular urban center is a sprawling open world that breaks out across multiple islands, all of them filled with exactly the sort of environmental puzzles that are a hallmark of the series. The city is inspired by an amalgamation of LEGO City playsets. Much of what you see in the game – characters and locations alike – has a real world analog in LEGO-stocked toy stores, but the city lacks the memorable hook that so many other open worlds in gaming seek to deliver.

Fortunately, there’s a thoroughly entertaining story that pushes you to explore more and more of LEGO City‘s somewhat vanilla world. You play as Chase McCain, a disgraced cop who was run out of town some years earlier. He’s back now, and tasked with pursuing Rex Fury, a recently escaped master criminal whom he originally put behind bars. The story hits all of the necessary beats, but the moment-to-moment writing makes it shine.

lego-city-undercoverTT Fusion’s writing team deserves big credit for creating something designed to hook players of all ages. Adult gamers will no doubt pick up on the unending string of corny-to-hilarious pop culture references, from the Morphues-inspired plumber who trains Chase in the art of kung fu to the brief appearance of two lovers who are standing on the bow of a crashing ship. One of them shouts “My heart will go on…!” as they are both knocked overboard. There’s even a Wilhelm scream in there. It’s delightful.

lego-city-undercover-wii-u-legocity-7-1357560367It’s occasionally grating too. The antics of characters such as the constantly fawning, over-eager cop Frank Honey grow old quickly, as does a goofy sub-plot involving his not-so-secret secret crush. The fully voiced cutscenes are lots of fun to watch, but they tend to pop up too frequently and run a bit longer than they should. It’s probably necessary for keeping kiddie players at attention – cartoony antics are a common sight – but adult gamers will often find themselves rolling their eyes and wishing the game would get on with itself already.

A LEGO Sandbox

The eyeball-rolling is also a good thing when you remember that the source of that exasperation is an actual desire to get back to playing the game. LEGO City Undercover doesn’t brim with life as much as other, similar sandbox games do, but puzzles, collectibles, and other attention-diverting hooks are scattered across the city. In any given location you’ll be able to follow a trail of LEGO crumbs to one bonus or another, whether it’s gold/red bricks, currency (which comes in both studs and new Super Bricks now), new characters to transform into, or any number of other things.

lego-city-undercover-wii-u-wiiu-1354788072-030Studs are still used to buy things like cheats, but Super Bricks bring a whole new layer to LEGO games. This additional form of currency can be spent in specific locations, to build things like vehicle spawn locations, quick travel points, and story-specific structures. The new currency creates a platform from which to offer a whole new set of environmental puzzles. Finding a valuable Super Brick isn’t so different from finding a new character unlock, but this added form of loot to find creates that many more opportunities to ensure that players keep exploring and nosing around.

Lego CityThe Wii U exclusivity for LEGO City Undercover results in some neat gameplay elements that require the use of a Wii U GamePad. Chase is equipped with a tablet-like scanner that looks an awful lot like Nintendo’s inventive new controller. It is equal parts communications device, minimap, and loot scanner. You can use the touch interface to answer calls and set GPS destinations, but you can also activate one of several scanners (once unlocked) to peer around the environment and mark designated points of interest.

This involves activating the scanner and holding your GamePad up in front of the TV. You then scan around using the controller’s built-in motion sensors, with the view on the second screen shifting as you move the GamePad around in your physical space. It’s unfortunate that there’s no option for using either of the analog joysticks to further tweak your view; unless the target that you’re scanning for is more or less in front of you, some tricky real-world maneuvering is required to check out your surrounding area, especially if you’re in a tight living room.

WiiU_LegoCityU_1_scrn05_E3

This is a minor complaint for an undeniably nifty use of the Wii U GamePad, but LEGO City offers more than just gimmicks. Driving around in the sizable open world is a big part of the game, and the vehicles all handle surprisingly well. The brakes tend toward being overly sensitive, but not at the expense of fun. There’s also a cool hook to driving around: as you destroy bits of scenery, you fill up a counter. Each filled counter adds to your Super Brick multiplier, up to a maximum of 5x, but if you go too long without hitting something, the multiplier disappears. This quickly becomes an addictive feedback loop as you drive around like a maniac trying to boost your Super Brick supply.

Please Wait…

The biggest issue with LEGO City Undercover seems to be more of a hardware problem than anything else. Perhaps TT Fusion couldn’t harness Nintendo’s new console well enough in these early post-release days, but the game’s performance falters significantly at times. Issues relating to draw distance and pop-in have largely been stamped out of open worlds in this day and age, but both are frequent occurrences. And while the LEGO characters themselves look great – particularly the reflections off of their plastic surfaces – shadows tend to flicker and just generally act a little wonky.

lego-city-undercover-wii-u-wiiu-1354788072-036The biggest issue, by far, is the length of the load times. It’s halfway bearable when you’re stepping into a new mission or the police station hub – “only” 30 or 40 seconds, tops – but it is flat-out unacceptable when you’re venturing out into the open world. Wait times regularly climb past one full minute whenever the open city had to load. This simply shouldn’t be. Whether it’s a hardware issue or a software issue that will hopefully be patched at a later date, it’s a huge black mark against the game as it currently stands.

Conclusion

In spite of any shortcomings, LEGO City Undercover really is the finest overall effort yet from the entity that was once known as Traveler’s Tales. TT Fusion effectively steps out of the role of small-fry LEGO developer and presents its talent as a mainstream team. One can only hope that the TT Games parent recognizes this and falls into more of an alternating development role moving forward, as future LEGO games could greatly benefit from longer development cycles.

That’s besides the point though. LEGO City Undercover gives Wii U owners something to get excited about, and not merely because it’s the lone console-exclusive coming out for it in Q1 2013.

Score: 8 out of 10

(LEGO City Undercover was reviewed on the Wii U using a copy of the game that was provided by the publisher.)

Gaming

Here are all the awesome award-winning indie games from IGF

Indie games are now offering experiences capable of matching -- and often surpassing -- that of big-budget blockbuster titles. The Independent Games Festival recognized the best of them on March 20.
Deals

The best Nintendo Switch deals and bundles for March 2019

Looking to score Nintendo's latest console? We've smoked out the best Nintendo Switch deals right here, including discounts on bundles that feature must-have games like Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Zelda: Breath of…
Gaming

The best of the last generation: Our 50 favorite Xbox 360 games

The Xbox 360 thrived during a generation where games were plentiful. Here's our list of the best Xbox 360 games of all time, including all game genres and even a few special indie hits.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Gaming

Get in the Dark Zone and blow away the competition with our The Division 2 guide

The Division 2 has three Dark Zones, specialized areas for PvE and PvP combat. Our Dark Zone guide teaches you the ropes, from the recon missions to the leveling system to the dangers and benefits of going Rogue.
Product Review

Acer Predator Triton 500 review

Nvidia’s new RTX 2080 Max-Q is the fastest GPU you’ll find in any laptop, but it usually comes at a steep price. Acer’s Predator Triton 500, starting at $2,500, makes it a little more affordable. But what must you sacrifice in the…
Gaming

The Division 2

The latest news, guides, tips and tricks, updates, patch notes, and more so you can learn how to level up your game in The Division 2. Related Categories: The Division 2 News | Guides | Features
Gaming

Get a new Nintendo Switch? You'll need to grab these accessories

The Switch is a capable console right out of the box, but it has its limitations. Thankfully, these Nintendo Switch accessories will allow you to make the most of Nintendo's latest console.
Gaming

From fatalities to new characters, here's what we know about Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 releases April 23 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Here is everything we know about NetherRealm's latest fighting game, including its characters.
Gaming

Get a head start mastering Apex Legend's newest character Octane with our guide

Apex Legends' newest legend Octane ran so fast in the Titanfall 2 gauntlet that he blew off his legs. Now dropping into Kings Canyon with prosthetics, Octane's ability set is still centered around speed. Here's how to play as Octane.
Gaming

The Division 2 offers nothing but a funhouse mirror of America

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 improves on the design shortcomings of the original game in several different ways, but its version of Washington D.C. is completely removed from reality.
Gaming

World of Warcraft's allied races will make you want to start a new character

The Hord and Alliance are seeking new allies in their struggle for control of Azeroth. Rather you pledge your allegiance to the Horde or Alliance, we've got a guide to help you unlock every allied race that's coming in Battle for Azeroth.
Computing

How the Google Stadia could lead to a new era of multi-GPU gaming

Google's Stadia could use more than one graphics card to deliver the high-performance visuals it's promised. If that leads to better developer support for multi-GPUs, could that mean gaming with two or more graphics cards could finally be…