Lego video games have been taking gamers young and old to different worlds for over a decade now. Pluck out the names of your favourite fantasy franchises, and at some stage Lego had more than likely touched upon it. Lego City Undercover however, TT Games’ latest video game escapade, has come with the promise of a different kind of blocky adventure. I sure hope you like a bit of police action drama, because that’s what’s coming your way today.
The hype for Lego City Undercover has been around the idea that this will be a Grand Theft Auto-style adventure set within the realm of a Lego-constructed and inhabited world. Parents of young gamers rejoice; this could be your answer to the endless prying of your ten-year-old son or daughter who wants nothing in the world more than they want to get their hands on the notorious 18-rated game. But despite the marketing, this like anything should be taken with a pinch of salt. Don’t just accept the game at face value; let me tell you what I actually found.
For starters, Lego City Undercover takes the opposite approach to the GTA series, putting you on the right side of the law. Your character, Chase McCain, is the first of many clichés in the game. Having been away for many years, the former hero cop has returned to Lego City after his greatest criminal rival escapes from prison. His former colleague, Dunby, has now earned the role of the lazy, grumpy Chief of Police, and doesn’t see fit to give Chase an easy time. Throw in a dweeby new partner, a fiery ex-girlfriend and almost every civilian knowing his name, and it is clear that this game’s inspirations stretch back decades.
Some of the pop culture references that only adults will truly appreciate show that Lego know their audience stretches far beyond that of purely children. These are cheesy but fantastic, and add comic relief to a game that is already almost entirely comic relief in itself. They also fit within the realms of the story though, even enhancing it in places, which helps the game as a whole to casually flow along. Some real nerds must have been behind Lego City’s storytelling, and it is just brilliant thanks to them.
What Lego City achieves in its overwhelming fun factor, it hinders in other areas. Gameplay is basic; feeling very much like the older lego games in many ways and largely being uninspiring as a result. Some new elements do add well to the existing model however, such as free running and high-tech detective gizmos that allow you to scan through walls or follow a trail with a UV light. These add authenticity to the Police theme by offering authentic, albeit extreme, chases and setups. What they fail to do is make the game feel fresh. If you like the Lego video game model you may appreciate the continuity, but to many it will feel as though the opportunity for a full overhaul has been missed.
What Lego City Undercover does offer that is new is a BIG open world to explore. You can grab any vehicle and blast your way around the streets, just like GTA! What is missing though is purpose. You can crawl the streets, finding collectibles and unlocking new characters and vehicles, but this is never a compelling experience. The story far outshines the free roaming experience of the game, and this is where it loses out to the blockbuster title it attempts to emulate. Whilst GTA was successful on both fronts, Lego City struggles to do it all at once.
Finally, and extremely importantly, I have to mention Lego City Undercover’s split screen local multiplayer on the Xbox. It would have been unnecessary or even impossible for TT to create an online experience comparable to GTA Online, and wisely they did not attempt to do so. But local multiplayer has always been an attractive staple of the Lego video games franchise and it is as necessary today as it has ever been. My experience of the game would not have been the same without this feature. In fact, I would have switched off from the title much sooner. The ability to play it with my Lego-loving girlfriend however led to a fantastic shared experience which kept us both immersed and invested. The feature isn’t perfect; the story doesn’t account for a second player and the open world can easily lead to you getting lost and divided, but once you get yourselves organised it is easy to ignore these points.
Everything you have come to love about Lego’s video games franchise lives on in Lego City Undercover. Hundreds of playable character and vehicles inhabit a wide open world and you are the law of the land. The story which is told of your character is an entertaining and memorable one, but the game slips beyond this with numerous imperfections and missed opportunities being all too apparent. Nevertheless, the game can be good fun, and even more so if you have someone to share the experience with. Perhaps Lego City is one to keep in mind for sales down the line, but when it reaches the realms of pocket money it is certainly worth giving it a go.