Lego City Undercover opens with Chase McCain staring down his former home, sights of beaches, parties, and economic success. In the background, the 1983 pop hit “Walking on Sunshine” springs the sequence to life, setting the mood and personality of this booming plastic brick metropolis.
People love living in Lego City, aside from being run over during daily pursuits. As kid friendly as the title is, a safe assumption is that available parts stitch little people up should a hand or leg come loose in the chase for justice. McCain apologizes and keeps driving: He’s on the job. Same goes for the roadside businesses that become inadvertent victim of sluggishly responsive turning. The best part is being able to reenact childhood fantasies and not being required to clean-up or rebuild fruit stands yourself. Smash away sans repercussions.
Not everything is made from Lego, in some ways dimming the conceptual side of Undercover. Trees, some weeds, and buildings are composed of real materials. All of the Lego titles from Telltale do this to some extent, but the idea of zipping through a miniature realm of building blocks is too rich to ignore. Part of the wonder comes from virtually seeing what is only done with imagination or racking up credit card bills to pay for more pieces, a true Lego Paradise. That is not what this is, at least not in its entirety.
This is Telltale’s first time putting themselves outside of the licensed box, relying on their own in-house humor and writing talent to flesh out their open world theatrics. McCain is searching for super villain Rex Fury, a scarred madman who has opened the criminal underbelly of Lego City. To an extent, this is no different than what Telltale has produced before, a kooky good vs. evil scheme brought to a head after collecting infinite remnants of the world. Despite dropping Star Wars or Batman, Undercover slips into its own mold. Dirty Harry takes part in the force, and totally-not-Morgan Freeman plays out a Lego-infused remake of Shawshank Redemption. This is all-ages.
For the most part, Undercover will find the open world dynamic unneeded. Fifteen missions are comparatively claustrophobic to the bridges, skyscrapers, and sights of the world. These closed-off missions – which make up a wide swatch of the narrative challenges – allow for tighter designs without worrying about whether the player will leave an artificial boundary. No, it does not allow for Undercover to shake the inherent familiarity of this titled family, but it also will not succumb to potential frustrations caused by free movement. This design choice keeps the action manageable, allowing kids to take what they have learned from the other Lego titles and apply them here. Freedom is not essential, although the exterior playground is a joy to breeze through, the sole exception being those not sensitive/too sensitive vehicle controls. There is no consistency.
Each mission offers replayability via hidden objects and inaccessible areas, a rather cheap way to dump in length without having to develop anything fresh. McCain is able to don new costumes that equip different items – say a crowbar to pry locked doors – as the progression plays out. Instead of keeping the open world a focus, Undercover often shifts back into those closed off arenas. By comparison, the sheer void of activities outside of those fifteen designs is alarming. A steady stream of stock events, say timed checkpoint races, open up as the game pushes into the back half. They spruce up the marginalized city that was so full of life when McCain stepped off the boat. Now, it merely feels like programmed Legoites (?) wandering around.
Telltale will undoubtedly be shifting their title onto other consoles, the Wii U-specific connection trivial in execution. Holding the pad up the TV at designated areas sprouts up criminal scans through walls or captured conversations. Motion control works fluidly, although the effect would be just as sharp with an analog stick. The Wii U gamepad is an in-game device though, something McCain has with him to communicate back to home base or with criminals he is beginning to integrate with. Messages sprout up while using the tinny speakers of the pad (if it is turned up), cleverly replicating the small sound of an actual phone call. For the most part, the Pad acts as (shocking to no one) a map or a logo delivery device; looking down mostly shows the game’s title in missions.
Of the few elements tweaked, combat is the boldest push away from the normalcy of these Lego efforts. Chase rarely becomes physical with fists, instead insisting on judo-esque throws to dispatch his home’s criminals. Typically loose and uninspired, the forgettable brawling methods of prior games are not missed, and tossing foes through shattering objects offers more oomph than the fisticuffs of old. Randomized special attacks signify the end of a rumble, with all sorts of wild moves displayed in slow motion. Matrix parodies have not reached the end of their lifespan after all.
Knowing the formula, many players will find the search for collectibles exhaustive to reach the vaunted 100% completion. So much material is locked behind hidden barriers that the game implores people to seek out every crevice and shatter any object acting as an impediment to that goal. Pushing straight through, accidentally finding pieces or costumes, will only amass around 30% of Undercover’s riches. McCain is a capable Lego… person (?) for the job despite a fear of French Parrots. Doltish squadmates and superiors played hilariously to stock further push on the title’s charms.
This is a world for everyone.
Lego City Undercover is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor.