When asked about influential gaming franchises that have been around for multiple decades, most people aren’t immediately going to think of the dozens of titles that have been based upon the popular LEGO toys. And yet, LEGO games have proven to be a consistently quality source of entertainment for those of a younger age, especially since the key focus on licensed titles that Traveller’s Tales initiated back in 2005. Eight years later, the studio took a stab at its first unlicensed open-world title in the form of the Wii U exclusive LEGO City Undercover, representing one of the console’s earlier launch titles. The game saw moderate success on the Nintendo platform, garnering enough acclaim for a port onto Nintendo’s next platform, as well as several other consoles. Despite some solid voice-acting and a world packed with activities and secrets, LEGO City Undercover suffers from stale gameplay that hampers any prolonged enjoyment from gamers above a certain age.
LEGO City Undercover tells the story of Chase McCain, an ex-cop who returns to the line of duty after noted criminal Rex Fury begins causing trouble in the titular town. For a fully original effort, TT has shown that they have come a long way from their years of voiceless cutscenes and somewhat repetitive, if not enjoyable, physical humor. The story does take some convoluted and excessively family-friendly turns to justify the twenty-hour length of the campaign, but the writing helps take the edge off, as each cutscene is packed with references and clever puns galore that often require multiple views to fully appreciate. The eclectic cast of characters, many of whom are strongly voiced, also help bolster the plot, as stereotypes are turned on their head and each new character brings their own special blend of crazy for Chase to deal with. Most of the characters lack any sort of depth, but the story seldom takes itself too seriously for said depth to be warranted, as all but a select few have a rather brief time in the spotlight before players are shuffled onto the next location. Not all of the jokes land either, as the humor attempts to entertain a large range of ages, but the sheer variety and depth of the scenes depicted rarely fails to amaze in some form or another.
Unfortunately, that same variety and depth is very infrequently encountered within LEGO City Undercover’s gameplay. Despite the story addressing numerous themes and genres, the core gameplay always consists of simplistic platforming and puzzle-solving that will do little to keep those of an older age interested. The various abilities that each of Chase’s disguises brings with them and the loosely-controlled but fun driving between each of the fifteen enclosed story missions add some spice and replayability, but the major step forward that the LEGO games needed to take in order to survive in an open-world environment is nowhere to be found. The economy of the game suffers greatly for it, as the studs used to purchase additional optional disguises and means of transportation are all too common, while the much more necessary and newly introduced bricks are infrequent, sometimes halting the pacing of the story. That said, the city itself is filled to the brim with side content and easter eggs galore, even if the map does a poor job of allowing players to keep track of them. While most of it falls into the same repetitive type of gameplay, LEGO City and its numerous geographical subsections is sure to keep open-world fanatics occupied, especially if they have a friend who wants to (locally) join in on the collecting.
Despite being four years old and running on more updated technology, LEGO City Undercover does encounter some framerate issues, as the open world is far less stable than the separated story missions. Otherwise, the game mostly fares well from a technical perspective, as the somewhat small open-world remains consistent in its visual quality, and there were no bugs or glitches to speak of during our playthrough. The soundtrack is at its strongest when it is changing with the themes of the genre-defying story, but the core tracks often feel overly-used. As mentioned earlier, the driving would have benefitted from some additional fine-tuning, but the vast majority of the controls are well-polished, making it easy to pick-up for children and adults alike.
As a children’s game, LEGO City Undercover will surely entertain those of the proper age with plenty of witty wordplay and slapstick humor, as well as a varied open-world to cause chaos in by themselves or with a playmate. But for everyone else, the dated movie and TV show references and numerous new abilities won’t manage to keep older gamers hooked for long, as the shallow gameplay pales in comparison to the open-world antics found in other titles this year. While the sheer quantity of content may make it seem like a worthwhile timesink, the core LEGO formula, despite its storied history, has reached a consistent level of mediocrity, becoming one that desperately needs a overhaul if the franchise is to survive for future generations to come.