When Lego City Undercover was originally announced back in 2011, I brushed it off as a gimmicky Grand Theft Auto wannabe for kids. It didn’t help that I was already feeling let down by the Wii U after its disappointing E3 debut, where Nintendo seemed to be completely out of touch with reality and the rest of the industry.
The years since then have been a very different story for the console, having built up an excellent library of games, including Super Mario 3D World, EarthBound on the Virtual Console, Mario Kart 8, and this exclusive from Tt Fusion and WB Games.
2014 has been a good year for me and open-world titles. Tomb Raider, Batman: Arkham City, and Grand Theft Auto V are among the sandbox-style games that I’ve played and put extensive time into, and I’ve loved them all.
Like I said, I had initially ignored Lego City Undercover, but I had also seen the very positive reviews and forum threads on it, and figured now would be a good time to see what it was all about.
And I’m so glad I did! Lego City Undercover is one of the most purely fun games I’ve played on the Wii U, providing a wealth of variety and challenge for gamers of all ages.
Its format will be familiar to fans of open-world games. While there is a main storyline full of special missions and unique environments that keeps you moving forward through the game world, it is primarily comprised of a giant, living city that you can explore freely.
What I like about Lego City Undercover’s gameplay is that it blends together the vibrant feel of Grand Theft Auto V with the structural, dizzying traversal of games like Uncharted and Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider from 2012. It also does so through humor, creative design, and violence that doesn’t go beyond that of typical Saturday morning cartoons.
Like many other of its genre peers, collectibles are a big part of the gameplay. Not only will you be picking up a large supply of Lego bricks in order to build things, but you’ll also need money to unlock most of the game’s characters, vehicles, and special abilities.
That’s actually something I don’t like about Lego City Undercover’s design. You spend a lot of time finding all of these collectibles, but there is an additional step required, where you have to go to your home base to unlock each one individually for use within the game world.
I hope that if a sequel is developed, that unlockables can be used immediately once you find them. Compounding this problem is the actual unlocking interface, which is slow and unresponsive.
Then there are the load times, which can last up to a minute and a half. These occur pretty often, especially later in the game when you’re going back and forth out of levels collecting all the things you missed your first time through.
I consider myself to be a pretty patient player, but Lego City Undercover’s long, non-interactive loading screens definitely tested me. I give these a bit of a pass, however, since this is one of the Wii U’s earlier releases, so I’m sure if given the time, Tt Fusion would have been able to implement better streaming/preloading technology and get a better handle on the hardware architecture itself.
Graphically, the game looks very good, with excellent draw distance, nice environmental detail, and a decent framerate. It does often dip below 30fps, but given how much is being displayed on-screen, its performance hits aren’t entirely surprising.
There are some inconsistencies in quality when it comes to texture detail too, but for the most part, the game looks nice, and particularly shines during special missions and Super Build sequences, which show various structures being built brick-by-brick.
In terms of audio, Lego City Undercover gets most things right. The voiceover work is wonderful, with some sound-alikes that are pretty close to the real thing, like Morgan Freeman and Joe Pesci.
Music is also good, with a ’70s funk soundtrack that fits the story and style of the game perfectly. Additionally, there are some licensed tracks, and the music for the final stage is particularly amazing.
What’s bizarre, however, is the complete absence of music during most of the game’s open-world and driving sections. Fans of Grand Theft Auto and other open-worlders have become accustomed to different radio stations to listen to, and driving around Lego City without a single chord of music makes these sections feel sterile and incomplete.
It’s a giant missed opportunity, in my opinion, but on the flipside, because of how long it will take to 100% this game, maybe not having a repeating soundtrack during these segments is a blessing in disguise. It’d be nice to have the option, though.
The Wii U GamePad is put to good use in Lego City Undercover, and like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, it’s nice being able to use it as an interactive map and resource without having to pause.
It’s also used throughout the game to set waypoints, check in on your overall progress per area, listen in on conversations, and uncover important clues. It works pretty well, but I found myself feeling rather silly on multiple occasions holding the GamePad up in the air, spinning in my chair looking around the room. If a sequel is produced, it’d be nice to have the option to just use the thumbsticks for this functionality.
There is a lot to do in Lego City Undercover. While the main campaign will take most players about 15 hours to complete, it will easily take triple that — if not more — to 100% it.
The great thing is that most of those additional tasks are fun to do and discover. They usually don’t take that long to complete either, and abilities like fast travel, ability boosts, scanning upgrades, and other enhancements make the collectibles a joy to uncover.
The game does a great job of keeping track of what you’ve found, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself pulling your hair out trying to find that last character token in a given area. Try your best to avoid FAQs, since the game is at its most rewarding when you solve the game’s various puzzles and challenges on your own.
I had a great time with Lego City Undercover. While it doesn’t have the spectacle, controversy, or production value of similar open-world games, it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable in the genre, providing laughs, solid gameplay, varied locales, and no shortage of things to discover and do. I highly recommend it.
- Graphics & Presentation: B+
A believable world full of colorful characters, environments, and creative Lego structures. 30fps for the most part, with framerate dips when the screen gets busy. Nice animation, depth, and a fun story that will keep you going until the very end.
- Music & Sound Effects: B
A fun ’70s soundtrack with some licensed tunes as well. Excellent voice acting, good sound effects and believable ambient fill. No music during most of the open-world and driving sequences makes those parts of the game feel dull, so hopefully a more robust radio setup makes its way into a sequel.
- Gameplay & Controls: A-
The world is a pure joy to explore, and the controls are solid. Some platforming and judging of distance is vague, but with unlimited lives and convenient retry features, it’s rarely an issue. Grand Theft Auto could learn a thing or two from this game’s flying controls, which are wonderful. Tons of gameplay variation and abilities will keep you going long after the credits roll.
- Value: A+
It will take about 15 hours to get through the main storyline, but 60 is more likely to 100% it. Tons of collectibles and post-game content will keep you going for days, if not weeks, after you finish it. Lego City Undercover represents a tremendous value.