The evolution of LEGO games is actually quite astounding, especially if you've been a devoted fan of the franchise since its LEGO Star Wars roots. Each new title seems to expand on previous mechanics, but the advancement is noticeable. Enter LEGO City, a Wii U exclusive, open-world LEGO title that not only isn't attached to a movie franchise, but is without a doubt the best LEGO game to-date.
On the surface, it's a LEGO game through and through. The humor, the whacky characters, the absurd situations — it's all there. Thanks to LEGO Batman 2, the voice acting provides a much needed depth to LEGO games, and Undercover runs with it completely. There are still parodies aplenty. From Shawshank Redemption, Matrix, Die Hard and more, you'll see plenty of laugh-inducing parodies that are perfectly placed within the Undercover storyline.
You play as Chase McCain, a hero cop who returns to LEGO City after the master criminal, Rex Fury, busts out of jail. Being the one who put him behind bars in the first place, it's of course up to Chase to put him back where he belongs. There are times where the story is actually quite mature, but the silliness always prevails. This is a kids game, after all.
The crux of LEGO City's premise is disguises. It is called "Undercover" after all. Chase can change into different professions that all allow him to perform different tasks specific to that job. For example, as a cop, Chase can investigate various locations by looking for footsteps or trying to overhear a far away conversation; Burglar Chase can pry open locked doors and open safes; Farmer Chase can water plants that can be climbed or hover distances thanks to his chicken; and Fireman Chase can extinguish fires and save kittens from high locations. After all, that's what firemen do best, right? These jobs can be switched on the fly and are all built into the experience, whether you're on a mission or just leisurely strolling along the city and trying to find each and every collectible.
The beauty is that each time Chase unlocks a new job, it opens up a slew of activities scattered across LEGO City, such as the aforementioned rescuing of cats. The burglar's paint gun can paint blank pieces their correct color, the fireman can put out BBQ fires, the farmer can water plants across the city, and the astronaut can beam in and then chase down and arrest rogue aliens. The amount of activities in the game is mind blowing. That isn't even counting the various collectibles in the game. From hundreds of cars and disguises, to red and gold bricks, it's enough to make your head spin. And in LEGO's case, that's entirely all right with me.
LEGO City itself is a living world of bricks. Citizens go about their day, walking or driving to their destinations. There are fun locations you can visit, like a fair with interactive games. Maybe you want to shoot some hoops at the neighborhood basketball court? LEGO City is filled with activities like these that don't necessarily add to the overall game, but certainly sprinkle a little charm and believability into it. The city is also split up into districts that mirror their real life counterpart, like Miami Beach, San Francisco and Times Square.
Outside of the open-world city, there are individual missions that play out like standard LEGO games, fixed camera view and all. They're all fairly creative and focus more on puzzle solving than the open-world section, but they're not designed to keep you stumped. The prison mission that plays out like Shawshank Redemption is by far my favorite one. From finding a guy named Blue, to playing the opera record to the inmates, and even discovering a secret hole behind a poster of LEGO Rita Hayworth, this was a parody done right.
Studs aren't the only thing you'll be collecting feverishly. Objects that are destroyed now yield bricks, which can then be used to construct Super Builds. These flashing plots of land can be built into Vehicle Call-in Points, rides, sand castles, stunt ramps and more, and they're usually interactive in some form. Also, watching these build with each correct brick falling into place is a LEGO fan's dream.
While the gameplay is mostly spot-on, I did find myself in two situations where I had to exit and restart a mission because my character was stuck behind a set piece he just built. No amount of jumping or hitting allowed me to break from it. There was also a rather nasty game freeze which, thanks to the game's poor autosave feature within missions, tasked me to replay the whole thing over again.
However, the game's biggest problem is the loading time. Right off the bat, booting up the game just to get to the main menu has a long load. Then actually loading into the game takes more then 45 seconds. Loading a mission and then loading out of one, as well as accessing the Police hub and leaving it, yields the same long load time. Hey, at least the music is all funky and cool. Right?!
It's really hard to deny the love and care that went into the game, despite its shortcomings in the loading department. It's obvious that Traveller's Tales is devoted to this franchise, and it shows with each subsequent release. While the LEGO games are generally for a younger crowd, the parodies will undoubtedly be recognized and appreciated by the older crowd. If you have a Wii U, there is absolutely no reason that LEGO City Undercover shouldn't already be in your gaming library.