Traveller’s Tales has consistently achieved the impossible - won over both kids and adults with a family-friendly game series that doesn’t patronise. Its comical LEGO interpretations of film and comic licenses made the studio’s name. But with LEGO City Undercover, it doesn’t have a well-known franchise to lean on. This may be a drawback to some, but in reality it represents a pretty big opportunity.
The British studio, now with the trust of the mighty LEGO brand behind it, has the chance to go all-out and explore more avenues of play that might not have been possible when working with film and comic license holders. The result is an open-world, city adventure game for the Wii U - that is looking very cool.
You play as the charismatic and witty police detective Chase McCain, as he returns to his home in LEGO City... only to find that Rex Fury, the criminal he once put behind bars, has escaped and is causing havoc all over the town. From the moment the opening scenes start playing, the world has immense character, cult references and that classic Traveller’s Tales + LEGO humour.
After arriving on a boat (which, when thrust into comical chaos, shows a couple mimicking scenes from the film Titanic
) and getting re-acquainted with the city police department (which includes a briefing sequence that features detective cameos such as Dirty Harry, Columbo and Sherlock Holmes), you’re free to start fighting crime in an attempt to reach Rex Fury. A basement in the station acts as your HQ, offering vehicles, intel and costumes to disguise yourself.
Missions are set for you by your police chief or LEGO City associates, and involve you travelling between waypoints to find criminals and beat them into submission. You can commandeer any vehicle and stop traffic using your handy whistle, or you can build terminals in the open world and call in some police cars to ride in. The cop cars have turbo boost, so they’re worth sticking with the most.
The quickest route to a waypoint is displayed both on screen and via a mini-map in the corner of your TV. The open world nature of LEGO City
allows you to tackle missions in any order that you fancy.
Overall, it’s what you’d imagine a family-friendly version of Grand Theft Auto
would be like - the protagonist has to fight crime, rather than descend into it. You can still cause havoc and mayhem though by running over lampposts and other cars.
In fact, there’s no end of things you can bust up. The first thing anyone does when playing a LEGO
game is to punch the crap out of the scenery to collect studs. You can do the same here and, impressively given that the world map is absolutely huge there’s still so much to destroy. But there are also fewer studs.
, you don’t get studs from destroyed objects though - studs are found by completing mission objectives and are also dotted about the pavements. Instead, when you smash LEGO objects you get LEGO Bricks.
This is a different kind of currency that is used to create new items and vehicles at certain creation points. Some, like luxury cruise boats, require around 15,000 Bricks to build - so to help you along your way the world is littered with rare Super Bricks, worth upwards of 1000 Bricks each.
Of course, as LEGO City Undercover
is on the Wii U, it also takes advantage of Nintendo’s curious GamePad peripheral. And it’s used to some interesting effect - the touchscreen is transformed into a world map, which also houses completion information and mission status.
The Criminal Scan uses the GamePad’s gyroscopic technology to scan the area around you. You’ll need to hold the GamePad up and move it around to see through buildings and detect Super Bricks or criminal targets.
The build that I toyed around with was an early one - side missions had not been implemented just yet, and some of the presentation needed touching up - but the game ran at a smooth and consistent framerate and made for a very pleasant experience.
As I hoped, this feels a lot like a classic LEGO
title, only bigger, better and funnier. I certainly felt the game’s charm, and left wanting to play more.LEGO City Undercover
might have had a relatively frosty reception when it was announced at Nintendo’s E3 press conference - but have no doubt that this is shaping up to be a Wii U killer app in its own right.