You'd be forgiven for expecting less of LEGO City Undercover than it delivers. Or, I'd forgive you, anyway. I was expecting something pleasant and forgettable, but Traveller's Tales has gone a fair way beyond 'pleasant and forgettable' and into the territory of 'meaty and impressive'.
The game stars Chase McCain, a cop returning to LEGO City after leaving under a dark cloud. Chase's former foe, Rex Fury, is on the loose and causing mayhem and LEGO City's police commissioner isn't prepared to admit there's a problem. So, of course, it's down to Chase to deal with the problem.
Without a big license on board I was expecting a return to the more linear action/adventure style of earlier Travellers Tales LEGO games rather than the more open world of LEGO Batman 2
, but I quickly discovered I was thoroughly wrong. LEGO City Undercover
is basically Grand Theft Auto
The player wanders a good-sized map completing missions, collecting things and smashing up large swathes of the landscape from the comfort of any of 100 or so vehicles on offer. Granted, beyond the main missions there's not the depth of content of a GTA, but it's difficult to hold that against anything, let alone a game aimed at kids. And there is still plenty
to keep players going.
But, yes, it is a kids' game. The presentation and the difficulty curve are most definitely crafted for a younger audience. Really, you could say the same about the LEGO Batman, Indiana Jones or Star Wars games, but the playful way TT uses those licenses means there's plenty in there for kids in their 20s and 30s, too.
While LEGO City Undercover
is certainly a smart, well put-together game with the odd joke that's clearly in there for the parents, without the nostalgia factor this game is more straightforwardly one for the kids.
Gameplay chops and changes between puzzle-solving, platforming, driving and light combat. Throughout the whole thing you adopt different identities to make use of different abilities. As a cop, for example, you can use a grappling gun that enables you to access areas your regular 'free-running' abilities won't get you to. Or, as a miner you can break through obstacles that would otherwise be blocking your path.
Through early puzzles there's a sense that TT wants to hold your hand a little too tight, but it soon loosens up. There's still nothing too demanding going on – it's mostly a question of moving things around the environment until everything does what you want it to – but there should be enough there to keep younger gamers engaged. Every now and then there's an element of a puzzle that feels misjudged. I spent a good 15 minutes wandering around a mine level, for example, before ultimately discovering that the game element I needed was only visible if I went to the exact right spot and tilted the camera in the exact right, counter-intuitive way. These niggles, however, are few and far between.
Combat is, perhaps a little surprisingly, of the Batman: Arkham Asylum/City
school. There are just a couple of moves, with whatever skill is involved being in timing and counter-attacking at the right moment. It's mostly throw-based and doesn't feature punches or kicks.
Similarly, I've yet to come across a regular firearm and enemies don't break apart as they do in other LEGO games. This is all, no doubt, part of the game's attempt to court parents. Combat feels good, though it must be said that without there being any real consequence to being killed it lacks much bite. This is a tension that keeps popping up...
Platforming is perhaps the most fun that LEGO City Undercover
has to offer. It's in these sections that you really get to take in the joy and imagination that has gone into the design of the game. Rooftop chases, underground caves and jail break-ins are all on offer within the first few hours of the game, and they push and pull the action in different, delightful directions.
Likewise, the driving sections give you the chance to really explore the city. The handling's a little clunky, but you are
driving LEGO around...