Of course, another big element of LEGO City Undercover is the “undercover” part. Over the course of the game, you’ll acquire numerous disguises, most of which fall into one class or another, and these classes usually contain their own unique abilities. For instance, only a LEGO fireman can put out LEGO flames, while a thief is capable of using his crowbar to break into locked doors or crack safes.
Furthermore, for those inclined towards customization, there is a special room in the LEGO City Police Department that allows you to mix and match pieces in different ways to come up with your own looks for each role in your cycle. These customs can then be easily swapped out among others you’ll pick up as you find them at the various booths situated around the city.
The way the disguises are set up reminds me of Mega Man, though less in a “use Rock-Paper-Scissors strategy to beat the boss” way, and more in a “I’ll switch to this to handle this task” sort of way. Perhaps that isn’t terribly unique among a lot of games today, but something about the costume changes just seemed to lend it that sort of flavor.
One thing which sets LEGO City Undercover apart from its forebears is its use of the Wii U GamePad. As you progress through the game, you’ll gain new abilities to use with it. It begins simple, with a basic map, but as you move along, you’ll begin using it for communications (with the volume on, the characters’ voices come at you from the controller, rather than the television), pinpointing different items to mark on your map, and listening in on conversations.
In the case of the latter two, you have no choice but to use the GamePad’s gyroscope to look around. To get the most out of it unfortunately means having to get up and turn around; you can still do so while sitting on your sofa or what have you, but that can really limit your range of motion. It’s not really terrible, but it can feel a little distracting in a way.
Additionally, there’s a slight tease of GamePad functionality that isn’t really there. In the above shot, you can see Chase following footprints illuminated by his version of the device, but this is actually all done on-screen– you don’t have to look at or use the GamePad any more than normal for these portions.
For the most part, the GamePad use adds an extra layer of charm to the gameplay in a unique fashion. Still, it would have been nice to at least be able to rotate the scanner’s viewpoint using the analog sticks; as it is, they both just zoom in and out.
Other items of note are that the graphics are fairly solid; it’s a cartoon version of a simple toy, after all, so there is little expectation of realism. Despite that, the backgrounds are nicely rendered, with a clear distinction between “realistic” parts and those made of LEGOs. I’ve seen some complaints about the disparity, but it isn’t without purpose, as it’s generally the LEGO stuff you can interact with– as a result, you’re not wasting your time chipping away at the wrong rocks or trees, for instance.
As mentioned before, the voices have a charm that just feels right for the game. It’s coupled with a soundtrack which carries a sort of 70’s cop show/movie feel to it, and the sounds feel right for LEGO, too– particularly the clicking of blocks coming together.
The story is fun, and I suspect younger players won’t have trouble following it. At the same time, there are plenty of pop culture and especially movie references sprinkled throughout, from Dirty Harry to The Shawshank Redemption, and even a guy spouting Arnold Schwarzenegger lines. It’s hard not to be amused as one of Chase’s fellow cops asks another how many cups of coffee he’s had.
A neat feature the game also has is interaction with the LEGO City line of toys, as some packages include special codes which allow you to unlock new vehicles and things in the game. Unfortunately, without any of those toys or their codes, I was unable to try this feature out for myself.
I’ve seen some complaints about the frame rate, but I’m really not the person to talk to for that. Suffice to say, I haven’t noticed any huge problems, certainly not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the game.
However, I cannot say the same about the load times. I will be very blunt here: This game has the worst load times I’ve seen since the PlayStation (or maybe the PlayStation 2). If anything takes you out of the game, it’s the load times, which can take up to a minute to finish.
Fortunately, if you’re careful, they tend to be rather infrequent. Inexplicably, there’s a bit of a wait for the title screen, and when you’ve chosen your file, another loading screen to start the game. If you go into a mission, the LEGO City P.D., or a cutscene, that’s more loading, though those are usually less frequent and some go more quickly than others.
Worse than the load times, though, is that there is really very little to help you pass the time while they go on. You have a spinning badge on the television and a status bar on the GamePad, with one of the aforementioned cop tunes playing all the while– and you’ll probably be sick of it before long.
At the very least, there could have been something else, anything else during these transitions. Why not some funny art of these LEGO characters doing silly LEGO things? That would have made them more bearable.
Thankfully, while the load times are grating, I don’t think they’re a deal breaker– starting up the game is the worst part. Hopefully they’ll find a way to patch this or something, but as it is– while it’s something I dread– it’s something I’m willing to put up with to play more of the game.
In fact, I can honestly say that I think this is the first Wii U game I’ve had to stop playing on account of the “low battery” indicator on the GamePad indicating that it needs a recharge. That has to count for something.
LEGO City Undercover is the first big game to come out for the Wii U this year, and I think it is a must-play for anyone who already has the console, and stands well alongside other games as one of the strongest parts of the system’s library to date, and probably in the foreseeable future. If you own a Wii U or plan to in the future, then this is definitely a game to try out.