The materialization of many people's childhood dreams: a charming city of Lego coming to glorious colorful life
To explore the marvelous city, players will assume the role of the seemingly unshakable Chase McCain. After accidentally revealing the identity of a key witness during an important investigation a few years earlier, Chase was removed from the city's police force and sent to develop his skills elsewhere. However, when a huge wave of crime, lead by the evil Rex Fury, strikes the city, Chase is promptly asked to return in order to aid the police in capturing the criminal. In order to do so, Chase will have to utilize his fantastic disguise abilities to infiltrate a number of the town's many gangs in order to reveal Rex Fury's plan and discover where he is hiding before it is too late. As a consequence, Lego City Undercover offers both the traditional GTA outlaw moments - after all, one must pull off some really outrageous thefts in order to be accepted in a gang, and segments where you play as the good guy trying to save the day.
Comparisons to GTA should not be reserved to the occasional law-breaking activities the game demands of players; it ought to be also applied to the game's fantastic world. Lego City is just huge. The city is divided into about twenty different districts, each with very distinct characteristics, which makes each one of them full of personality and easy to identify. The extravagant spirit of the series allowed designers to throw a little bit of everything in one fully-connected map without making the place look overly uncanny. Lego City has portions clearly inspired by San Francisco and New York; in addition, the place offers one national park, one space center on an island, a rural area, a Chinatown, a Venice-inspired Italian neighborhood, a fancy touristic beach, and much more. The fact that the missions usually send McCain all across town serves as a natural invitation for players to go and explore at will, and a lot of time will certainly be spent looking around for secrets and things to do, because it is simply impossible to resist the charm of Lego City.
The game features two basic types of quests during the course of its main story. The first type usually involves having Chase drive around the city while performing some sort of task - like avoiding the police, for example - or finding a way to navigate through the buildings and rooftops in order to get to a certain spot; meanwhile, the second sort of mission works as the normal levels found in every level game, meaning they are self-contained and feature their own collectibles and locations. While the former kind explores a more environmental style of gameplay, where Chase must explore his surroundings, act like a clumsy version of Spider-Man in his attempt to climb buildings and go through obstacle courses; the latter is a much more settled-down and puzzle-focused gameplay that is familiar to the fans of the series, where Chase will use his abilities to unlock doors, find objects and beat down enemies.
TT Fusion was incredibly sensible in the setting-up of the game's main story, because the two kinds of missions are nicely alternated, always offering a change of pace that makes the game very playable for long stretches of time without making players feel worn out. The fact that there are a whole bunch of collectibles scattered across the city is just an added layer of gameplay that further enhances the game's pacing, because like most open-world games, Lego City Undercover gives players the choice to do things their way. If a player wants to quickly go through the story because they simply cannot wait to see what is coming next, then that's absolutely viable; on the other hand, if a player wants to do some side-missions because he is imply not in the mood for another dash of puzzle solving, then the city will be right there for the taking.
Each of the game's many areas offers around fifteen extra missions. Some are more on the complex side, like stealing a car and taking it to a warehouse, chasing a criminal before he manages to escape with his recently stolen vehicle, stopping the havoc caused by gangs, and doing some time trials either by driving through some very nicely designed courses on the city's streets or by running around obstacle courses on the roof. On the contrary, others are just a matter of finding something, like an ATM to smash, a cat to rescue, a vase of plants to water or conquering the neighborhood by finding a high spot where a flag can be unfolded. And if those tiny missions sound like they are not enough, which would be odd as they total more than 200, there are characters and vehicles to unlock - which are found as tokens hidden in the city's areas, and Lego structures which will either aid McCain or beautify the city waiting to be built.
Like many games nowadays, Lego City holds a whole lot of content. But unlike many of them, the game is absolutely effective in drawing players towards the collection of that content; it is the game's greatest quality, and one that is directly derived from the amazing design of the city, which hides many delightful and rewarding locations. The game, however, stumbles in one particular area that ends up working against prowess. Though exploring Lego City is undeniably alluring, the city only becomes fully explorable in the later stages of the game. Opening certain doors and getting to some locations can only be done after Chase acquires a few abilities; it is a natural quirk of the Lego games, but it is something that does not work well with the open-world nature of Lego City Undercover. While inside the isolated missions it generates the necessity for backtracking for those who want full completion, something that is the norm with Lego games; outside in Lego City it creates the situation where after going exploring and finding a neat nice location, players will be unable to open a door or press a switch due to the lack of an ability. Not only is it slightly frustrating, but it creates limitations in a game that thrives when there are not any.
Another issue that somehow harms the game is how uninspired combat is. Whether you are inside individual missions or out in the city, McCain will eventually come across groups of baddies looking to beat him down. However, those few minutes of fighting will become a boring chore within a few seconds, because Chase cannot be die or be defeated (another characteristic that has been inherited from past Lego games) and the mechanics for fighting are just way too simple to cause any sort of excitement, as bashing the punch button is pretty much everything players will have to do. While Chase's invincibility works perfectly fine for the platforming sessions, because it avoids the hassle of having to replay certain portions of the stages; it removes any of the thrill that could be gained from combat. Put in Chase's lack of variety in his moves, and players will naturally sigh whenever fighting comes up.
Yet, those shortcomings do not stop the game from being fantastic. Pretty much everything else about Lego City Undercover is very well-done, including its graphics. Though the characters are very simple in their design, after all they are Lego toys, the city is not. The buildings and locations are completely packed with little details that give the place a lot of life, and the vivid colors of Lego City suspend the place above reality, adding a lot of charm to it. Loading up the city takes a while, but once the game is set to go, it takes off in the visual department. Some problems do arise due to the game's scope: vehicles, which are loaded on-demand, sometimes pop out of nowhere; and frame rate dips occur in very busy locations. Those drops, however, with the exception of one specific area, are not annoying.
All in all, Lego City Undercover is the first stellar third-party exclusive to hit the system, and TT Fusion has done well in utilizing the system's unique controller either as a map, or as a scanner that when aimed towards the screen allows Chase to investigate his surroundings. It is a game that has over twenty hours of extra content to go along with its fifteen-hour main quest. Its few core issues are directly related to the line of games it belongs to, and how some of its quirks did not adjust so well to the vast ambitious project that is Lego City. Other than that, the game is blessed with the same charm, silly humor and great cutscenes - this time with full voice acting - that have always been such an important component of the Lego games.