Lego City Undercover Isn't as Different as You Might Think

E3 2012: Although the open-world elements are brand new, there's a more traditional Lego experience just below the surface.

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When you think of an open-world adventure, certain ideas invariably rush into your mind. Untold freedom, crazy locomotion, and utter unpredictably are the foundation upon which most free-roaming games are built, but Lego City Undercover has a more structured side to complement its nonlinear elements. We had a chance to play through a tightly constructed level involving miners, criminals, cops, and other suit-changing minifigs.

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The most noteworthy aspect of Undercover is that the stages you enter outside of the open-world city are strikingly familiar for anyone who has played a previous Lego game. In the mission we took part in, we played as a police officer in search of a gang of criminals. Far below the sidewalks where oblivious citizens walk without a care in the world lay a base where evil plans are hatched and coldhearted robbers laugh about their day's work. Sounds like a job for the best darn cop in Blockland.

An expansive cave is the perfect place to create a quiet lair for a band of scheming thieves. Miners, completely unaware that their hard work is making it possible for criminals to hide from justice, were busy striking away at rocks and minerals with their handy pickaxes. As in previous Lego games, the tools you have access to depend on what kind of character you control. By tapping either of the shoulder buttons, you switch between different suits, letting you easily doff your policeman uniform to become a citizen in a pinch.

Of course, you won't have much luck getting through a mine if you don't find a miner's suit. A change of clothes was found in an out-of-the-way locker, and once we found our miner outfit, we could light dynamite and run like crazy from the blast. Puzzles are laid out in a linear and logical way, so you can seamlessly walk down a single path to make your way through a level. You may have to destroy an outhouse and then reassemble the pieces to make a bridge, or chop rocks apart to find precious Lego blocks hidden beneath them. It's a simple game, but enjoyable, because the breezy pacing and friendly charm make it immensely endearing.

During one section, we entered a free fall through a huge hole cut into the center of the massive cave. By changing our trajectory, we could collect studs, though danger awaited those who didn't heed caution. A spinning fan blade made short work of our flimsy policeman. In our second attempt, we made it past the fan with ease, and the protagonist muttered, "Now why would they put that there?" It's a simple enough comment, but it adds a dose of humor to the silly adventuring. And though it's certainly strange to hear words come out of these plastic people's mouths, the cute dialogue more than makes up for the weirdness.

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The demo ended with a nod toward the Mario universe. We assembled a bunch of blocks into a warp pipe, jumped down, and then reached the surface as fireworks extolled our hard work. Getting a peek beyond the open-world experience made us further understand what the majority of this adventure would feel like. What we saw so far was good (though expected), and we're eager to see how Lego City Undercover turns out.

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