Chase McCain, the game's central protagonist, is a man of many talents. The most immediately obvious of them is his ability to deliver cheesy one-liners. He starts as he means to go on; it's an unrelenting stream of puns, gags and sarcastic quips. Whilst some my fall flat on adult ears, there's plenty of smirk inducing moments that more than make up for it. Lego City Undercover's target audience, the kids, will undoubtedly love it.
There's a Pixar feel to the story and script. It clicked for us during the scene where McCain learns Kung Fu by simply listening to headphones, before engaging a part-time plumber in a Matrix-inspired fight. Younglings might not have a clue about the source material, but it's silly enough that they'll love it nonetheless, and grownups will appreciate the succession of nods to classic films and iconic characters.
There's no movie license to attract in additional fans, but Lego City is strong brand in its own right, and there'll be appeal here from those with the accompanying Lego sets. When considered in that respect, it doesn't feel like a risky proposition. While adults will find plenty to enjoy, Undercover's firmly aimed at a younger audience, and we've no doubt that the game will hit home with that demographic.
One of Undercover's selling points is the open-world environment that hosts the action. It's not huge, and familiarity soon starts to sink in as you explore the world around you, but there's still plenty going on to keep you occupied outside of the main storyline which finds Chase heading undercover in order to apprehend an escaped criminal.
Whilst the map size might not increase once unlocked in the main story, access to its challenges does, as throughout the game you unlock new costumes that grant you the abilities required to reach some challenges that are unavailable at first. There's eight different costumes all told, ranging from an burglar's outfit complete with crowbar and environment altering gun, to a farmer costume that allows plants to be watered so they grow up walls, and gives a projectile firing chicken that doubles as a glider.
Early Lego games were, at times, painfully linear and simplistic, and although the puzzles here aren't particularly taxing, switching between the various costumes is essential in order to make progress. It keeps the puzzles interesting, even if some of the solutions are quite clearly signposted.
Undercover draws plenty of inspiration from titles such as GTA, but there's other influences that can't be hidden. At times you'll be climbing and free-running like Ezio, or gliding down from lofty perches like Batman in Arkham Asylum. Some of the platforming was quite tricky too, and even if it frustrated at times we were grateful of the challenge it presented.
Unlike other open-world games, and as you'd expect from a Lego game, the violence is turned right down. Combat is all fisticuffs, with enemies removed from the fray via a pair of hastily administered handcuffs. The fighting is pretty enjoyable, though not particularly difficult. Driving around and taking out pedestrians is another non-lethal pursuit, with blocky citizens leaping out of harms way whenever you stray too close to the curb. There's a nice mix of transport options, ranging from cars and bikes, to boats, horses and helicopters.
Moving Chase McCain around the San Francisco-inspired city is straightforward, and assistance comes from the Wii U GamePad. A map offers directions at a glance, and other characters regularly appear here to offer guidance and help during the various missions. The controller is used to scan, take pictures and record audio; it's well implemented and simple to use.
The game comes to life because of the characters, and the voice over work is very good. Some of the one-liners are genuinely hilarious, and they're delivered in a way that'll appeal to both youth and experience. A major shift for the franchise was the recent introduction of fully voiced characters. It makes a huge difference here, allowing TT a chance to explore storytelling in a variety of interesting ways. Whilst grunts worked for Star Wars, where the story was already well known, it just wouldn't have worked for Undercover.
The soundtrack is solid, taking further inspiration from the parodied films that inform the story. Those old enough to remember will notice things like undertones of the Theme from Shaft, and there's a scene that's entirely reminiscent to one from The Shawshank Redemption that'll undoubtedly raise a smile.
It looks as you would expect a Lego game to; decent, nicely animated and full of blocky characters. There's not a lot of difference between what's on display here and other current-gen offerings from the same stable, but that said, we don't buy these games for the crisp visuals, so it matters little that this doesn't look "next-gen".
There's no co-op, this is pure single player, which feels like a missed opportunity. Given the amount of amusement found in the script, playing it with your little ones would've been a nice option. As it is we'll have to make do with smirking as we watch them play. The other option is to play it yourself, but given the open-world design and the simplistic gameplay it's harder to recommend - there's plenty of other titles in the same genre that are better suited to an older audience. The script comes very close to making it worthwhile all by itself, but approach with caution if you're buying it for grown-up consumption, unless you like sucking up collectibles and love Lego, if that's the case then consider it a no-brainer.
It's commendable that the fun is maintained through to the conclusion of the twelve hour campaign. Beyond that there's a wealth of content that'll keep players coming back. Like other games of a similar ilk, there's a plethora of challenges to be found dotted around the map that'll keep the dedicated coming back for more. The humour found in the story, coupled with the vast swathes of content makes Lego City Undercover perfect if you're looking to keep the kids entertained during the holidays, and a good shout for Lego-loving adults.