The first of the LEGO series I played was LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Wii back in 2007. It managed to achieve a perfect balance of fun, addictive gameplay, a large and varied cast, and some truly excellent slapstick humour that matches the best wordplay of the likes of Sam and Max.
It is with a heavy heart, then, that I have to say I didn’t find myself enjoying LEGO City Undercover. Not for lack of trying, but for trying too hard. See, the humour in the LEGO games has mostly come from its parody – it takes pre-existing plots and characters, which we’re assumed to already know, and proceeds to mutilate the hell out of them with block-based shenanigans. The games don’t need proper characterisation or plots, because they’re already provided for us by the source material. They didn’t even have voice acting until last year because they didn’t need it.
The problem comes when Traveller’s Tales start inserting their own plots – as in LEGO Batman 2 – and characters, as here. See, with an original storyline you can’t simply have silent protagonists playing through set-piece moments from the plot because it wouldn’t be coherent and you couldn’t just jump on Wikipedia to find it out. You need characters, pacing, a proper story arc and emotional weight, something that the model of parody established by LEGO Star Wars couldn’t provide.
Thus, we see the story of Chase McCain, a handsome grizzled police officer who’s come to a new town in order to shake things up and knock the block off crime. That sort of lazy pun I just produced is an excellent example of the sort of things Traveller’s Tales are giving me to work with. Chase has no character arc to speak of – he starts tough, carries on being tough, and is generally an amorphous blob ready to be inserted into whatever scenario the plot demands. He also has some sort of love interest subplot going on but I found the contents of my shelf infinitely more interesting during those scenes so I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what happened.
Oh, don’t look at me like that. We both know the entire point of a story is to grip me and if it fails to do that, it’s not an example of me being unprofessional, it just shows that they aren’t taking much care over what they do. The other characters are constructed of lazy stereotypes, like the angry, donut-inhaling police chief who spends his day alternately sleeping and yelling at underlings. Stereotypes aren’t inherently bad, but they can’t rely on their existence to carry the humour through. Chief Wiggum of The Simpsons is not hilarious because he is a stereotypical fat cop, but because he’s desperately trying to fit a role he is clearly not qualified for and blunders around clearly oblivious to the terrible job he’s doing.
Similarly, the other characters either have no personality or one that makes entirely no sense. The closest thing Chase has to a sidekick clearly needs something to suppress his chronic ADHD and spouts every line like it was specifically calculated to raise a giggle from poor American schoolkids who don’t know any better. As you may well know, though, I am a black-hearted old git of a British young adult and as such retain naught but aloof disdain for his kind.
Oh, there’s a girl, too. Works in the office, kind of like Moneypenny, although that’s where comparisons end. Her big thing is that she’s Southern, by which I mean the sort of Southern accent you’d get if you made an Australian do the voice acting at gunpoint with a peg on their nose. She has this habit of calling you up every five minutes in sequences which make you look down at the Wii U controller like she’s talking to you through your telecommunicative crotch.
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t taken any time out from my narrative ranting to talk about the gameplay. I’m wondering that too, and now that I think about it it’s because it’s so bloody insubstantial. If you’ve played pretty much any of the LEGO games you’ll know what to expect. Start mission, beat up specific number of baddies, explore small but item-packed environments causing havoc along the way, solve a few item-based puzzles, rinse, repeat.
There are additions this time in that you’re in a reasonably large city environment and can drive to and from your mission objectives. Thing is, there’s so little outside that it’s not really worth it. You can build a couple of vehicle deployment spots and boats, but they only serve as brief distractions in between missions and I’m left wondering why this game was a sandbox in the first place. We’re bored, Traveller’s Tales. Desperately bored. And what’s more, I’ve realised that part of what made your games appeal in the first place was largely the work of LucasFilm, not you.
If you’re used to my regular, phoning-it-in style of review, be aware that I write fluidly and along a single line of thought either when a game makes me emit liquid rage from my ears, or when it makes me emit quite another fluid from one of my less wholesome orifices. In this case, LEGO City Undercover most definitely falls into the former camp. It’s repetitive, uninteresting, actively irritating, and for the same price you could pick up the vastly superior LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, LEGO Indiana Jones and still have money left over for a pizza.
I want to like LEGO City Undercover, I really do. The Wii U needs games right now and the franchise was well suited to it, but this is an abject disappointment for as long as you can bring yourself to play it. Which, given the loading times, will be far longer than you’d like. 2.5/10.