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First Impressions: LEGO City Undercover

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Cruising round the blocks

Recently we were fortunate enough to travel to TT Fusion's HQ in Wilmslow, England, to learn more about LEGO City Undercover, a high profile Wii U exclusive that arrives in March. During our day at the studio we were able to partake in an extensive hands-on session with the title, in order to gain a greater understanding of all that it has to offer.

Prior to playing the game itself we were given a little background on the development cycle, and it became immediately clear that this has been a significant, sizeable project for the studio. Concept work began in 2010, with early footage showing an isometric camera and a simpler design far removed from the final game's approach, while the final layout for the city was agreed in 2011. It was in this second year of development that the biggest change came, with Nintendo getting in touch, showing off the Wii U and providing early dev kits; the exclusivity and publication was then confirmed.

What became clear in that presentation is that this project has taken on a level of depth that's arguably new ground for the franchise, notably with the subject matter moving away from a license and to the popular LEGO City franchise. Focus on toys and the actual building blocks are paramount, with every car model — of which there are apparently around 200 — being produced in real-life with existing LEGO sets before being painstakingly recreated in TT Fusion's bespoke modelling software. The studio may be best known for its handheld LEGO ports while TT Games did the high-profile games, but it's gone all out in this home console project. When you include voice-work from well-known comedic voice-talents such as Adam Buxton, Josh Robert Thomson and Peter Serafinowicz, it's clear that this is no quick-fix LEGO title to sell easy copies.

It's important to know this background, as it does provide an important indication of how rounded and complete the final result feels. We were playing a build that, to all intent and purposes, was regarded as final, and it feels rather impressive. It's not the first open-world LEGO title, but it feels like a move forward for the series in terms of its freedom to explore, well crafted story levels and its implementation of the Wii U's capabilities. Fans of the series can be confident that this is shaping up as an excellent experience.

To get to specifics, LEGO City Undercover looks crisp and attractive, but doesn't feel like a major step up from previous HD entries on Xbox 360 and PS3, at least not in terms of polygon counts. What it is, however, is wonderfully realised, with exploration allowed to almost anything you can see on the horizon, provided you've progressed far enough in the story — roughly a third of the way through — to unlock the whole city. A clever camera system means that you have almost full control with the right-stick while out and about in the environment, but it becomes more limited and fixed within buildings or missions areas, where it guides you or points in the right direction.

The camera also matches the frame rate in that it's smooth but somewhat lazy, in the classic LEGO style, reflecting the fact that everything is made from blocks. The game moves at a tempo that encourages older players to put their feet up and relax, while suiting younger or less experienced campaigners. It's pleasing that driving a car through the city is practically seamless and lag free, but don't expect break-neck speed on a par with a Need for Speed experience; despite progressions to new areas, this is still unapologetic and LEGO in style.

That LEGO style goes right through the production, and our earlier mention of comedic voice talent and the trailers shown so far giving an idea of the story-telling on offer. The humour is consistently silly and light-hearted, with touches to satisfy older players — such as the relentless range of parodies — and younger gamers likely to be amused by the slapstick animations and mannerisms. Characters are exaggerated, such as the daft-as-a-brush Frank Honey, while Chase McCain is a charming and cheeky star. Some of the parodies are brilliant, while other jokes are better for the kids, but the general impression is one of harmless entertainment. Credit should also go to the developers that animated the NPCs and City inhabitants, too, as there's something inherently goofy and amusing about driving around in a LEGO car and watching the locals dive for cover.

What's clear is that this is an experience that, should the collecting bug bite, will take a long time to see through. Somewhat breaking convention, studs — which serve as currency — are earned by building objects, rather than smashing them to bits, while rampantly breaking apart every piece of LEGO will earn you bricks. These are literally building bricks, with a number of "Super Builds" — 65 in total — which are sizable and useful structures scattered throughout the world. Some are vital as part of story chapters, in which case you're well advised to hang onto a fair chunk, while others are fun options that are useful for ordering unlocked cars, for example. Collecting sizeable bricks to build up your total is just one part of the exploration on offer, with areas regularly found that are locked until certain abilities are unlocked later in the story.

And that's the balance that this title encourages, with a dizzying range of unlockables only being accessible once progress is made with new character types and abilities. The early focus is likely to be on story progression, before curiosity and exploration plays its part in later stages. In around 4-5 hours we reached the fifth of 15 chapters, yet the fourth and fifth chapters were increasingly lengthy, with the developer telling us that the trend continues with each becoming longer and more complex. An estimate is that a typical player will need around 15-20 hours to complete the story chapters first time around, and a similar period once again to find and unlock all collectibles for 100% completion. For those ready to take their time and explore the vast world on offer, there's a lot of potential bang for each buck spent.

The diversity of experience is really the core concept that seems to drive this title, ultimately, with scripted story missions contrasting with open-world freedom in the city. For their part, the story segments that we played were some of the most intuitive and entertaining we've played in the series. Only once were we scratching out heads and wondering what to do next, with the puzzles and environments feeling natural and instinctive for the most part. It's typical LEGO fare in these areas — flick a switch, swap characters to interact with a puzzle, with some light platforming thrown in. And yes, as the trailers suggest, there's some accessible and fun parkour action to be found.

So what we have is a LEGO title of real promise, with its final marker being how it sustains interest and enjoyment over its admittedly lengthy campaign. From what we've seen there's the prospect of real variety, with our missions often combining platforming, easy but fun combat, puzzle solving and, occasionally, some car chases through the city. Like many LEGO titles it does its best to help you along, with prompting arrows to help you in story areas, and green beads guiding you on the city's roads.

The well-advertised Wii U GamePad features also play a role, with the controller being represented in game as a police computer. It's used to scan for clues using the screen and gyroscope — though unfortunately there's no option to move the view with a stick, it's movement only — and you receive calls and instructions on the screen and through the controller's speakers. The conceit of controller as computer works nicely, though the map unfortunately doesn't allow for manual tagging of locations, so you're reliant on the markers that the developers give you. A nice touch that we didn't see is an unlockable camera, which can take screenshots to post to Miiverse from within the game — perfect for showing off car boost-ramps that can see you performing impressive stunts in specific areas.

As one of the first major Wii U releases of the year, and with Nintendo picking up the publishing responsibilities, there's a lot of pressure on LEGO City: Undercover to maintain the success of its licensed predecessors. Based on what we've seen so far, it could very well live up to expectations.

We'll outline some key features of the game later this week, including Nintendo cameos, and you can also check out our extensive interview with the developers.

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User Comments (61)

Peach64

#1

Peach64 said:

This is looking gorgeous, and I'm yet to play a Lego game that isn't fun. I look at the screens and videos and just think an opportunity has been missed to do something great. The idea is half there of earning bricks and building things, but why use pre-set designs? How great would it be to build our own vehicles and buildings free form, and use them in the game?

Lan

#2

Lan said:

Haven't played a good Lego game since Lego Racers on N64. Hope this is good.

ThomasBW84Admin

#10

ThomasBW84 said:

@Pixelroy It doesn't support off-TV (at least that's what I was told, I couldn't dive around menus), which is a shame. The reasoning given was that the GamePad is consistently in use as a secondary screen, so in that respect it's like ZombiU. I guess the developers may not have wanted to have an off-TV experience more broken up than with normal play, but it's a shame for those that would have liked to use it.

@Moshugan This article's the feedback, in a way. What I've seen of this game was a lot of fun and really well put together, and I didn't even get onto the "main" area of the city in my 4-5 hours with it, I was apparently about to go to that area when I ran out of time. In terms of feedback that could influence changes, for one thing they have a legion of QA guys they trust more, plus it was practically the final build, so they won't have been doing much more to it :)

cornishlee

#12

cornishlee said:

With Darksiders 2 almost finished now, I'll be looking closely at reviews of this and Monster Hunter in the next few weeks.

Bankai

#13

Bankai said:

Nice piece, Thomas.

Must admit I'm rather jealous that you got to play the only Wii U game that's due out any time soon that I badly, badly want. Can't wait.

Dinosaurs

#14

Dinosaurs said:

@Thomas Well thats undrstandable. It sounds like it offers other good gamepad features. Im certainly keeping this on my wish list after reading the impressions of it so far. Looking forward to reading about the Mario stuff they tucked in the game!

Dinosaurs

#15

Dinosaurs said:

The NA eShop informs that the game will be available midnight March 18, thats most convenient.

fluggy

#16

fluggy said:

As soon I see those stupid random Lego bits lying everywhere I get bored. What could be more boring than running round collecting Randomly placed Lego chips. !? Other than that it looks good.

placidcasual

#18

placidcasual said:

Really hyped for this. Great preview by the way @Thomas, gives people a good idea of what to expect and most importantly how it plays (something that's usually lacking on a lot of other sites).

Really like the sound of making superbuilds, I can see myself playing this until I've completed all those...

ThomasBW84Admin

#21

ThomasBW84 said:

I should add that as someone that got incredibly frustrated by LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, I enjoyed the story missions in this one a lot more. Maybe it's because the developers have so much experience on the handheld games, too, but they found a nice balance between having large areas and puzzles that make you think a little, without being obscure or hidden with the solutions.

I really liked this, and you should keep an eye out for a follow-up preview from Mike Mason in the next day or so, as he looks at some specific points about this game in relation to other series entries, including ways in which it's a bit different.

As I said in the article, if the full game keeps it interesting and fun for the whole length, then this could be, in my view, a really good title.

Prof_Clayton

#22

Prof_Clayton said:

Looks awesome, but if there's Mario references...
Unlockable Mario Kart Cars in-game anyone? :o
I'm sure they have LEGO ones. :P

RetrogamerFan

#28

RetrogamerFan said:

I enjoyed the Lego Starwars collection on Wii, put around 35- 40hours into that one. i LOL'd at the movie references in the trailers for LC:U (Drity Harry, Shawshank Redmeption, etc.)

Ristar42

#29

Ristar42 said:

I'm currently re-playing Lego Batman 2 on PS3 which I really enjoyed, I played it originally on the Wii. Previously, I'd played the Starwars and Indy games and prior to Batman 2 was finding them a bit samey.

I found Batman 2 to be the best yet, but this looks like it is taking the open world idea even further and looks great. If I had a Wii U, I'd certainly be getting this!

manic221

#30

manic221 said:

This has been a day one purchase for me since it was originally revealed :) Looking forward to playing it!

GiftedGimp

#35

GiftedGimp said:

Expensive month for me in march, This, Most Wanted, and MH3...
Just aswell its my birthday in march, BI'd better start buttering up the kids n Missus. :)

ReindeerDasher

#36

ReindeerDasher said:

I'm on the edge about getting this, because of all the other games I'm playing and will be playing before too long. However, I'll probably break down and get this at some point.

Ralizah

#37

Ralizah said:

I usually hate lego games. The samey gameplay, the frustration of often having now idea what to do next in order to proceed in a mission, the bland presentation... which is hard for me, because legos were absolutely my favorite toy as a kid. I am actually really looking forward to this, though. It looks quite different than the million other lego games that have been released in the last several years. It sounds like GTA, actually, sans the drugs, sex, and ultra-violence.

rjejr

#38

rjejr said:

My concern with this is that its a long single player game that plays like GTA but looks like a kids game so Im wondering if it will turn off both kids and adults in some way. Only kids at heaert will get it. Guess its good its on a Nintendo system.

Demo would be good.

ThumperUK

#39

ThumperUK said:

@Nintenjoe64 - 30 too old? Never. I'm another decade older :-( and still want the Chase McCain figure!

I'm getting ever more impatient after each article, I just hope that it sells in large numbers - it deserves huge success and will hopefully help lead to an end in WiiU-bashing!

TheAdza

#40

TheAdza said:

I haven't enjoyed any Lego games that I have played on any system thus far, but this game is looking to break that trend with me. Can't wait for it to be released. It's gone from that Lego game announced at E3 that I couldn't care any less about to one of my most anticipated Wii U games.

Jukilum

#41

Jukilum said:

"It's not the first open-world LEGO title..." No, it most definitely is not. The first LEGO video game, LEGO Island, for PC was open world, and that was in 1997, which I believe was before the 3D GTAs. LEGO got there first.

Zellybeanie

#42

Zellybeanie said:

Oh my cookies! I can't flippin' wait! Honestly, I didn't even read the article. I just saw 'LEGO City Undercover' and went "Squee!"

This is definitely a first day purchase for me.

PinkSpider

#43

PinkSpider said:

I spy a mario star!! I wonder how many other Nintendo References there will be in this game. Instant day 1 Download for me cannot wait.
(How pissed do you think people will be if they decided to wait till to september to release it on multiple platforms) lol :)

LavaTwilight

#45

LavaTwilight said:

I'm following this story every step of the way leading to its release, not just with you guys but the UK OfficialNintendoMagazine too. This game looks awesome and I can't wait!

McGruber

#46

McGruber said:

I'll wait for reviews but I'm not sold on just the open world single player only design yet. Does this offer off TV play? Cuz if not Lego Batman 2 it will be. That game has multiplayer, off TV play, and I'm sure will be $20 cheaper...

RADencker

#49

RADencker said:

Is it me, or does the Chase McCain name sound like it's straight outta the movie Boogie Nights? Remember the cop-porn that Dirk and Reed worked on within the Boogie Nights movie? Their cop names were Brock Landers (Diggler) and Chest Rockwell (Rothchild).

Chase McCain FTW!

Eien1239

#53

Eien1239 said:

Hmm $50 for a new game that might be better then most games at $60 I had to do it. Adding a multiplayer that's not cheap or forced sounds like a challenge.

TheXboxHero

#55

TheXboxHero said:

One of my most anticipated games to wait for! Can't wait to play and hopefully there could be a demo on the eShop!

McGruber

#56

McGruber said:

Has it been said if this supports off tv play yet? I can't seem to find it...

Mr_Eyes

#58

Mr_Eyes said:

I'm surprised that I don't see any mention of GTA here. I'm really looking forward to this. I hope it lives up to the hype.

LAA

#59

LAA said:

Yeah I have to agree with the first comment, having an option to share car designs, etc. over the internet would be so awesome and obviously it fits very well with lego! I'd love for this to happen!

I wasnt going to get this at first, as I was going to get Rayman and yeah you all know the story there, but the more I see of this the more I want it. All they had to show was a pig cannon, gliding using chickens, riding a dinosaur, yup, day 1!

Luckily for me I dont need to think about monster hunter, I just dont like it that much, and I personally dont think its worth £40 where even the port job for the Wii U feels like a 3DS port, with the square layout on the game pad, although for people who really like monster hunter already, I'm sure they wont be disappointed, plays really smooth.

ThomasBW84Admin

#60

ThomasBW84 said:

Hey guys, it was in the interview but not this article, so to clarify there's no multiplayer or off-screen TV — in case you also missed my comment on this earlier ;)

Off-TV was ruled out due to GamePad usage (a bit like ZombiU), though could have arguably been made to work. Multiplayer just proved too challenging with the setup of the game, as the devs told us in our interview feature.

We have a little extra article from Mike going up VERY soon, and that clarifies the lack of Off-TV play too.

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