We Can Rebuild
For me, Lego games have always been something that happen to other people, like Channing Tatum films or fulfilling relationships. As Warner continue to fire out movie licence after movie licence until they run out of movie licences to make games from (it’s only a matter of time until we get that Requiem For A Dream Lego game, surely), I dismissed them as fodder for children.
That’s not to say I didn’t try them. You can’t say you don’t like something until you’ve tried it (excluding incest or nazism, possibly), and I’ve had my fair share of time in the Lego universe. They’ve always left me feeling mildly confused, seemingly too busy on screen with imprecise and unresponsive controls.
Game: Lego City Undercover
Developer: TT Fusion, Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros
Reviewed On: PS4 (Review code provided by publisher)
Lego City: Undercover has gone some way to swinging the issue for me. Whether it be in it’s movies or games, the Lego franchise’s main strength is charm and humour. This, a spoof of a renegade cop story, is ripe for that. The characters are big, childish caricatures and all the better for it. Chase McCain, your yellow-headed protagonist for the adventure, has elements of Starsky and Hutch, The Simpsons’ Lionel Hutz and Magnum P.I in equal measures. A handsome and daring but occasionally clueless cop, guided and pulled through on many occasions by colleagues and luck, he’s an endearing and fun hero. Comic relief comes from Frank Honey, a smiling but hopelessly ineffective colleague with even less idea about what he’s doing than McCain. The female cast are a counterpart to this, instantly smarter and cool-headed in comparison to incompetent McCain and Honey.
Voice acting on the game also comes from British comedian and podcast extroirdinaire Adam Buxton, and it’s this style from Buxton and everyone else that has propelled me through the game. I laughed out loud many times through the course of the story and cutscenes at that Lego-brand wit; daft, dry and quite British in its execution.
Without this I wouldn’t have enjoyed the game quite so much. My previous impressions about the Lego series remain, and there seems to me to have been little progression in the mechanics and flow of everything since the early days of the franchise. The camera is too slow to move around manually, vehicles feel heavy and tricky to steer and much of the combat is reduced to one-button press followed by an arrest by hitting the circle button while next to your downed foe. There’s some nice variation with wall-running and climbing or sliding over obstacles, and this works especially well when giving chase to perps, but it’s not much to get your teeth into. Although having said that you can make the cars jump on command, which I’m yet to get bored of.
I’m well aware the counter argument to this is probably that it’s a game aimed at a younger audience, and not 30 year olds who have just put 70 hours into Zelda. It’s also appears to be anecdotally a very true counter-argument; of those members of NGB who have those children things, the Lego games are amongst the most popular. That’s not to say I didn’t find any enjoyable aspects in the gameplay; they’re just straight-forward affairs when you can knock down then re-fashion structures with a couple of button presses, or crack safes with just one.
This is a port of a 2013 game on the Wii U, presumably because no one got a Wii U except NGB’s own loyal Nintendo addict Andy Beeken. At large, it doesn’t show its age too badly. The cut scenes are especially shiny and polished, and action flows well; at no point did I notice any chugging or framerate issues. There’s the odd section where objects look more pixellated than you’d really expect a game to show in 2017m but these are quickly forgotten when the next bit of chummy dialogue pops up.
But this is a game that just wants to make you chuckle, and it does so brilliantly. There’s plenty of references and knowing nods to film franchises throughout, including some that are set to sail right over most kids’ heads (a prolonged skit on The Shawshank Redemption springs to mind) but will bring a wry smile to most others.
As an open world, things feel sort of like a Fisher Price version of GTA. Getting around the issue of having kids play a game where you steal cars by using the undercover cop conceit, you do at least get the pleasure of having a whistle to stop traffic to make choosing your next ride easier. You are able to explore and find the usual collectibles, and as you unlock different disguises and characters through the story game you’re able to do more and more with the environment. However, the game does have an annoying habit of nagging you to press on with the story in these moments, leaving you feel a little pressured and annoyed if soaking in the environment is your thing.
I wouldn’t say I was entirely wrong about the Lego franchise, but I do certainly see the appeal. As a series of mechanics and gameplay spots they’re basic and largely uninteresting, which is obviously facilitating of a younger audience. This in itself is a positive endeavour, and a franchise that you know you can count on to be a cheerful and fun distraction for kids must be a bonus as a parent. But even though I’m in neither of these demographics, this is a game that has charmed me. Like a blocky Monty Python it’s knowingly stupid and wry, engaging through it’s humour and characters rather than any original gameplay aspects.