Lego City Undercover is a joyful open-world romp for players of all ages.

The Good

  • Witty writing and characters keep you giggling throughout
  • The lure of Lego studs and collectables is hard to resist
  • Endlessly varied and entertaining missions and puzzles
  • Different disguises make for lots of diversity
  • Great use of the GamePad.

The Bad

  • Inconsistent jumping
  • Unsatisfying combat
  • Exceptionally long load times.

With Lego City Undercover, developer Traveller’s Tales has distilled the concept of “fun” into its purest essence and poured it liberally over a city already overflowing with wit and charm. This open-world adventure is a happy-go-lucky delight with endless ways of making you grin. Imagine a giant playground in which your path to endless secrets is opened by hanging onto flapping chickens and riding a robotic dinosaur down the main thoroughfare. Imagine a carnage-free world in which you can jump into blocky cement trucks and mow down lampposts without fear of repercussion. Lego City is a silly, boisterous place busting at the seams with cute diversions.

There’s always time for a bit of bullriding–even if you’re in the middle of a sensitive mission!

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The entertainment doesn’t end with the jokes, but it certainly starts with them. You play as Chase McCain, a once-great cop called back to duty to find Lego City’s greatest nemesis: Rex Fury. Chase McCain? Rex Fury? These classic cop-show names couldn’t sound more generic, but that’s the point: Lego City Undercover takes great joy in adopting and skewering pop culture tropes of all kinds. In his quest to put Rex back into the prison from which he escaped, Chase buddies up with the mafia, making Goodfellas references along the way. (Sometimes, mobsters really do look like clowns, as it turns out.) When Chase learns kung fu, The Matrix jokes come fast and furious. Turn the right corner, and you might find a block with a question mark hovering in the air, an apparent refugee from a Mario game. And you’ll know exactly what to do with it, too.

Lego City Undercover doesn’t rely on quotes and connections for its kid-safe humor, though they provide plenty of fodder for laughs, both verbal and visual. Witness, for example, how time slows down in true action-film fashion as your charming plastic avatar runs along a wall in a daring display of Lego parkour. Or how a close-up of a cackling madman turns into a canny, self-aware commentary on villain stereotypes. But the funniest moments come when the whimsy arises from the characters and their circumstances. One gut-busting scene reimagines ice cream as both a delicious treat and a torture device; another has you listening in on the secret lives of farm animals. Your scatterbrained cop buddy Frank Honey is also a frequent source of gags, from the hysterical way he pronounces “computer” as “com-pyooper” to his recounting of a horse ride gone terribly awry.

The goofiness permeates everything you do in Lego City Undercover. The game offers many of the possibilities associated with open-city games like Grand Theft Auto, but replaces the usual violence with lighthearted charm. You can leap into any driver’s vehicle and speed off, but you aren’t carjacking–you’re just borrowing the ride for police business. If there’s a passenger in that vehicle, she’ll happily stick with you as you tear through the streets. As you zoom along, Chase merrily cries out that his car insurance rates are going to skyrocket as Lego citizens leap out of the way. You can’t harm these citizens, and no blood is shed, though your vehicle might lose bricks as you bang against railings and walls. It’s such a hoot to watch the plastic pieces fly and your vehicle diminish in size that you might drive even more carelessly just for the fun of it all.

Lego studs are everywhere. Take all you want; no one cares!

Lego studs are everywhere. Take all you want; no one cares!

The police won’t give chase either, unless the mission calls for it, so you’re free to do as you choose. And what you choose depends on the disguise that’s right for the occasion. Lego City Undercover’s core feature is how Chase can immediately swap disguises from civilian, to construction worker, to farmer, and so on. What special actions you can perform depend on what costume you don. Functionally, this is similar to how Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games have always functioned, except that in most of those games, you don’t swap disguises–you swap characters. Do you need to smash through the boulders getting in your way? Switch to your miner’s disguise and smash them with your pickaxe. Need to break into a locked building? Put on your criminal outfit and pry open the door with your crowbar.

Everything you can interact with is marked with an icon that communicates what disguise is required. But you don’t have access to every disguise at once: you earn new ones as you complete story missions. As you hop and zip through the streets, you spot all sorts of markers to activate, ledges to climb, and blocks to collect. As you scoot from mission to mission, it’s hard to resist the lure of these secondary playthings. A plant that needs water grows into a vine that climbs up the wall, which takes you to a rooftop with a TNT dispenser. You then fly from a jump point to another rooftop, where there’s a giant statue that you blow up with that stick of dynamite before gliding to safety by holding onto a furiously flapping chicken.

The city is loaded with these adorable flights of fancy. Their siren call is strong: there are costumes to collect and towers to climb–and besides, completing these tasks is a lot of fun. Any given thing you do may not be all that engaging (mashing a button to break down a door; pressing a button to grapple to a higher level), but these activities are strung into gleeful puzzles. The puzzles are never hard, but feel satisfying because they require so many costume changes. The glee is enhanced by the game’s attitude. How can you not feel cheerful when a puzzle concludes with you firing a pig from a cannon?

Chase might be a city slicker, but that doesn't keep him from dressing like a farmer when necessary.

Chase might be a city slicker, but that doesn’t keep him from dressing like a farmer when necessary.

The Lego series’ platforming has always been floaty, and Undercover is no different. Jumping isn’t quite precise, and camera angles aren’t always best suited to the action required. You might leap onto a rock that seems like a perfectly reasonable platform and slip right off, or not grab a ledge even when it looks like you are well within the required distance. Fortunately, Traveller’s Tales wisely made much of the locomotion contextual. Jog onto a wall-running platform, and you automatically skim along buildings like that well-known Persian prince. Press the proper button as you approach hurdles, and you vault over them or slide underneath.

Lego City Undercover is a joyful open-world romp for players of all ages.

By Kevin VanOrd