Hands-on: Lego City Undercover is more Just Cause than GTA

Traveller's Tales aims to break free of Lego tradition

When Reggie Fils-Aime strode confidently onto the stage during Nintendo's 2011 E3 conference and declared that he was about to reveal a title exclusive to the newly-announced Wii U, the anticipation was such that you could have heard a pin drop. When he then proceeded to announce Lego City Stories, you could have powered a wind farm with the collective sigh.

It wasn't a completely fair reaction - ever since Lego Star Wars in 2005 the Traveller's Tales titles have delighted many millions of gamers - but it's fair to say it wasn't quite the Wii U exclusive many were hoping for either.

Fast forward a year and a half and here we are, playing a preview build of what's currently known as Lego City Undercover, and only now do we see what Nintendo and Traveller's Tales saw all those months ago - an ambitious open-world game which has the potential to be the best Lego title yet.


Undercover puts you in the cubic plastic shoes of Chase McCain, a legendary detective who returns to Lego City after many years to take down his arch nemesis Rex Fury once and for all. Given his reputation the rest of the LCPD are in awe of Chase, but the boss has been round long enough to remember the headaches his livewire bravado caused him last time so he's less than welcoming. It's the perfect cop movie cliché.

Not that Undercover shies away from clichés, of course - it relishes in them. Much like the finest Pixar movies and Simpsons episodes, Undercover is clever enough to work on numerous levels. Parents and older gamers will catch the countless movie spoofs and references - in the first half hour we spotted nods to Titanic, Dukes Of Hazard, Blackadder, Columbo, Dirty Harry and Sherlock Holmes - while children, completely oblivious to them, will instead laugh at the other jokes packed into the script. Of which there are a huge amount.


Make no mistake, this is a funny game, voice acting and all. The muted slapstick cutscenes in license-based Lego games may continue to charm newcomers but those of us who've now played through the Lego adventures of Qui-Gon Jinn, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Batman, Jack Sparrow and Harry Potter have likely tired of them.

Though we were concerned that adding voice acting to a Lego game might spoil the humour, Undercover shows the opposite to be true. The opening cut-scene alone had us laughing out loud a couple of times and the clever dialogue continued throughout our play session.

Take one of the game's early missions as an example. The LCPD get a call informing them that a bunch of robbers dressed as clowns are robbing a bank (sound familiar, Bat-fans?). When you get there the crooks scarper and escape in different directions, essentially creating three different chase missions in which the player learns various gameplay mechanics.


After catching one of the clowns your communicator goes off (the Wii U GamePad acts as your police radio so all communication with other cops comes through its speaker). It's Ellie Phillips, the LCPD Requisitions Officer. "We've got a call from someone at the Red Cafe saying there's a clown on the rooftop," she tells Chase. "It could be one of our robbers."

"Either that," Chase replies with deadpan concern, "or I'm about to ruin some kid's birthday party."

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