I think one of the first signs of the Wii U’s impending doom might have been the E3 press conference when Nintendo announced LEGO City Undercover as one of the console’s big launch games. Don’t get me wrong – I love the LEGO game franchise as much as the next idiot, but it’s hard to think of the 450th game in the series as a system seller. It’s not even as if it was LEGO Mario or something – in fact, on the surface it appeared to be the most generic LEGO game yet. But back in mid-2013, when a friend loaned the disc to me, I discovered that it’s also the best LEGO game by far.
It achieves this by combining a vast Grand Theft Auto-esque open world with the humor, whimsy and strangely satisfying clackety-clack sound effects the franchise is known for. Much like GTA, the fun in this game lies mostly in just driving around and exploring, getting around to story missions whenever you feel like it. This is a breath of fresh air compared to the tightly linear levels that previous LEGO games adhered to. I actually played through the first half of this game twice. The first time was with my 10-year-old nephew – actually, it would probably be more accurate to say that he played the game while I periodically fell asleep on the couch next to him. Sadly, however, that playthrough ended when my hard drive crashed and took the save data with it. Defeated, I returned the game to my friend, and passed the bad news on to my nephew. He made me promise that if I ever played the game again, I should play it together with him. I told him I would. I lied.
I didn’t mean to break the promise, but one day I just impulsively bought the game, started playing again from the beginning, and never looked back! This time, I plowed through the missions pretty quickly, rarely slowing down to explore or do much side-questing. My final stats reflect this approach:
Only 18% completed! That’s pathetic! When shit like this happens, I tell myself that one day I’ll go back and complete all the side-missions, but deep in my heart I know that’s not true. Still, I beat the game and that’s what counts, right? Right!
Aside from the huge open world, the other thing that sets this apart from previous games in the franchise is the brilliant use of the Wii U gamepad. It not only serves as a convenient map, but also as a communicator, a scanner, and several other context-specific functions, all of which felt totally intuitive and non-intrusive. It is also used as a camera, which led to me taking the same exact picture twice during my two playthroughs:
If you enjoy the LEGO series but have felt a little burned out by the same-ness of it all, I recommend giving LEGO City Undercover a shot. It doesn’t have the big-name franchise power of the rest of the series, but the new mechanics are a breath of fresh air in what has become a fairly stale series of games. It reinvigorated my interest in the franchise, and now it will be an enormous challenge to resist the siren song of LEGO Dimensions. I’m completely fucked.