LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins
Rookies Only

By Seán O'Sullivan - May 13th, 2013

All images are 2D representations of the 3D images.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, despite the title, LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins is not a hardboiled tale about a cop taking down a criminal syndicate from the inside, and the moral struggles he willingly subjects himself to along the way. Rather, this is the story of Chase McCain – a fresh-faced policeman in a colourful, violence-free haven, whose official duties involve schlepping around to various parts of town, and volunteering to take on various odd jobs. A more appropriate title would be LEGO City: Temp Worker.

The Chase Begins is the 3DS prequel to the recent Wii U LEGO City title, and it has commendably tackled the same open-world formula on portable hardware – a first for the 3DS. Despite initially presenting a convincing facsimile of the console experience, it’s unlikely to engage all but the least discerning gamer to stick it out throughout the course of the campaign.

Chase’s daily grind is a bit of a snoozefest;-a series of plot contrivances send him from one end of the city to the other (enduring hefty load times of up to a minute long as he crosses between boroughs), where he’ll meet some dubious character who’s happy to let him put in a day’s work, provided that he dresses up like one of the staff. Donning different outfits grants Chase with special abilities – farmers can water plants that sprout platforms to reach higher levels, construction workers can dig holes into water springs to reach higher levels, and astronauts can use jet-packs to reach higher levels.

Chase gets a little friendly during a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Even if the goal is always the same, these unique skills could be novel were it not for the fact that each of these activities can only be triggered by standing on a dedicated spot that’s specifically labelled. The missions consist of some rote platforming, broken up by some of the least interesting hand-to-hand combat that I have ever experienced, followed by regular demonstrations of label-recognition prowess. It’s not a satisfying design – in fact, considering how clunky it is to toggle between the 7 available outfits, it’s a frustrating impediment to progression.

A coherent plot could provide incentive to progress through the campaign, but little effort has gone into providing a noteworthy story arc for any of the primary characters. Voiced cutscenes bookend game chapters, but a few goofy sight-gags and dad-jokes are little reward for the amount of bland, repetetive gameplay on offer. The eventual conclusion is very abrupt, utterly underwhelming, and it exposes that the mission is the only part necessary in this prequel story.

LEGO City is rammed with secrets and collectibles, so unlocking abilities and entering previously inaccessible areas initially feels rewarding; but a sensible player will quickly realize that the collect-a-thon should wait until all of the abilities are available. The endgame is a more rewarding experience, since it affords the player a sense of exploration – but it’s ultimately the same dull game of Simon Says, rather than a test of a player’s ingenuity.

“Hmph. You’re not our normal safe repair man…”

Despite the amount of criticism – this is a lovingly crafted game. While there are framerate hitches and a preponderance of fog, each section of the city has its own vibe, with enough traffic and pedestrians to bring it to life. The combat (which features practically no striking – only overly dramatic judo-stye throws, and an emphasis on counters) employs frequent slow-motion flourishes and somewhat cinematic zooms to punctuate each encounter.

My issues with the game are borne of TT Fusion’s apparent desire to not present its target demographic with frustrating roadblocks, so if you have younger kids that are happy to go through the motions, this may well be the game for them. If you’re looking for something that’s fun for the whole family, you might be best served looking elsewhere.

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