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'Lego City Undercover' Review: Masterpiece With Missing Bricks

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Lego City Undercover (Wii U) is a funny, well-crafted and varied open-world take on the now classic Lego games formula, let down by long loading times and graphical glitches.

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In theory, Lego City Undercover should be one of the greatest video games of all time - at least for anyone under the age of 11, or an adult with a Mini-Fig collection. Which, at 28 years old, I am.

With their earlier Lego titles, all of which are based on big-money licenses like Batman, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Star Wars, TT Games have developed a diamond-studded reputation for blending solid action with a tone that resonates perfectly with Lego's trademark primary colours.

So by taking the same visual appeal, slapstick humour and creative-within-a-theme platform gameplay, but placing them in a huge, Grand Theft Auto-style world - and having you play a giant game of cops and robbers - Lego City has the potential to open up virtual brick building to a new dimension of play, more akin than ever to the experience of actually racing dragon-car-pirate-spaceships across the carpet.

And in the main, that's exactly what it does.

In the game you take the role of Chase McCain, a renegade cop of the highest stereotypical water, who returns to Lego City to fight his old nemesis crime megalord Rex Fury. For a while you're a uniformed bobby, but eventually Chase has to go undercover as a Bad Guy - which is where the real fun begins. Yes, it's all a massive cliche - but to its credit, the game wears that like a badge of pride. Take your first meeting at the police station. The hardass police chief gathers his top guys in the briefing room and goes over the plan. The camera pans to the team of cops: Dirty Harry, Sherlock and Watson and Columbo. Dirty Harry drinks a coffee. 'I know what you're thinking, did I have six shots...'

Lego City Undercover
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While much of the game is a series of set-piece missions and puzzles, Lego City Undercover really is an open-world game in exactly the same style as GTA - just with no guns or running over civilians. The city - an amalgam of various American urban landscapes from New York to San Francisco - is large and creatively drawn, and the 110 vehicles from cars to helicopters are easy and fun to drive.

The world is also resplendent with collectibles, hidden areas, 290 unlockable characters and other details which really bring the game a sense of scale unmatched elsewhere in the series.

lego city

Unfortunately, there are also serious problems with the game, which at times prove as annoying as stepping on a sharp 4x4 brick in bare feet. For one, the game has a big problem with loading times. Moving from the police station to the city map takes more than a minute. Loading the game can take as long as three.

Worse still, driving around the city is a juddery, laggy nightmare at times. Either the software isn't optimised for Nintendo's Wii U console very well or the console isn't up to running it - or both. We're not sure. Either way, something should have been done to resolve the issue, because all the visual depth in the world doesn't make up for crashing during a chase scene because the graphics chip appears to be in meltdown.

It's also a shame that the Wii U gamepad isn't used more. Most of the time it displays the game world map, and can be used as a 'heads-up camera' to tag bad guys and examine the world, but there's no option to play it away from the TV, which is disappointing. Finally, there's no multiplayer or co-op play - which is a big let-down for anyone who's played TT Games other Lego installment.

The overall feeling is a bit like getting a massive new Lego castle for Christmas, tearing it open, building it on Christmas day - and then finding out you're missing a bag of bits.

With Lego the toy, this wouldn't happen - and you don't expect it from TT Games either.

And to be fair, just like that almost-built castle, if you're creative, and are willing to let a few things go, you'll have a great time playing this.

Just don't be too heavy-handed. It looks awesome, but underneath it's, well, a bit wobbly.