Over the past week or so I have had the opportunity to sit down and play LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins on the 3DS. It is a prequel to the Wii U game that was released last month, and much like that game it is a sandbox style game set forth in the world of the LEGO City universe. Well it is indeed a LEGO game, this handheld title seems to get hit by a few technical issues that hamper some of the fun.
The Chase Begins takes place about prior to the events found in the Wii U game. Our hero, Chase McCain, has just joined the police force and his immediate boss, Officer Dunby, takes pride in picking on the new rookie. For those who have not played the Wii U game, Officer Dunby is the Police Chief in that title; however, in The Chase Begins, he has yet to earn the right to be called “Chief”. It’s neat to see the roots of many of the characters from the Wii U game and those who played the home console title will appreciate this fact.
As you start the game, which begins in the heart of the city, you’ll start off with some mundane tasks, such as fetching donuts, finding lost dogs, and letting a television crew follow you around to see what police do. It’s not particularly exciting, but in many ways you can consider this the tutorial system as you become accustomed to the 3DS controls and how to play. As you advance deeper into the game you are introduced to the game’s combat, more detailed missions, and even a few boss-like fights now and then. The game is fairly well paced and I found that those who play it, which will most likely be the younger audience, will get along just fine.
The game seems to hold your hand as you make away through the various missions and stages. Main story points are marked with large icons where Chase needs to go to in order to activate the task at hand. Many of these will are basic fetch or rescue tasks, and as time goes by you will be given access to new disguises that carry special abilities and you will eventually start to change your disguises on the fly in order to complete certain parts of each task. Dress as a Robber and you can break open doors and crack safes or dress as a Construction Worker and you can use a jackhammer or fix specific types of equipment in the level. You’ll have quite the variety of disguises by the end of the game, and these can be used not only for the games story missions, but also for free exploring and finding all the other collectibles in the game.
One of the neat little features of the game is the combat. Much of this reminded me of a 70’s action cop drama, with fancy takedowns and some slow-mo action (e.g. flips and kicks). Although much of the combat comes down to countering your enemy with the ‘X’ button and hitting the ‘A’ button to cuff the “perp” before a timer runs down, the action can get frantic and the stylish action is enjoyable to watch on screen, especially when first getting used to the games combat. That being said, kids will no doubt love it, but the older gamer will most likely tire of this more quickly than not.
Given that this is a LEGO game, many of the trademark LEGO game features are found here. Collectibles again play a big part of the gameplay experience, including the aforementioned costumes, as well as new vehicles, LEGO studs, LEGO bricks, and those special red bricks. The LEGO studs and the red bricks are somewhat crucial to exploring the various areas in the game. The studs allow you to purchase other unlockables while the red bricks allow you activate special in-game abilities (e.g. a stud multiplier). The various LEGO bricks you collect will allow you to buy, and build, various landmarks and spawn points for all the vehicles you’ve collected. In the end, for those who consider themselves completionists, or LEGO fanatics, collecting all the in-game items is what will extend this game beyond the campaign providing many more hours of gameplay.
Controlling the in-game action is not too bad, but I one thing that I noticed is that your character can feel floaty when walking, running, and jumping about. This is one complaint I have had about the LEGO series of games for a long time, and it seems that it rears its head here. This doesn’t have too much of a negative effect, but it can hamper your jumping and accuracy of platform like areas (e.g. edge of buildings, climbing, etc) now and then; therefore, it is worth noting.
So far everything seems pretty good right? Not is all well though as the game is hit by some technical issues that do take away from some of the overall gameplay. One of the biggest things is games load times. Right from the get-go I noticed how long these could be and I was actually taken aback by the length of these load times which could be one to two minutes long. They are more frequent then I expected too. As you venture throughout the city at large, once you leave a certain area to go to a new neighbourhood you are treated to a lengthy load screen while you wait to change areas. Although I can almost understand the wait as the game loaded new city areas, I found that other areas needing to load were quite strange. As I first explored the Police HQ I found load times here too, and it was annoying to have to wait through a load screen to head to a new floor of the building. I was like “huh?!!?”
Visually the game is fairly good looking, but some of the technical issues I mention are also found here. On the positive side, the game has much of what you’d expect for a Nintendo 3DS title, bright and vibrant with some great colours that manage to pop off the screen. The LEGO feel is here too with lots of LEGO inspired environments in such that buildings, cars, and people are found in the real-life LEGO City sets. Where the problem comes with the visuals is that you’ll find some nasty slowdown during your gameplay experience as well as some choppy animation. I don’t know if this is a limitation of the hardware, or that the game was too ambitious given the size of the city and sandbox style of play. You’ll also find the draw distance is limited and very different from the Wii U game as there is use of heavy fog to hide the fact that the in-game engine cannot draw in the environment too far in the distance.
The audio in The Chase Begins is fairly good. You’ll find some good voice acting in the game’s cutscenes, and they have that traditional LEGO humour. Given the limitations of the 3DS storage medium, voices are limited to the cutscenes so you won’t find any during actual gameplay. So, as you play you will find many times that you have to read any dialog as opposed to listening while playing through the missions. It’s a balance that is nice, but you’ll need to be able to read to fully enjoy the story and understand the gameplay hints. The sound effects are what you expect, from the LEGO cars driving about to “oh-so-familiar” sound of LEGO items being built and LEGO studs being collected. Finally the music is definitely worth mentioning. Most kids won’t appreciate it, but any adults that may be around while their child is playing will immediately recognize that cheesy 70’s sound. It made me reminisce of the days watching TV shows like Starsky & Hutch, SWAT or The Streets of San Francisco. It really does suit the game.
LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins is a game that is truly geared for the younger audience and with this in mind the target demographic will no doubt have fun with it, even with the technical issues I have noted. As for the older gamers out there, these issues will indeed affect their overall enjoyment as the visual problems (e.g. slowdown, choppiness) and load times are quite noticeable and they take some of the fun away. At the end of the day the game is not a bad one, it is just one that has notable weaknesses and although the story is a prequel, the technical differences makes it less then the bigger console version whose release it follows.