When I was growing up as a kid I was graced with the gift that is LEGO, and looking back it is probably the toy that I spent the most time with as a child. LEGO has many advantages as a toy, not only for keeping children occupied for hours, but also as a great learning tool. We learn how to construct things, building anything from a house to a truck or even a helicopter. I used to spend hours playing with LEGO and absolutely loved it, but the thing it gifted to me the most was imagination. Being able to create this world that you can be immersed into, building anything your mind can think of and bringing this idea to life in the form of LEGO, then find yourself lying down on the ground peeping at the eye level of the little LEGO men to view this world from their perspective.
LEGO videogames have been popular since the late nineties, and more recent titles have been remakes of classic movies with a special quirky humor element that makes these titles popular with old and young alike. It is therefore with no surprise that Nintendo took the opportunity to bring an exclusive LEGO title to the Wii U in the form of LEGO City Undercover and now to the 3DS handheld platform in the form of LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins. Rather than simply porting the game to the 3DS, they took the same free-roaming world, reshuffled it, and formed this version of the game which is a fresh take to an already familiar environment.
The story of the game is set as a prequel and begins two years prior to the Wii U version. This is where Chase McCain becomes a police officer in LEGO City. As the story begins you are introduced to Chief Gleeson and Deputy Dunby who immediately portrays himself as an opportunistic bully. He simply does not care about the rookie officers and assigns you your first task of fetching more doughnuts. This is your first chance to roam the streets of LEGO City, although it is just across the street to the doughnut shop. As you arrive here, you are told there are no doughnuts as the delivery truck has not arrived. So off you go to find the delivery truck and this is where you get to climb into a car for the first time. This is the start of a familiar feel to other sandbox type games that we have become accustomed to over the years.
As you are still a rookie police officer a lot of the early tasks are simple things, like searching for the lost dog Mr. Waggles. As you progress you will start to learn more skills like the investigative mode, which gives you the ability to investigate an area for clues that may lead you to items or other clues. Another useful skill you will unlock as a police officer is the grapple gun which you can use to hoist yourself to higher elevations or pull certain objects towards yourself. Soon you will discover that there are gangs in the city causing a lot of unrest and you will have to deal with these criminals. Here you will battle single or multiple enemies, throwing them around in true Hollywood fashion, leaving them disabled briefly for you to slap the handcuffs on. As soon as the news of the gangs reaches headquarters you will be introduced to the villain Rex Fury, who appears to be the master mind behind all the gang related problems.
After a few missions you are sent undercover for the first time to infiltrate a prison where you will be disguised as a thief. As you will learn each disguise comes with its own unique skills. As the thief you will soon learn to break into places or open safes using the touch pad to rotate the combination key to unlock the safe which adds an extra element to the interaction. After completing missions as a robber you will move onto construction. As the construction worker you can drill into the ground to release items or create means of avoiding obstacles. Again you are sent around the city to sort construction problems out or fetch machinery. Soon you are met with more gang members and the battles resume. You can also move to farming where you can use chickens to fly, grow plants to help you clear obstacles, and even ride some animals.
My favorite disguise was the astronaut, where you can teleport, use a freeze ray gun or fly your jetpack which is not as easy as it sounds. Apply too little power and you don’t lift off, apply too much and you blow up. The final two disguises are the miner who can break boulders and throw dynamite, and the fireman who comes with an axe and the ability to put out fires. The general trend of completing work tasks as your undercover role continues, combined with the fighting of crime by beating the gang members as they affect the various areas of the city. Whether they steal items, vandalize or damage items, or hold people hostage, you will need to not only be undercover but bring these criminals to justice.
The gameplay is what we would expect from most LEGO titles we have become accustomed to. You will be building items, climbing walls, and solving puzzles. The puzzles are interlocking as you have to solve a number of different problems to complete your task which adds to replay value. The puzzles become more natural as you progress from task to task and the missions are in short bite-sized chunks. The story leads you through the city with the main story missions clearly marked on the touch-screen map along with other side missions should you choose to wander around the city. There are a number of side tasks to perform, from rescuing people from thugs to using disguises to perform acts like fixing fuse boxes. Destructible scenery allows you to collect blocks that you can use to build landmarks, ramps, helipads and vehicle spawn points. There is also the elusive super block which is worth 1000 ordinary blocks. Character and vehicle tokens are in abundance, scattered throughout the city with some hidden ‘cheat-enabling’ and race-unlocked red power bricks which can be found with McCain’s scanner.
The 3DS immersion into this open-world is what it is all about and the 3D gameplay element gives it a really unique perspective. It feels like you looking through a window into a miniature world that feels alive, but sadly its not without its drawbacks. For such a large open world to work on a handheld device, certain compromises had to be made. The first and most frustrating is the long load times. The limits of the hardware are clear as the unit is pushed to its maximum. Credit is due to the developers, however, to only load sections of the city at a given time and all your main missions will happen within the boundaries of this section. It is only when you free roam that this becomes more frustrating. The second noticeable problem is distracting graphical pop-in of objects. Pedestrians will simply appear from nowhere and you can also watch them disappear into thin air as they walk out of your visible area. Other times you will be chasing an enemy on what appears to be a deserted road only to hit a car that suddenly appeared from nowhere. My final criticism is the lack of voice acting. Only certain scenes between main story missions have voice acting and you are often left reading a lot of text. This can be tiring and sometimes takes some of the comedy out of the jokes.
Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins is a well-designed game within the limits of the hardware, for the concept of a large open world game to work on a handheld device is a big ambition. The missions are crammed into small chunks and in some cases could be argued to compromise the game. Yet even with the problems mentioned above I think TT Fusion did a good job, it feels as good as any other LEGO title out there and I really spent a lot of time in this game thinking ‘just one more mission before bed.’ At no point did I get completely frustrated by the long loading times or problems with the limited models or scenery in a given space, but rather just got used to it and played around it. You really feel like a child again looking at your LEGO characters as they roam in this imaginary world and this is what makes this game fun for all ages. The subtle jokes and quirks of the game really will appeal to the older generation. If you enjoyed any of the other LEGO games then this is a must for you as a 3DS owner.