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Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins Review — Not Stacking Up
Big shoes can be hard to fill, and that’s no more evident than with the Lego City series. Last year’s Wii U entry of Lego City: Undercover may have been one of the most underrated games in the console’s library as it is one of the most inviting open-world adventures in years, full of lighthearted humor and endearing wit. The 3DS’s smaller and decidedly shallower LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins is then as big of a disappointment as its Wii U counterpart was a pleasant surprise, simply failing to build on its sibling’s loftier achievements.
Set two years before the events of its Wii U title, The Chase Begins again places you firmly behind the wheel with Undercover’s rookie cop of Chase McCain. Only into his first hours on the job, it’s not long before his day of saving lost dogs turns into one of saving the city from gang leader Rex Fury.
It’s through this simple story arc that The Chase Begins quite discouragingly sets itself apart. From its beginning, Chase and company are established much in the same manner as their personas in Undercover without cause or explanation. Lieutenant Dunby immediately hates you, and Chase’s romance with Natalia is already volatile. Its greatest weakness, however, lies in the noticeable absence of its counterpart’s trademark humor. Jokes are predictably juvenile without their previous slyness and the game’s hilarious tongue-in-cheek film references are nowhere to be seen. Sadly, what dialogue does follow is usually cheap gags that end up being jokes without a punchline. The Chase Begins barely tries to be funny, and for that many fans of the console game will be at a loss for finding anything as lovable as Undercover’s storytelling.
What can be most admired about The Chase Begins is what ambition its retains despite its inabilities to fully realize it. Akin to its console version, the game maintains an open-world LEGO City for players to explore. You can walk, drive, and fly your way anywhere in the city and the game opens itself up quickly. There’s no shortage of studs to collect and an abundance of vehicle drop-off spots grant plentiful opportunities for building. All these moving parts nevertheless form a less satisfying experience than Undercover’s. Despite their principle similarities, missions can be found lacking in their bite-sized simplicity and the departure of standard tasks, such as finding special objects or building up a stud meter to 100%, remove some amount of replay value to its roughly 8-10 hr. campaign.
The city itself provides a rather accurate reconstruction of the Wii U version, thought it unfortunately falls short of the same size and scope. By that account, the city is far smaller and emptier. A sense of déjà vu follows every recycled street and building animation and car chases are further constrained to a single chunk as opposed to more thrilling citywide events. Traversing the deceptively large map often brings up load screens that are 30 seconds long, and similar problems occur when moving in and out of buildings. To that end, you’re not enticed to build every landmark and attraction thanks to the sheer number of load screens you’ll face. All of these shortcomings are understandable, but nonetheless frustrating when so much more potential is teased by invisible walls and blocked off bridges. TT Fusion dreams big in its attempts at making an open-world handheld title, but there’s simply little compelling about it.
Gameplay is another mixed bag this time around. More defensive than it is offensive, Chase’s combat has him pulling his punches with more countering and throwing without his martial arts. You can still obtain different costumes, each with special abilities essential to the mission and unlocking areas. Like the Wii U game, the farmer can shoot pigs from a cannon or do an assisted jump with a chicken while the burglar pries open doors and cracks safes. As usual, there isn’t a penalty for death and losing your health causes you to immediately respawn in the same location, though you don’t even lose studs or bricks when you die. A limited form of parkour also allows Chase to jump from wall to wall by the way of button prompts for some much needed gameplay variety. These nice additions are brought over from the Wii U version relatively unscathed, but they frequently feel more stilted thanks to their slower animations.
Graphical and audio fidelity play another part in the game’s lower quality. The otherwise solid frame rate tends to drop when turning a car at high speeds and a persistent level of fog covers the city skyline. Objects often pop up onscreen too late, hindering your reaction times chases and each Lego mini-figure’s face is depressingly expressionless, never happy or sad. Beyond these more intricate details, the game does demonstrate some decent animation. Character and animal models are well-rendered and vehicles have a certain sheen to them. The game’s 3D doesn’t wholly change that, but it does provide some appealing depth along with the aid of the 3DS’s dual-screens for navigating the city’s map. What music and voice-work The Chase Begins contains is entirely limited to pre-rendered cut scenes, save for ambient sound effects. Apart from these few intermissions that are annoyingly rare, the characters remain mute for the duration of the story, robbing the game of much of its charm.
In many ways, LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins is a game that simply deserves to be more than it has to give. Its immense amount of content and impressive size can’t seem to compensate for its downgraded open-world and lackluster humor confounded by what unfortunate technical issues it has. With all the components of its console companion and none of its heart, The Chase Begins can be seen as a well-meaning entry simply not capable of matching the goals of its Wii U rival. In short, Chase McCain’s handheld adventure can be a passively enjoyable experience at best, but LEGO City: Undercover may be the better investment of your time.