Lego City Undercover: Undercover cop action with Chase McCain

For years, the Lego games have piggybacked off other companies' franchises. They remade Star Wars with a video game's distinctive brand of humour and the Indiana Jones offerings have been the best since, well, forever.

The success has translated across other big-name properties such as Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean.

But it is about time TT Games and Lego struck out on their own and make something original on a console. That effort is taking shape in the form of Lego City Undercover, an open-world cop game.

I had a chance to play the upcoming Wii U release recently, and it will please fans who had a peek at what TT Games could do with the genre in Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes.

Lego City Undercover puts players in the shoes of Chase McCain, an officer with a penchant for disguises. He is off to fight crime in the city and has the ability to switch outfits and their accompanying abilities to handle different situations.

For example, say Chase needed to break open a door with a crowbar. He can do it by switching over to his burglar persona. A miner costume has a pick axe that can destroy boulders in his way and allows him access to dynamite.

A master of disguise It is the same thing TT Games has been doing for years. But Chase's talent for switching into disguises fits naturally within the whole ''undercover'' storyline. The missions I played through required the officer to get into a criminal syndicate.

They are activated in the normal Grand Theft Auto way. Chase drives to where a nonplayable character (NPC) mills about and that NPC sends him off on a quest.

Chase commandeers vehicles legally. (The motorists are happy to oblige.) Driving through the city is easy enough with cars handling differently. Lego City Undercover guides you with green studs until you reach your destination, which is marked on the map on the GamePad. Where things get more interesting is in how the developer, TT Fusion, uses the device.

In one mission, I had to aim the GamePad at a building and use it to listen in on conversations. The directional mike picked up bits of conversation and I had to find the one where a criminal was stealing a painting.

A car chase ensues, but thankfully, it is not that difficult. It seems children will be able to finish missions without it being too frustrating. When I crashed my car, the suspect was kind enough to wait for me while I caught up on foot.

New uses for the controller
The GamePad is used for other parts of the game. It is an in-game communicator so your partner Ellie Phillips can contact you. Like other sound in Lego City Undercover, it's piped through the GamePad's speakers, making the game feel more immersive.

As players finish more missions, Chase gains more costumes and that opens up more of the world, which is huge. It takes about 20 minutes to drive around the city's perimeter and that does not include the special areas.

Like other Lego games, collecting is a big part of the game-play and there will be plenty of super bricks, red bricks and gold bricks to find. In addition, Chase gathers bricks and can use them to build special devices and platforms.

These superbuilds can be access points where players can call for vehicles, or the collected bricks can help players build a ferry that takes them to a prison stage. And it would not be a Nintendo game if there were not a few Mario and other character references.

So, essentially, this is a G-rated version of Grand Theft Auto. But the major difference is that players will be the long arm of the law. People are arrested after a fight or they will dodge traffic, instead of going to the hospital or lying in a pool of blood.

But while actions are a lot more kid-friendly, one thing that hasn't changed is the size and scope. Expect Chase to fly planes, pilot boats and even skydive as he tries to clean up the streets.

Plus, there's the humour, which TT Games gets right. It's a mix of quirky and silly, something kids can laugh at and adults can chuckle over. Chase and company almost know that the situations they encounter are absurd.

- Lego City Undercover is scheduled for release in New Zealand on March 28.

- Gieson Cacho

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