The thrill of the hunt, how much of said hunt needs to occupy your time in an open world game? When GTA III hit the PS2 the search for all things secret and wonderful in that game could eat up hours of your time, but they never really felt like they were padding the experience, were they? I asked myself that question as I roamed around LEGO City in Traveller's Tales first take on the open world genre. LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins is actually a prequel game meant to be a companion piece to LEGO City Undercover, which was recently released for the WiiU, giving players a look in to how Chase McCain got his start as an officer in LEGO City.
McCain's misadventures carry him through a number of locales in LEGO City, which are broken up in to districts so it's not quite the open world that players would be used to, with very long load times breaking up the action. Each district has plenty to offer in terms of collectibles. In fact, The Chase Begins might simply have too much stuff to find. Completing the story campaign won't take more than ten hours, but I was shocked to find that by the end of the story, I had completed less than twenty percent of the game according to the in-game tracker. I was stunned, and then angry, and then confused. How could this game pack in so much superfluous fluff? It's not like it's exceedingly difficult, and this is most certainly a game intended for children, but there's just something that smacks of laziness to pad a game out in this fashion. Especially when to unlock some of this stuff you need to trade in studs, those little loose pieces that can be found by defeating enemies, to unlock some of those items that increases your completion percentage.
You can always count on Traveller's Tales to craft a good story for their LEGO games when they're working with an established franchise, but with The Chase Begins it looks like they've lost a bit of their spark. With plenty of the comedy and overall silliness that goes in to a LEGO game, you can tell they don't take the games too seriously, even when villains are threatening to blow up dams or sabotage space launches. Even acts of arson are comedy gold in this game, which is somewhat disconcerting, but with a quick respawn, Chase is never in any real danger. The story itself is pretty dry, with events pointing Chase in a very linear direction, saying that criminals are in this area or that area, the only thing missing is a 'Would you kindly,' to finish off each order, at least that would have made the autopilot feeling complete.
Fighting crime in LEGO City is a very passive activity for Chase McCain. Rather than use brawn, he'll stick to using his brains, and will use enemy attacks against them, his repertoire is loaded with counter-attacks, which can be used when an enemy prepares to attack. Other methods to subdue enemies can be used depending on what outfit Chase happens to be wearing. Or he can just toss enemies around like rag dolls. It's a simple system that will work great for kids, they can take down enemies by just mashing one button, but for someone older it's going to get really old, really fast.
Changing outfits is one of the joys in The Chase Begins, giving players a ton of options in how to deal with enemies, and Traveller's Tales has some great level design that makes use of all of the special abilities that these outfits grant. Chase's default police officer outfit allows him to use his grappling hook to reach higher areas or listen in on criminal activities with his wire tapper, his burglar outfit allows him to break in to some locations with locked doors, and the construction worker can make repairs on electrical boxes. Swapping the outfits is a quick and easy affair, which I didn't discover until fairly late in my adventure, at which point I proclaimed Traveller's Tales to be geniuses of game design.
Visually this game is pretty good, though the level of detail field is painfully obvious. It's not a deal breaker by any means, but seeing objects appear just inches in front of me while trying to drive some rather unwieldy cars makes for a frustrating experience from time to time. But when fighting enemies, and generally exploring on foot the game looks pretty good. The audio on the other hand gets old fast. The composer of this game might have been taking a little too much inspiration from buddy cop movies from the 80's, with a repetitive guitar riff that is in every single piece. The voice acting is pretty good and really sells the world of LEGO City.
LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins is certainly a solid title that is worth owning by any fans of the LEGO franchise and by extension any of the LEGO games. This particular effort wasn't the best that Traveller's Tales has to offer, but it's a new frontier for them, and trying to do an open world type game on a portable console is no small undertaking. Hopefully in the future they'll put more emphasis on developing a story line and cut out some of that collectable filler because right now, despite completing the storyline, I've cleared less than twenty percent of the game, and it's possible that that number might remain that low for a long time to come, because that number sitting opposite my completion rate, it's daunting.