‘LEGO City Undercover:’ Family Fun with Digitized Minifigures

LEGO City Undercover
Image: Karen Walsh

LEGO City Undercover should be renamed LEGO Theft Auto. For all the cute minifigures and LEGO vehicles, everything about LEGO City Undercover plays like an adult game that’s accessible for kids.

When Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment invited us to New York City to check out the game pre-release, the trial included only about twenty minutes of gameplay. Despite enjoying the game, I spent more time watching my son interact with another GeekKid than playing myself. This meant that upon opening the package and plugging the game into the PS4, I wasn’t really prepared for the addictive game journey upon which I was about to embark.

My first suggestion is to play LEGO City Undercover’s first few missions in the police station after you’ve eaten. There are so many donuts. Donuts. Donuts. And then some more donuts. Even though I knew they were pixelated plastic bricks, they made me hungry.

My second suggestion is to set aside hours of your life to immerse in the game. LEGO City Undercover, like all other games before it, consists of a string of problem solving missions that take you on your journey through the world. As you go, you collect disguises that give you access to different skills. Also in typical LEGO fashion, your minifigure character runs around collecting studs to buy more characters.

Unlike other LEGO games, LEGO City Undercover has an all new (to those who didn’t have the Wii) story. While the branded LEGO games all have stories, we know be it Harry Potter or Star Wars, LEGO City Undercover comes with an element of the unknown. For those who, like me, prefer games that have a through plotline, LEGO City Undercover delivers. Each mission brings you one step closer to solving the reason Chase left LEGO City and one step closer to catching the big bad.

For a long time, my husband was the bigger gamer in the house. He played every Medal of Honor game as well as the Golden Eye James Bond games. When we first met, The Godfather game had recently been released. As he played, I sat on the couch mesmerized by the ongoing story of his avatar/character. For some reason, unlike the other games, The Godfather hooked me. LEGO City Undercover reels me into its world in the same way that The Godfather did.

The difference between LEGO City Undercover and The Godfather would be that LEGO City Undercover doesn’t involve killing anyone to get ahead. Despite working for the bad guys while undercover, Chase always cuffs them and sends them to jail. Simultaneously, the missions involve just enough cathartic violence to give kids (and adults) the emotional release that video games should provide if being used in a healthy manner.

Most importantly, LEGO City Undercover is fun for the whole family. While my husband was traveling, the kid and I spent a great deal of time joining gangs and releasing prisoners. My child, who normally loses interest in long term plots, easily spent twenty hours of his spring vacation tooling around LEGO City.

More of an endorsement, however, would be that my husband and I, on a weekend without child, spent a Saturday night playing LEGO City Undercover as a date night. Even though I had already done many of these missions already, they remained enjoyable upon replay.

The fun part of playing with both the boys in my life is watching how the same game can be approached in entirely different ways. My son is very much a mission to mission player trying to get more of the story. He informed me on more than one occasion over spring break that I had to wait “because Vinnie Pappalardo is counting on me mom!” Meanwhile, my husband tools around the city running off in different directions trying to finish all the side missions in an area before moving on to another one. The ability to have different types of gameplay in the same game as well as reach across the age and gender boundaries is excellent.

Critically, there are a few small gender issues I’ve noted throughout. First, obviously, is that the main character is male and no female characters can engage in the missions meaningfully. Although I get this is a reworking of a previous game, making the option to play as male or female would have been a pretty awesome change up. Second, every so often weird little statements by the characters fall back into those male-female gender tropes. One male character has a crush on the female and his reactions to her are alternatively awkward, endearing, and painful. During the prison mission, one of the characters mutters something about the cops not giving out driving tickets to pretty women. Chase’s love interest alternatively falls into the “angry harpy” or “damsel in distress” tropes. For a company with a history of gender divides working within an industry that has a woman problem, a bit more thoughtfulness given to representation would have been a nice touch.

With that out there as a criticism, the game is fun. It’s addictive. It’s funny. If you’re paying attention to the characters, the word play and the jokes do a good job of meeting both age groups where they are.

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If you’re looking for a great family videogame that everyone will enjoy, LEGO City Undercover fits the bill. Just be ready to lose hours of your life to it.

Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she's SuperAdjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. When Karen isn't teaching, she is a freelance writer who works for a variety of marketing clients focusing on a variety of topics, including InfoSec and parenting. She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has one dog, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT. She can be reached on Twitter: @kvonhard and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GeekyKaren/