This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Lego City Undercover.
Whether you think Bioshock: Infinite was good or failed to measure up to your ever-so-refined palate (fnerr fnerr aloof aloof), it at least provokes discussion and certainly seems to have been a bit of a watershed moment, and I find myself in a slightly melancholy mood because of it. Now everything that came out before it this year has kind of merged together into the pre-Bioshock: Infinite mass, where the mayor of SimCity is a cyborg ninja wearing two very skimpy vests and is diverting civic funds into bringing their dead Mum back to life. Now all I can think about is that a momentary peak has been reached, and things are gonna get real bland real fast. Especially now a new console generation seems determined to start, like an elderly relative who lacks the basic common courtesy to just die and get it out of the way. Ooh, Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel — when I take the disc out of the box, will I put it in the drive, or attempt to eat it? Decisions, decisions. Wait, a new console generation; that rings a bell! Didn't I buy a new console late last year? What was it called? The Piss-Shit?
Yeah, the Wii U, remember that? Last week, I bought a game for it, for the very first time since the fucking thing came out, one of the very, very few Wii U releases that isn't a port of a game that came out for everything else around the time Happy Days went off the air. Do we think a console that insists on using a gimmicky, oversized Weetabix as a controller is proving a bit obnoxious to develop for? A Nintendo console being difficult for third-party development? Nooooo, that'd be like EA making a dodgy business decision.
The game in question is Lego City Undercover, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it — it could be that in Lego, Nintendo sees a kindred spirit, perhaps even a potential mentor, now that Nintendo is bent on being a company that only makes toys. Hey, they wanna do that, it's their business; so what if no-one is developing for the Wii U? No-one develops for the Speak & Spell much these days either.
It does mean, however, that all you thirty-year-old Nintendo fanboys will have to stop holding out for a new Metroid Prime, or anything with any emotion or cultural relevance. And maybe you could stop pretending to like New Super Mario Brothers Wii while we're at it. Sorry, post-Bioshock melancholy's talking again. Ooh, Lego City! Cheerful, colourful, charming plastic objects lodged in the sole of the foot-NO! Positive now!
This is the transfer of the classical Lego "whatever pop-culture trend we licensed this week" gameplay into a sandbox city environment. And when I say classic-Lego-ungainly-sentence-gameplay, I mean studs. Collect the studs, collect all the fucking studs, except you will never collect all the studs. I tried to collect all the studs on the dock where you start the game, but the moment I turned around, they'd all come back! I'm being taunted by studs! This is why I don't go to the gym any more!
Sandbox gameplay is a natural fit for Lego, 'cause that's basically what Lego-the-real-life-thing is. You can use a range of drivable Lego vehicles to hunt around for studs and gradually collect new abilities to allow you to reach more studs. So collecting studs and various other Lego products could best be described as the core gameplay, 'cause it's not the combat, which is absolute bollocks. By the end of the game, I was just grabbing each enemy one-by-one and flinging them off a ledge so I wouldn't have to bother. It's about as involving as ladling rice pudding into several bowls placed randomly around a kitchen worktop.
So those scrounging wastrels at TT Fusion have had to come up with their own plot for once, and they went for a spoof. 'Cause when your entire cast are small yellow people with detachable body parts, then it's either that or "Tales from the Leper Colony". I must say, previous Lego games have been quite reliably funny, usually because the characters never speak, and have to convey the plot of an existing film or property using only extravagant gestures. But in Lego City, we see what happens when Lego people do speak; it turns out they communicate entirely in pop-culture parodies and eye-rolling self-referential jokes, that run on too long by an average of about three self-inflicted punches to the face. Well, I'm not too pround to admit that I laughed at a couple of lines, but that's a pretty small minority in a game that goes on long enough to pay lip-service to the entire range of the Lego workforce.
"Oh, but Yahtzee", counter-point, "this is a kids' game, and more elegant comedy would be lost on the cringing little snotbags!" Counter-counter-point, asshole: What kind of kid would understand an extended parody of The Shawshank Redemption, or even the first Matrix film — references from back when they would've been but a drunken glint in the eyes of one of several potential fathers? No. This is the DreamWorks line of thinking, that a fun-for-all-the-family experience has to put in some jokes for Dad that will fly over the sticky, misshapen heads of the spawn. But there's kind of an art to that, and Lego City's attempt is like a man doing helicopter impressions down a supermarket aisle, his flailing arms knocking countless packets of biscuits to the floor.
Actually, speaking of fun for all the family, I know this is going to sound weird coming from me, but don't Lego games usually have local multiplayer? It makes sense in this case, because it's the kind of game that divorced parents buy to play with their children during visitng times. They provide wholesome family fun while also having enough lulls in the action to allow for searching questions on Mother's new boyfriend, and what moments he leaves his flashy car undefended. And meanwhile, the numerous ways one can reduce one's playing partner to plastic giblets allow the child to express their impotent frustration at their inevitably-ruined life. Oh wait, I forgot the Wii U can only have one screen controller, 'cause if you have two of them in the same house then you risk buckling the foundations.
There's also what is becoming the token Wii U thing of holding the controller up to scan something, like we've developed a phobia of video games and are trying to cover our eyes, but there's no escape, it's still there! All of which entirely justifies the three-hour battery life that meant I had to stop right before the climactic story end and play Luigi's Mansion for a bit instead. And obnoxious loading times certainly don't help. I hope you're not loading the entire city every time we step outside, you silly game; I was only going to run over a bunch of lampposts, you don't need to dryclean every single fucking doily!
Without a second player to brutalize, the appeal falls back on good old OCD a-hundred-percent completion, but you're kinda forced to go through the whole story mode before you can even start shooting for that. Since so many collectibles require late-game abilities to acquire, it's like being held hostage by a marathon of all the worst Simpsons episodes. Maybe if you like the Lego stud-centric gameplay enough, you could forgive a lot of this, but is Lego City Undercover what the Wii U needs right now? I wouldn't say so. I mean, it doesn't even resemble a pneumatic drill.
Constructed from multicoloured plastic: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
It's very tragic that Lego characters can only either have hair or a hat, that's a choice no-one should have to make
Now I'm wondering if the hat and hair people get along alright