LEGO City: The Chase Begins is to LEGO City Undercover as a Freddo is to a massive kilo bar of Dairy Milk. The diminutive little lump of chocolate won’t really keep you engaged as long as the thing that cost you a quid when you bought the latest Twilight movie at a Co-op – yes, you – but it’s easier to get away with when you’re wrapped up in bed. That’s not to say there’re any green, googly eyed frogs in Traveller’s Tales latest mini epic – it’s mostly familiar LEGO figures, but you get the idea.
Mini epic? That’s probably about right. Whereas Undercover presented an alive, sprawling recreation of west-coast America, The Chase Begins attempts the same sense of scale but never quite manages to reach the same lofty heights, in every sense of the word. The story mode might preempt the often wonderfully esoteric and inventive goings on in the Wii U game, but the missions are less impressive on the handheld in both extent and scope. It’s like a pocket, pocket version of Undercover that carries the same ambition but always seems to have something dragging at its heels.
That’ll be the technology. At the time of writing the Wii U is the most advanced console available, and Undercover’s fancy pants per-object motion blurring and impressive view distance couldn’t ever translate to the somewhat more earthly grunt of the 3DS. Instead, we’ve got thick, impermeable fog seemingly pulled directly from Turok and frankly amazing pop-in (and -out) that makes the game feel like a staccato, plastic version of Silent Hill. People will appear and disappear right in front of Chase – let him idle and amuse yourself as NPCs just vanish mere feet in front of you.
It’s odd, because it’s actually not a bad looking game all things considered. With the 3D off there’s ample smoothing and the frame rate and texture quality are as good as we’ve come to expect – things suffer with the added depth, of course – jaggies surface everywhere, the game seems to swap out textures for N64 leftovers and despite the genre sliding the levels right to maximum doesn’t really add anything to the experience. Yes, it’s a massive area to explore, but there’s little to be gained from the 3D because the fog removes anything past the middle distance.
That said, at least the load times have been mostly sorted. There’s the worryingly lengthy stare at the rotating badge on first boot, but after that The Chase Begins moves spritely from one level to the next, carrying over little of the rather peculiarly long pauses that the Wii U version desperately needs patching out. It’s a smoother ride as a result, and I felt more comfortable roaming around knowing that I wouldn’t be interrupted by that music and a thirty second delay every time I opened a door.
The game plays out much like the Wii U game, albeit two years prior to the events in Undercover. This means that whilst most of the buildings are present and correct there are construction areas dotted around, precursors to sections you’d play on the home console. The game itself follows this doctrine from the off – Chase isn’t the super cop he is on the Wii U and even the mission structure (which starts you off collecting doughnuts) echoes this concept. Rex Fury features, as you’d expect, but the game progresses slowly and he’s not the sole focus.
Sadly, the 3DS game loses the witty dialog that was so well written in Undercover. Not only in terms of voice acting, but also with the replacement text-based delivery too which isn’t nearly so funny – without the audio cues the game doesn’t feel anywhere near as humourous, which is a real shame. There’s just less interaction and fewer references to other media, and that was one of Undercover’s strongest assets – the 3DS version plays things a lot safer (presumably to appease a younger audience where 80′s cop nods would be lost) but loses a lot of its verve in doing so.
Most other aspects of the Wii U game are present and correct, though. Chase can use his detective skills to creep around bent over visualising glowing footprints; scout around for enemies with the first person scanner and jump in and out of vehicles with abandon and without forfeit. Combat is the playful throwing and ‘cuffing system from Undercover (complete with slow-mo, leaping dodges) which sticks to a very flat difficulty curve throughout – not necessarily an issue but it would have been nice to see some challenge with the fighting.
It’s in the game’s multiple disguises that it finally starts to flex its muscles. Among all the technical shortcomings and its natural inability to live up to the standards that the Wii U version set, this 3DS title still manages to craft a substantial story around a set of slight personalities that open up and change certain areas in the game. Nintendo’s rigid requirements that I don’t spoil the plot mean I can’t really dig too deep into the various outfits, but let’s just say that there’s much more to Chase than just a shiny badge.
I get The Chase Begins. It’s a competent enough adventure that sits alongside the Wii U version rather than under it by virtue of its sheer determination to offer up the same sort of game. It has obvious visual cut-backs but the core game remains largely the same – and that’s the key: anyone looking to find out how Chase got to where he is now would probably find lots to enjoy here, and Nintendo’s portable just about manages to allow Traveller’s Tales to build a world that isn’t that far away from that seen in Undercover.
- The closest thing to a GTA-style adventure on the 3DS.
- A large, expansive world to explore.
- Completists will see how Chase’s character develops.
- Some visual issues with textures, fog, pop-in and frame-rate.
- Lack of sampled speech loses most of the humour.
- Game doesn’t offer quite the same scope as Undercover.
Is The Chase Begins worth a purchase? For fans of the Wii U version: probably. Those fond of the regular LEGO tie-in games might find this one a little more subdued in its pacing, though, and it’s hard to confidently suggest that it’s going to be right for everyone. There’s fun to be had here, but it’s not on the same level as the Wii U version – it’s much more bite-sized and compact but never pretends to be anything it’s not – a little like that opening analogy then.
Simple, charming entertainment.