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Published: Thursday, 4/4/2013

LEGO City Undercover a pleasant surprise; Walking Dead is a disappointment

A screenshot of LEGO City: Undercover. A screenshot of LEGO City: Undercover.
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I’ve played more LEGO-themed video games than most. (OK, honestly, I think I’ve played them all, so take that, LEGO gaming geek!) And just as I’d thought that candle had burned its last bit of wax, along comes a pleasant surprise in City Undercover.

Previous LEGO games were kitschy takes on popular movies like Harry Potter and Star Wars, but in this title you play a wholly original tale, even if there are winks and nods to several classic movies and TV shows.

Chase McCain is the lead character, a hammed-up former cop who gets pulled back into service to hunt down his archenemy, Rex Fury. But honestly, the story shouldn’t concern you because once you dive into this open world and start exploring, the sheer joy of playing the game will keep you coming back time and again.

The quest for LEGO blocks, the game’s currency, is addictive. New puzzles pop up to solve oddball cutscenes, and then you must search for costumes for Chase to wear to solve myriad puzzles scattered through the city. It’s all kind of slapdash and goofy, but the game never loses its way. I dare you to play City Undercover and not find yourself constantly smiling.

Sure, some load times are slow, and some of the platforming is difficult when the game angle isn’t quite right. But few games are as infused with playfulness like City Undercover. This game provides a much-needed boost to the Wii U’s library and should appeal to gamers of any age and skill level.

Just gazing at the box art gave me pause. Merle, one half of the brothers Dixon from the zombie-apocalypse hit show The Walking Dead, has both hands! I let out a sigh that even my wife was surprised to hear.

She figured I’d be thrilled to play a game as Norman Reedus’ outstanding character, Daryl. I told her the cover meant one of two things: a) the game takes place before the events of the TV show; or b) the developers had no idea what the show was about. It’s a prequel and a shoddily put together one at that, making it a combination of awful that even fans of the show would find hard to get through.

Survival Instinct features poor design elements and combat that makes season two’s slog at Herschel’s farm feel like Terminator 2 by comparison. Many games feature fetch quests to break up the action; here, it’s the entire breadth of the story. Merle and Daryl venture from one town to the next, encountering stragglers who will only assist you as long as you bring them back something of importance to them.

This leads to the inevitable zombie encounters, which should provide a dose of excitement — but instead suffocates the game in monotony. The living dead provide almost no challenge because you can easily dispatch them via stealth kills with a knife or by hacking away at them with your ax. And once you discover the crossbow, the game becomes a boring target-practice session and makes the zombie apocalypse feel like just a bad weekend with the in-laws.

Daryl, among the best characters on the show, doesn’t deserve such a poorly executed video game. For something this disappointing, it should have featured Carl, or maybe Lori, just so we could purposefully walk her into a zombie horde and watch her die repeatedly. As it is, Survival Instinct will turn fans away from the show rather than attract new ones.

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