Lego meets Grand Theft Auto.
Lego City promises the open world gameplay of Grand Theft Auto in a world full of Legos. Rather than taking on the role of a criminal, the game stars Chase McCain, a cop who must track down criminals in the city. The game is styled after 70s cop shows, featuring heavy synth music and plenty of humor that the Lego games are known for.
The Lego City demo at E3 had two playable sections, the city and an underground area. The underground area looked and played much like the traditional Lego adventures. (You can read Guillaume's impressions of that portion of the game). The city represented the open world portion of the game and also used the unique Wii U GamePad features. That isn't to say the city portion strayed that much from the Lego formula.
The open world gameplay is simply a Lego take on Grand Theft Auto, except that your actions are "legal" since you're a cop. You can take over anybody's car at will, for instance. You can speed around town, and the different vehicles do have different driving characteristics, depending on their size.
While you could explore the city freely in the demo, McCain is tasked with hunting down bank robber clowns, which has him running on foot, commandeering cars, scaling buildings, and even swimming along the coast. As it takes place in a Lego-filled world, McCain is often faced with situations where he must construct or deconstruct Lego blocks in order to progress in typical Lego adventure fashion.
The GamePad is a multi-use device, which displays the map by default. It is also used as a communication system where McCain receives fully-voiced updates from the dispatcher. The GamePad also has a heat-sensitive scanner mode that functions in 3D space, which was the game's most interesting use of the device. In some instances, players must hold up the GamePad, look around, and zoom in on citizens in order to find criminals or other suspicious people. The GamePad has an additional scanning mode that is used to track down footprints on the ground.
Near the end of the demo, McCain must get help from some dock workers in order to catch the robber. However, one worker is distracted by the fact that his sandwich was stolen by a seagull. McCain must first track down the bird (with the GamePad scanner) and retrieve the sandwich to trade for the worker's aid. Par for the course are funny and ridiculous side quests such as this. Unfortunately, throughout the demo, the robber always waited just one step ahead of McCain, making for a by-the-numbers experience.
With multiple crashes, characters walking through the floor or not performing proper tasks, and a general inconsistency in art, it was clear that Lego City still needs a lot more development time. As for the gameplay itself, despite the promise of an open world, the linear nature of the Lego games still appears to play a central role. On the other hand, the campy dialog, humorous situations, and lots of personality represent the Lego brand well. It will be interesting to see how ambitious the final product is.