LEGO City Undercover moves past the WiiU four years after it's initial release. It provides the LEGO only take on a genre made popular by Rockstar's GTA.
Since the release of LEGO Star Wars back in 2005, TT games have been steadily churning out a series of LEGO related games. Most of them are tied to other big franchises like the aforementioned Star Wars. But back in 2013, they created a game based on LEGO’s own intellectual property: LEGO City Undercover. The game was a WiiU exclusive at the time but now, some 4 years later, LEGO City Undercover is coming to Switch, PS4 and XBox One. We gave the Switch version a spin.
LEGO City Undercover is yet another WiiU game that’s been ported to the Switch and rightfully so. LEGO City Undercover was one of the WiiU’s first big games after the initial release window. That the game started as a WiiU exclusive still shines through. The original tried to fully use the WiiU’s unique traits and like many games after it did so by adding an in-game computing device that translated to what you saw on the Gamepad. Most of this is still present in this single screen version and it isn’t that big of a loss. Especially since you gain the option to play the game with two players now, something that is always a big factor in LEGO games.
The LEGO games have always very kid-friendly. They are lighthearted, not too difficult and relatively non-violent given that most things are made out of LEGO. Undercover does not break this mold in any way. In a sense, it might even be their most kid-friendly title to date. Basically, this is a digital rendering of an entire city built in LEGO. If nothing else it provides a massive LEGO playground to simply run around in. There is a TON of stuff to do, build, collect and explore in LEGO City. Ranging from building so-called superstructures to chase challenges. Running around and collecting bricks allow you to unlock a vast amount of costumes and vehicles all borrowing heavily from LEGO’s enormous backlog of items.
But the kid-friendly-ness isn’t just the fact you get to run around in a LEGO open world. It’s also, perhaps even more so, about how it guides you. Like other sandbox games, from which LEGO City Undercover also takes a lot of cues, there is a main narrative driving you along. This main story is engaging and genuinely funny in good LEGO game tradition. The story revolves around Chase McCain a former cop returning to LEGO City to help recapture the man he put away many years ago: Rex Fury. The story unfolds over a series of missions each adding character-types to Chase’ arsenal which allow him to fulfill his missions but also allow you to do more in LEGO City. While this set-up is nothing new, what I really like about LEGO City Undercover is how it manages to remind you of the main story. Every time you load a game it replays the narrative for your next mission. Basically reminding you of what you need to do with a little of the context. A reminder of what you can do, without any pressure of you having to do it. On top of this, if you decide to ignore the missions and go out exploring it will remind you every once in a while in a similar fashion. I found this to be helpful and never experienced is as intrusive.
The last thing the game does to keep things interesting for a younger demographic is that the game is fully localized. Not only in the game’s text (which is becoming more common these days) but also in the game’s audio. While for some European countries (like Germany or France) this is fairly common it’s great to have it as a dutch dad. Because this means my 5-year-old, who can’t read yet, can play this game all on his own.
Being a gamer-dad, I find kid-friendliness a lot more important than I used to, but I realize not a lot of other gamers may appreciate this. Thankfully LEGO City Undercover can be enjoyed by adults too. While it may not offer the level of difficulty you may be looking for it does offer a vast and vibrant world waiting to be explored. In it, the story is both fun and full of variation. If you have played the LEGO games before you know what to expect.
When the original came out it was well received, and rightfully so, but did had some remarks. The biggest one being the game’s massive loading times. Unfortunately, they are still there. Not as bad as on the WiiU but still enough to be annoying. They only appear when you enter big locations, so it’s pretty manageable. The WiiU version also suffered from quite severe pop-up. The drawing distance actually was quite bad, so much so it could interfere with some of the (mostly vehicle-based) missions. On the Switch, this popup was just as bad, which is a real shame. In the game’s defense, it does allow you to play the game completely independently as a second player all while still running smoother than it did on the WiiU.
Having played the original on the WiiU, the two-player option was the main draw for me. Most of the LEGO games are playable in full co-op so it’s nice to be able to add LEGO City Undercover to the list. But being an open world game the two player game pans out differently than I would have guessed. As I’ve mentioned, when you join as a second player you can completely follow your own path. This means exploring LEGO City on your own terms.It’s only during the main missions that the second player gets interrupted from his or her own game. While this works quite well it is a shame you can’t really work together, you can’t even drive the same vehicle. Still, it is nice they managed to retrofit this option.
While LEGO City Undercover doesn’t rely on a major franchise for its main narrative it still manages to include a ton of references to movies and pop culture in general. This all adds to give this game the signature LEGO vibe and feeling. While Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto is never mentioned this really feels like the LEGO-version of that franchise. Through the game’s undercover hook it manages to allow you to do a lot of the things you do in those games without it becoming violent or promoting criminal behavior in any way. It’s as much a threat to GTA as LEGO Star Wars is to Battleground though. Still, it makes LEGO City Undercover a unique title in the big list of LEGO games out there. That said, in the four years since this game first came out a lot of those LEGO games have been released which might have resulted in a little LEGO-fatigue.
LEGO City is both one of the best and probably the least known LEGO game out there. Therefore it’s good that the game is expanding its audience beyond the WiiU. For Switch-only gamers, it’s definitely and interesting title especially if youngers gamers are running around your house. For fans of the LEGO games it also one to look out for as it brings the signature LEGO game experience to stand on its own and not rely on a major franchise tie-in. For the rest of the gaming world, it’s an interesting game but not the deepest experience out there.