Lego City Undercover was kind of a big deal in 2013. It was a Nintendo-published Wii U exclusive from a proven developer and a franchise with a number of hits. It was that franchise’s first original storyline not directly based on a licensed movie property. It was the first stab at a “proper” open world in the Lego franchise. And it even had a whole separate 3DS prequel game, too.
Unfortunately, it was also plagued with iffy performance, long load times, and the relatively small installed base of the Wii U.
Earlier this year, Warner Brothers and TT Games took a second shot at Lego City Undercover, re-releasing the game on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
The game has newly updated and overhauled visuals, the same huge pile of content…and some problems.
Even though I played the game on Switch, I don’t feel like I got a raw deal visually. Great!
The game has been upgraded to the newest version of the TT Games Lego Engine, which now supports full real-time lighting and physically-based rendering, which lends more realism to the different materials in the game world. It’s quite a bit better-looking than the original 2013 release, with more detailed characters, landscapes, and effects.
The result is a sprawling, largely beautiful open world that only chugs in a few highly-detailed places. Those chugs are pretty noticeable, but few and far between. For the most part the game sits around the 30FPS mark, and there’s plenty of foreground and background detail. There’s a noticeable resolution bump when the Switch is docked, but even undocked it’s a pleasant-looking game.
It’s not the best-looking game I’ve seen, even on Nintendo’s new platform…but it holds up well to other modern games. You’ll see a few rough textures here and there, and a few sharp edges on certain shadows…but overall I bet you’ll be surprised at the amount of nice-looking stuff going on in the city.
Where the game falls short technologically is in the loading department.
Now, it doesn’t take as stupidly long to load as the infamous original release did…but load times are still pretty darn long. The initial load in particular is kind of aggravating if you don’t constantly use the Switch’s sleep mode to keep from rebooting the game. Loads between levels are more tolerable, but none of the loading performance is anywhere close to fast.
I had one crash in my 13 or so hours playing the main story…and I lost about 15 minutes of progress, which kind of sucked. Still this is a solidly rendered and lit open world with better visuals than it had in 2013, so visually it’s still mostly positive.
The game design of the Lego series is a little…bland and creaky. These games have followed more or less the same formula since 2005, blending platforming, light puzzle solving, and basic combat elements together into something polished-yet-forgettable.
Lego City Undercover’s design hails from 2013, and thus doesn’t have any of the modern touches that recent Lego titles have finally received. In the last few years, TT Games has, at long last, tried to chip some of the mild tedium out of this franchise…but this game has all that irksome stuff in full force.
As you go through the game, you’ll unlock different costumes that come along with different abilities. You’ll use those abilities to solve different puzzles. If you’re really dedicated, you can go replay old levels and use your later abilities to unlock secrets in earlier areas.
The platforming and puzzles are fine. They’re designed well and they function correctly. But hour 15 plays almost identically to hour 3, so if you’re not enjoying the world and the story…you might get really bored.
Combat is strangely toned down in this particular entry, and entirely based around different throws.
And kind of basic?
The combat usually provides some nice variety in these games, but here it’s bland and almost lame.
The Switch version of the game still contains the hidden Mario question mark blocks full of money around the world. I’m assuming those are probably deleted from the other versions. So if you want the one with the most extra things, I guess Switch is the one to get?
This was one of the earliest Lego games to feature a fully-voiced cast, and is also the only main Lego Game to entirely feature original characters and an original story. You play as Chase McCain, an elite undercover cop who is also kind of a doofus. Along with a bunch of friends, he has to take on newly-escaped criminal Rex Fury. His partner, Frank Honey, is the best character in the game, offering many witty quips and ridiculous observations.
In this re-release, TT Games overhauled the look of the loading screens (Which you’ll be seeing a fair amount of) with some new tips from Frank Honey, and some of them are pretty funny.
Unfortunately, outside of several moments that made me chuckle…the actual story is a largely forgettable romp through various cop and spy movie tropes. You’ll play different gangs against each other. You’ll steal things even though you’re a good guy. You’ll infiltrate secret layers. You’ll wonder why there’s a character that’s just a guy impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger and referring to several of his movies.
Oh and eventually you’ll go to space. That part is fun.
Like the gameplay, everything here is executed just fine…but if it’s not your particular thing, you very well might tire of it before you reach the end.
All of Lego City Undercover’s music has this funky vibe to it that I can really get behind. Though you might get tired of the music that plays over the loading screens.
The voice acting is great, and the city has a good ambient background to it…although I loathed the constantly barking dog that’s always playing in one part of the world. Seriously, I kept thinking that a dog was barking somewhere in my building or my neighborhood.
Aside from that one weirdly annoying choice, the sound design here is pretty darn great.
Lego City Undercover offers about 13 hours of story content and an absurd huge pile of extra stuff to go and do after that. (I was at about 25 percent completion when I had finished the story and done just a handful of side things).
If you like to measure games purely by their amount of stuff to do, then Lego City Undercover will fit the bill nicely. However, if you’re wary of repetition…be warned. If you’ve ever played another Lego game (that wasn’t from the last year or so), then you’ve basically already played this entire game. You’ll see all the same sorts of puzzles, abilities, and extras you saw in whatever other game you played…just attached to a different world and story.
This game is solid. Good. Fun to play. It has a co-op mode. It has a light-hearted story. But it’s also so full of the same handful of puzzles and abilities that it might wear on you after a few hours. The Switch version is technically solid, and the game does lend itself well to quick pick up and play sessions.
But I need a break from it for a while.
Thankfully, the newer Lego titles finally rebuilt some of the core design elements. That’s a tease for other reviews to come!