LEGO City Undercover is a unique game in the ecosystem of LEGO video games. Unlike those licensed titles we’ve come to know and love, LEGO City Undercover boasts an original set of characters and storyline. It’s also an open-world adventure set in a massive city just waiting to be explored, somewhat akin to a kid-friendly version of Grand Theft Auto.
Having said that, this version of LEGO City Undercover is not completely original, since it’s actually a port of the Wii U exclusive from 2013. How much has changed in four years, and should you still buy this version of the game? I was a big fan of the original LEGO City Undercover. There’s a lot to love about that game, from the gameplay and humor to the longevity.
As a fairly straight port, the differences between new and old are few. The gameplay remains the same, as does the story and setting. You play the role of police hero, Chase McCain, who returns to Lego City to recapture his nemesis, Rex Fury. Chase ventures through Lego City and can travel almost anywhere, including climbing buildings, driving boats, flying helicopters, and even a stint into space. Almost any vehicle you see is up for grabs (planes are off the table), and this is a fun mechanic that makes exploration a pure joy.
The graphics have certainly been enhanced. What looked great on the Wii U looks pretty fantastic on the Switch. There are definitely some framerate issues, particularly in two-player mode, but when playing on the TV, these aren’t noticeable. There are reports of the game crashing and this did happen to me once, but after playing a lot of multiplayer, I found little reason to complain.
It’s hard to rate a port, so let’s start by looking at the original’s shortcomings. My issues with the original title were only twofold. Firstly, there was no multiplayer option – a massive oversight since the LEGO franchise is built on multiplayer fun. Secondly, those load times were excruciatingly long, almost comically so. On both levels, this version of the game is much better.
The two-player mode is the biggest change to LEGO City Undercover 2017, and probably the biggest selling point. It’s fun and functional, and the drop-in/drop-out mechanics work extremely well. While one person is playing, simply press the + or – button on another Joy-con and another Chase McCain literally drops in from the sky. The screen splits vertically into two and off you go. In the open world, you can each go about your business independently, one roaming off to collect things in Auburn while the other steals cars and smashes things in Cherry Tree Hills. When you enter into a story mode chapter, you will be forced to proceed together, though it’s handy having a partner to collect coins and find hidden items.
A nice multiplayer touch is the option on the pause screen that allows you to instantly beam to your ally’s location. It’s perfect for those occasions when you’ve wandered too far and can’t be bothered catching the train or stealing yet another vehicle to get back to the other side of town. Or if, like me, you just get plain lost.
Now for those dreaded load times. The good news is that the load times are definitely reduced here. For me, they still border on being too long, especially knowing that we’re running off a cartridge this time (or system memory/SD card) and it should be much quicker. Thankfully there is at least something to read while waiting, instead of just watching that Windows-esque loading bar. The quotes are mostly from Frank Honey, another police officer, and are entertaining enough. Basically, the game loads up just when you start to wonder if it will ever load. On the plus side, once loaded, that open world is completely yours to explore (until you enter a chapter of the story mode) – you can travel anywhere without any more delays.
With multiplayer a success and load times somewhat improved, I’m happy with the changes. But it’s four years later, and I want more – more content, more room to explore. Admittedly, there are new vehicles and costumes to try out, but essentially this is the same game as it was in 2013. So what made the original so great?
LEGO City Undercover is very funny. The story is well-written and well-paced, with some great voice acting used throughout. It maintains the level of humor we’ve come to expect from LEGO titles, providing some often hilarious scenes and dialogue as the story progresses. Like when Chief Dunby, chief of police, is caught napping in his office and says “I was just resting my eyes. And my arms, and my legs.” His face is also plastered with half-eaten donuts. There are pop culture references aplenty, from Dirty Harry to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Another highlight is the sheer amount of content. There’s just so much to do in Lego City, with a lengthy and robust story mode from which you’ll often be distracted simply because you’re having too much fun exploring the city. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore that you’ll spend countless hours uncovering everything. And a lot of these are listed as side missions to complete – there are ATMs to smash, pigs to capture, aliens to find, statues to paint, cars to steal, disguises to unlock, the list goes on and on. If you are a completionist, this game is absolutely for you.
In the end, LEGO City Undercover is a great game, if a little dated. The story is funny and engaging, and my only real complaint is that it’s an enhanced port – there is no new content on offer. The game itself is so much fun that I still highly recommend it, especially if you missed the original. Having two-players this time around is also a huge plus. Maybe the next iteration will be a sequel instead?
Review: LEGO City Undercover (Nintendo Switch)
Hilarious and fun
LEGO City Undercover is a fun and very funny ride into an original LEGO world, full of cops and robbers, pigs, aliens, all manner of vehicles, and even a trip into space. I’d have preferred a sequel, or at least some new content, but this is still a classic title that deserves to be played. If you haven’t played the original, it’s an easy recommendation; if you have, just balance up whether you want to take the ride again. It is still fun the second time, and multiplayer sweetens the deal.