Emma Withington reviews LEGO City Undercover…
Super cop Chase McCain has returned to LEGO City to right past wrongs and take down escaped criminal Rex Fury…’again’. Serving under credit hogging Chief Dunby and joined by your best friend – of one whole day! – Frank Honey, who is very excited to show you his ‘special place’…It’s time to go undercover!
LEGO City Undercover puts Chase back on the case, as it relinquishes its Wii U exclusivity by breaking and entering into your homes on the PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
If nothing else you will be ‘BWAH HA HA – ing’ during LEGO City Undercover. While LEGO games are generally hilarious in their own individual ways, LEGO City Undercover carries razor-sharp wit and is crammed to the brim with charm and charisma. As a mashup of all things Buddy Cop/Crime Thriller/Action Movie, with appropriate 70’s/80’s riffs to boot, LEGO City Undercover knows its cross generational audience incredibly well, while slipping into its Grand Theft Auto aesthetic nicely – remaining ‘family friendly’ enough to get away with it.
Hey, is it Easter!? Well blow me down, it is! And LEGO City Undercover is abound with Easter eggs, which are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the storyline – some of which are missable due to scribery genius. Titanic, The Dark Knight, The Shining, The Godfather, and Starsky and Hutch (Studski & Clutch) just barely scratches the surface as to the references in LEGO City Undercover. A couple of real crowd pleasers include construction worker ‘Albert Spindlerouter’, aka Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose quotes range from Terminator puns, to Jingle all the Way with exceptional voice talent from Josh Robert Thompson. ‘Ergch! That gate needs repairing, did you not hear it jingle all the way?’ Another highlight is the inclusion of inmate known by code name ‘Blue’ in Albatross Island’s penitentiary, reflecting Morgan Freeman’s ‘Red’ in Shawshank Redemption. ‘Uh, are you free, man?’ asks a fellow convict, ‘NO! No, I am not Freeman…His lawyers might be watchin’.’
LEGO City Undercover has enough variety to change-up the gameplay from what you may be used to in a LEGO title. Some of our LEGO favourites are there to make you feel at home, such as the Gold Brick collectibles (450, no less!) and a currency consisting of studs, but becomes its own entity in many ways. For example, alongside stud currency there are bricks to collect too, to go toward ‘Super Builds’ which help advance levels, or provide useful open world drops such as vehicle calling points.
As you go undercover there are passive and active disguises. The eight active disguises grant Chase abilities specific to their vocation – from a robber brandishing a crowbar, to a farmer with ‘super chicken glide’ (traversing between rooftops by clinging onto a flapping chicken), or a construction worker who makes a damn fine cup o’ Joe. These 8 disguises become available on the quick select wheel, as you unlock them throughout the story, and alongside this there are over 300 passive disguises to unlock, serving as skins for your active versions of Chase. You’ll be driving roughly 60% of the time in LEGO City Undercover and I’ve often found driving in LEGO titles rather jarring, however the vehicle handling hasn’t been as much of a focus as it is here. After approaching it with trepidation, LEGO City Undercover surprises you with the best driving experience in a LEGO game so far – it runs like a dream and is just as enjoyable as the sophistication level of driving in Saints Row 2/3. With over 100 vehicles and 20 districts to explore LEGO City is a pleasing highlights tour of various cities, such as Little Italy being represented as a literal chunk of Italy, with Venetian waterways and the leaning tower of Pisa (known as the Fusileani Twist).
The melee combat is one of the first main switch ups we experience in LEGO City Undercover. First off, you can chase down bad guys who you can slap handcuffs on once taken down, and they fade away humanely to a prison cell. Chase soon realises that he needs to become a ‘karate guy’ to defeat Rex Fury, and within a traditional hilltop temple is trained by an equally traditional English geezer with moves from The Matrix. Here you develop reactive combat with takedowns and counter attacks, presenting itself as a watered down version of what you experience in games like Assassin’s Creed. While there are no offensive weapons or guns involved (aside from the insta-arrest grapple gun which apprehends enemies), it’s a smooth running combat system which adds something fresh to LEGO gaming.
We are reminded that this was, in fact, a Wii U title with the Data Scanner and Audio Log features. These were originally viewed on your handheld Wii U gamepad, which Chase also carries when it’s in use. This doesn’t present any translation issues between Wii U and PS4 and the Wii U-ness is soon forgotten as you scan the area on your TV screen for criminals with suspicious hairstyles on the infrared Data Scanner, and eavesdrop on questionable conversations with the Audio Log. Rex Fury discussing deals with Vinnie Papalardo who is disappointed by being paid in paintings, is a particularly memorable Audio Log scene. ‘Whaddya mean? They’re Brickassos!’ Rex exclaims, ‘Really? They look more like faces’… says a flummoxed Vinnie.
How does it hold up after four years and making the leap to current gen? Well, there are some texture loading issues, with things occasionally popping in and out of the landscape and the view distance, while improved from its predecessor, can look a bit bland due to its fuzzy vignette nature, particularly if you stray beyond the city. That being said, the PS4 is vastly more powerful than the Wii U it was made for in 2013, so with that in mind it manages to hold up brilliantly by today’s standards and these issues don’t present themselves as jarring enough to diminish LEGO City Undercover’s core.
Replayability factor: High. When you complete LEGO City Undercover you will have 70% or more left until game completion, so there’s plenty to go back for, but could be a daunting grind after a while.
Game Mastery level (Trophies): Medium – a time commitment.
+ Original non-franchise based story, feels fresh like the recent LEGO Worlds.
+ Smooth driving controls
+ Gameplay features that set it apart from other LEGO games
– Collectible grind
– Minor texture loading issues/fuzzy view distance
Emma Withington – Follow me on Twitter