At the start of this month, I wrote a piece discussing an afternoon spent playing some LEGO videogames with my kids. I said that the brand felt unified and that the two titles we played with there—out of three available—were
interesting. I have now played that third game, LEGO City: Undercover (which was initially released on the Wii U in 2013 but has now been released for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch and allows co-op play), and can say with certainty that it does not match the other two.
Oh, the brand is still unified, the entire game feels very LEGO, with the ability to break tons of things apart and collect bricks to build things and studs (money), but it has too much of an unfinished feel to be compelling. By the time one reaches the end of the story mode, they will wonder why they bothered, and mot likely will not feel inclined to revisit levels to obtain all the unlockables.
As far as the story that unfolds in Undercover, it follows Chase McCain, a cop who is brought back to the city to catch a diabolical criminal, Rex Fury, and has to do so by going—you guessed it—undercover. This part is all perfectly LEGO, with ridiculous sidetracks, the opportunity to throw on new outfits, terrible humor (or great if you go in for it), and a myriad of pop culture references.
Not only that, but the first hour or two of the game are hugely fun as one learns the controls, gets invested in the mechanics, enjoys the bright and peppy graphics, and sees just how much there is to unlock (and there is a lot to unlock). It is after those first few hours when the game’s flaws start to appear.
Even after learning the controls, one will find them to not be as crisp as the they ought to be. Prompts to action appear when characters stand in the right spot in the world, but sometimes they aren’t there or disappear, leaving the player to move away from a location and then quickly return, hoping against hope that the game will now recognize that the player is indeed in the correct spot. Pressing buttons when prompted doesn’t always seem to do what it should, forcing the player to try things over and over again (annoying when this occurs at a height and the player has to rescale an area). Utilizing a fireman to spray water and put out fires is a tedious, obnoxious, ordeal with Undercover demanding the water hit a specific, ill-defined, spot and failing to recognize water going straight through the fire as affecting it at all.
Some of the issue here is, undoubtedly, the result of an obnoxious camera that all too often fails to be in the right place and while it can be moved at these moments, it never seems to go far enough to help. The angle from which the player views the action is too regularly off of where it needs to be, obscuring objectives or making relationships difficult to judge.
As players progress through the game, more and more outfits are made available to them and each outfit comes with its own abilities… sort of. That is, eventually, abilities in new outfits start to be slight tweaks of previously gained abilities. A farmer can do extended jumps holding a chicken over his head (Zelda-style), and then an astronaut later gains the ability to do extended jumps with a jet pack. A thief has a crowbar to pry open barred areas, then later, the fireman has an axe to chop through similar (but not the same) impediments.
Beyond that, everything in the game feels a hair too slow. Some objects, once broken, can be assembled into new and different objects (this is LEGO after all)—and the game certainly encourages breaking anything one comes across to see if it can be used to build something else—but it takes longer than it should from the moment an object breaks to when it either disappears or starts bouncing around showing that the pieces can be assembled into a new thing. The player has to stop, wait, and wonder.
In terms of those graphics mentioned above, they are spiffy, but they don’t always feel uniform. Some areas seem to have a graphical (or perhaps frame rate) difference from others. It isn’t a huge change, but it is noticeable and pulls one out of the action.
On the plus side, the world is big and the story is a decent length. If one finds themselves enamored of the whole thing even after the story is finished, hours and hours can be spent going back to old areas and completing tasks that were impossible earlier (due to a lack of the proper disguise the first time through). I can’t imagine wanting to do that, but it is there.
Finally, it must be noted that our reviewer for Wii U version has quite a different take than I, perhaps (but only perhaps) indicating that some of my issues with the game are more prevalent in this version of the game.
LEGO City: Undercover is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor. This game can also be found on: Switch, Wii U, Xbox One and Windows PC.